KeShaun Hammonds (above) picked up his first two Division I offers last month. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
KeShaun Hammonds (2020/K-Low Elite/Constitution, Pa.)
The text message was to Hammonds and his whole AAU team: ‘Congrats Champ!’
Hammonds recognized his nickname, but wasn’t quite sure what his coach meant: “I’m like, congrats in a group chat, what are you talking about?”
Turns out that Hammonds had pulled in his first Division I offer, from Bryant, becoming one of a number of local offers that Bulldogs head coach Jared Grasso handed out on June 15; Bryant assistant coach Phil Martelli Jr. gives the program a significant local tie.
Hammonds found out the second one more directly, from Rider head coach Kevin Baggett after playing with Constitution at the Broncs’ team camp on June 23. The Constitution-to Rider connection is certainly strong, with Rider redshirt juniors Ahmad “J.R.” Gilbert and Kimar Williams both Constitution grads, and several other Philadelphia natives on the roster.
“They liked my game, they were like, we’re offering you right there,” Hammonds said. “I was like ahhh, I was happy.”
A slender 6-2, 155-pound combo guard, Hammonds has enjoyed a productive offseason both playing with Constitution and the K-Low Elite 16Us, coming off a season where he helped lead the Generals to the PIAA Class 2A title.
He looked the part when he got off to a blazing hot start in a game against the Philly Hurricanes 17s on Friday, hitting six of his first seven shots, but cooled off in the second half as the Hurricanes came from behind to win; Hammonds finished with 17 points, five rebounds and two steals.
Known primarily as a slashing wing guard who can finish above the rim, Hammonds has been working on his point guard skills, as he’ll take over at the ‘1’ this year from the graduated Damon Wall and Jahmir Williams.
“The point guard is the one who has the ball in his hands, being a leader, encouraging teammates,” he said. “I want to make everybody better on my team.”
Hammonds wasn’t sure what other schools were interested in him; he said most of his recruiting is being handled by his father and coaches, letting him know about major developments but otherwise letting him ignore it.
“I think that is better because it keeps my mind off it,” he said. “If I’d have known that [I had interest] before I think I would have been a little bit too excited. I’m happy they keep it, they just tell me [to] keep hooping.”
Jack Cavanaugh (2019/New Jersey Beasts/Sparta, N.J.)
Spend a few minutes watching Cavanaugh play, and you’ll likely guess the label given to the rising 6-foot-3 senior at Sparta High School in South Jersey: Shooter.
Cavanaugh understands the label, given his impressive ability as a catch-and-shoot 3-point threat from anywhere around the perimeter. In a loss to K-Low Elite’s 17U squad during Friday’s Elevate Hoops’ Summer Jam Fest, Cavanaugh splashed a pair of threes -- but also played exceptional defensively and as a facilitator for the New Jersey Beasts.
“I kind of have the label as a shooter,” Cavanaugh said. “But I can do more. I can shoot the ball, pass, dribble, communicate on defense. I like to use my leadership skills.”
As his final summer on the recruiting trail marches on, Cavanaugh is looking to shake the label of being a shooter. College coaches are starting to take notice, as Cavanaugh has recently added his first Division I offers from Bryant and Boston University. He’s also been hearing from the likes of Wagner, Hartford, and Fairleigh Dickinson as of late.
“In the last few weeks,” Cavanaugh said. “I’ve had a few college coaches reach out and say that they thought I was just a shooter, and they saw way more when they saw me play. I don’t necessarily think that it’s a bad thing, but I think I’ve just got to prove that I’m not just a shooter.”
Because of his recent strides at improving the balance of his game, Cavanaugh has now certified himself as a sure-fire Division I recruit. While Boston U offered back in late April, Division II’s Southern New Hampshire and Merrimack have also extended scholarships to him. Cavanaugh’s phone has certainly been busy this week, but it’s a new experience for the family as a whole. Relying on the advice of current college players and his coaches, among others, Cavanaugh expects to cut his list and take visits in August -- ideally deciding on a school before his senior year at Sparta begins.
“Honestly it’s a little overwhelming,” Cavanaugh said of his recruitment. “It’s crazy. I’m the only one in my family that this has ever happened too. I don’t know much about it, so I just think it’s really cool.”
Justice Williams (above) has two college offers before his first high school game. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Justice Williams (2022/Team Final/Roman Catholic, Pa.)
Months before he’ll first suit up for Roman in a varsity high school basketball game, Williams already has attracted high-level collegiate attention.
Hyped as one of the top middle schoolers in the city the last couple years, Williams has wasted no time showing he’s ready for the next level, impressing both in summer camps with Roman and with Final’s 15U group, for whom he starts amongst a group of rising sophomores.
How good has the 6-3 combo guard been? When he played in front of the Penn State staff at their team camp last month, the Nittany Lions coaches offered Williams a scholarship. At the start of the live period last week, Iona followed suit.
“I was playing good and the coaches were impressed, so they offered me right after our last game,” he said. “I was shocked...well, I wasn’t shocked, but it was kind of a surprise, like ‘oh, wow.’ I didn’t know they were going to do it right then and there.
“There’s some people that don’t have offers until their senior year, so I don’t take it for granted,” he added. “I just keep a level head and keep going.”
There’s no doubt that Williams will play a major role, if not a starting one, for a Roman squad coming off a 23-win season and its third PIAA state championship in four years, as well as its third Catholic League title in that time. Say the same for his Team Final teammate and classmate, Jalen Duren, a 6-8 forward and fellow Penn State offeree, who will immediately become one of the best big men in the PCL.
Williams’ skills were apparent on Friday, as he scored 12 points, grabbed six rebounds, dished out five assists, plus two steals and a block as Final 15s team Team Silk (Md.). A confident lead guard with an ability to hit outside shots that belies his young age, Williams might jump right into a starting lineup alongside Division I-bound seniors Seth Lundy and Hakim Hart for head coach Matt Griffin.
“(Griffin has) just been saying I’m going to come in and play a big role as a point guard, and leader of a team that just came off a PCL championship,” Williams said. “And throughout the season, there might be some bad games and there will be some good games, but just keep a level head and play through the season.”
Keeshawn Kellman (2019/K-Low Elite/Perkiomen School, Pa.)
In recruiting, prep years serve a variety of purposes. Some players decide on prep school to bolster recruiting options, while others utilize the extra year for academic gains.
For the 6-8 Kellman, it’s a combination of both -- although the incoming Perkiomen School forward already boasts multiple Division I offers and a strong academic record. Kellman won’t turn 18 until this August, and a year at Perkiomen School in Pennsburg, Pa. will likely polish his game even more.
There’s a lot to like in Kellman’s game, especially as it will surely develop further in the coming months. At 6-8, Kellman is an elite rebounder that can score in multiple ways within the paint. The former standout at Allentown Central Catholic led his K-Low Elite team to the semifinals of Elevate Hoops’ Summer Hoop Fest this past week -- running the floor well and showcasing his rim protection ability against Team St8tement’s 17U side on Friday afternoon.
“Our team did really well this week,” Kellman said. “We’re really starting to gel and play better together. Especially this past week at Jefferson, we’ve been getting much better as a team and executing our plays.”
While a few prep schools are known for primarily focusing on basketball, Kellman is excited for the academic expectations at Perkiomen School. Better yet, he’ll be just 30 minutes from his high school days at Allentown Central Catholic -- a place Kellman helped lead to the PIAA Class 5A State Quarterfinals, averaging nine points a game before the Vikings fell to Bonner-Prendergast.
“At Perkiomen, you’ve really got to focus on school,” Kellman said of the coming year. “I’m still taking five classes, including AP courses as well. It’s school and basketball, I’m really excited for it.”
Holding offers from Lafayette, Colgate, and just this week, St. Francis (Pa.), Kellman said he’s looking forward to evaluating his recruitment after July’s live periods take place. And once that happens, Kellman will get right back to preparing for his prep year at Perkiomen School.
“Once the live period ends, Coach Baudinet wants me to keep working on my game,” Kellman said. “I’m planning to get back in the weight room, get some more shots up.”
Malik Edwards (above) was on fire from deep as K-Low's 15s beat the Jersey Shore Warriors. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
-- An entertaining local 15U matchup in the semifinals saw K-Low Elite pull away from the Jersey Shore Warriors for a 60-46 win. It looked like K-Low might run away early, jumping out to a 15-2 lead, but the Warriors battled back to make it a one-point game at half. K-Low was led by sharpshooting 6-2 Cardinal O’Hara guard Malik Edwards, who hit 4-of-5 3-pointers, all in the second half, to lead his team with 14 points; Haverford School 2021 Christian Clover chipped in 11 points and six rebounds. The K-Low interior defense, led by 6-7 Archbishop Carroll 2021 Anquan Hill and 6-6 Penncrest 2021 Denzel Atkinson-Boyer, proved to be too much for a guard-heavy Warriors lineup. Christian Brothers (N.J.) 2021 Colin Farrell led the way with 11 points, and the 6-2 guard already has a strong body and ability to score inside and out.
-- The Philly Hurricanes’ 17U come-from-behind win over K-Low Elite’s 16s was powered by a strong effort from the reserves, though Sankofa Freedom rising senior Jair Ballard-West (19 points, eight rebounds) had plenty to do with it as well. The muscular 6-3 wing forward was continually found plunging towards the bucket, where he excelled at finishing through contact. Bartram rising senior guard Donte DuPriest (13 points) and Abington Friends guard Taalib Holloman (11 points) each got to double figures off the bench. Starting point guard Khalif Washington (2019/Overbrook) didn’t have a great night shooting the ball, but came up with four clutch free throws down the stretch, finishing with six points, four rebounds and four assists.
-- Williams and Duren are only the tip of the iceberg on what is a very talented Team Final 2021 group that goes 11 deep, and every single kid on the roster has a shot at a Division I scholarship. Archbishop Wood point guard Rahsool Diggins, who’s on track to be a four-year starter, played a strong floor game in the win over Team Silk, finishing with 15 points, four rebounds and three steals, going 5-of-8 from the floor, 2-of-4 from deep and 3-of-3 from the line. Seven other players scored five-or-more points, including Westtown 2021s Aaron Reddish, the 6-5 young brother of Duke freshman Cam Reddish, who hit two 3-pointers, and John Camden, who’s playing with a cast on his broken right shooting hand but still knocked down two 3-pointers of his own and grabbed six rebounds.
-- After scoring over 1,000 points during his high school career at Conwell-Egan, Patrick Robinson will be taking his scoring talents to Combine Academy (NC). Robinson, reclassifying to 2019, led NEBC’s 17U team to a victory against the Philly Hurricanes on Friday. As a 6-foot, left-handed scoring guard, Robinson has received feedback after missing out on Division I looks at Conwell-Egan. In addition to working on scoring with his right-hand, Robinson will focus on playing as a true point guard during his prep year -- working on facilitation rather than pure scoring. Although a small sample size, Friday’s afternoon set saw Robinson dish nifty looks on back-to-back possessions for NEBC. With a change of scenery in North Carolina, his chase for an offer continues.