MANHEIM, Pa. -- The Hoop Group’s Summer Jam Fest packed Spooky Nook Sports for the weekend, with several hundred coaches flocking to Lancaster County for a massive tournament filled with shoe-sponsored programs and some of the best non-shoe programs around.
Here’s a notebook from championship Sunday:
Expressions Elite's 17s pose with the trophy after winning the Hoop Group Summer Jam Fest title. (Photo: Tyler Sandora/CoBL)
Rising sophomore Clarke wins 17U championship for Expressions
As the clock ticked down in the second half of the 17-and-under championship game against Middlesex Magic, Expressions Elite was down by three and in need of a 3-pointer to keep its championship hopes alive.
A missed three led to an offensive rebound by Vincent Mitchell, who quickly spun around and found teammate Terrance Clarke on the wing, about seven or eight feet beyond the 3-point arc. Clarke, a class of 2021 recruit playing up two years, calmly stepped up and nailed the three with two defenders in his face, tying the game and sending it into an extra period.
Tied in overtime, with a few seconds left, Clarke came off of a screen from the elbow and caught a backdoor alley-oop to win the game for Expressions, 65-63. Clarke finished with 19 points, a game-high.
“I just play hard for my teammates,” Clarke said after the win. “Everything is for them. This is their last year of AAU so I wanted to help get a win for them.
“I just play with confidence,” the 6-foot-6 wing continued. “I work out every day and prepare for times like that.”
Clarke’s teammate, Noah Fernandes, added 17 points, and Mitchell chipped in 14. Tommy O’Neil paced Middlesex Magic with 16 points of his own, including some big buckets down the stretch to keep the game close.
Even though he’s two years younger than the competition and his teammates, Clarke didn’t back down one bit. He’s been with this age group the entire AAU season, and while he might have been a little nervous in the beginning, he’s grown more comfortable to a level that he’s able to step up and his two buzzer beaters to win the game.
It’s easy to see why schools like Syracuse, Louisville, Iowa, and UConn, among other have already offered the rising sophomore. Clarke is ranked by ESPN as the second-best player in the graduating class of 2021.
At 6-foot-6, Clarke glides down the court en route to easy buckets at the rim. He’s still long, but has a solid frame he should grow into one the next few years. He made some moves look effortless as he played well beyond his years.
“I’m a playmaker,” he said. “At 6-6 I can see a lot of the floor. I can score and help teammates. Anything for them.” -- Tyler Sandora
Stevens uses doubt to bring home 16U championship
All that Domingus Stevens needed to hear during Team Takeover 16’s championship game was a little bit of doubt from his opponents in regard to his three-point shot.
Stevens went on to silence the critics in his team’s most important game of the weekend, nailing four 3’s and scoring 16 points as Takeover won the championship over the NJ Crusaders, 55-45.
“Yeah, usually they try to say that to get in my head,” Stevens said following his MVP performance. “But I don’t take it to the head, I just show them my game. I mean, I’m a shooter, so I’m going to let it fly if you let me know.”
Even though the Crusaders, a cinderella team which took down numerous shoe-company based teams like WeR1, Team Melo, and NY Rens to reach the championship, put up a fight in the first half, the depth and chemistry of Takeover was too much to overcome.
“We know each other,” Stevens said on his team, “And how we play and stuff from the high school league, and playing together, so it gives us a better experience with each other.”
“A bunch of us have been together since we were six or seven, so the chemistry is there,” teammate Ishmael Leggett said. “We know how to play basketball the right way.”
Leggett added 11 points, and eight other players besides Stevens and Leggett scored to pace the D.C. based program. Crusaders didn’t go down without giving a scare, led by Zyon Marsh (2020/Columbia, N.J.) who impressed by scoring 21 points in the loss.
Stevens seemed to always have an answer for when the Crusaders would go on a run by silencing the fans with his timely 3-pointers. A lot of momentum built up from the Crusaders was diminished when Stevens got his feet set and let it fly.
The 6-6 guard has a smooth stroke with a high and quick release. Most of his shots came courtesy of the pass, but Stevens did have a few baskets in the paint off of the dribble. He got himself squared up to the basket, and with his pretty shot, the ball is going to go in more often that not.
Stevens holds offers from Maryland, Tulane, George Mason, George Washington, and has interest from others. He’s been to Maryland for an unofficial visit, and plans to get to Syracuse in August and West Virginia at some point.
This the second championship in the past week or so for the Team Takeover program, as the 17U team won the Nike EYBL’s Peach Jam in Augusta, Georgia. The 16’s will travel down to Orlando this week for the AAU Nationals to close out the July live period, and Stevens has confidence in his team over the last few games of the year.
“Yeah, I think we’re going to win it all.” -- Tyler Sandora
-- WeR1’s 16Us made it to the semifinals of their bracket, despite playing without three usual starters for the weekend. Without scoring guards Roddy Gayle or Ronnie Ellis, the onus was on Girard College’s Mikeal Jones and Coatesville’s Jhamir Brickus, who carried the load with 34 points in a 58-43 win over Team Thrill in a quarterfinal matchup of Under Armour-sponsored programs. Brickus, a 5-9 point guard, picked up offers from Bryant and Rider last month, his first two; he also said he’s hearing from VCU, St. Joe’s, Siena and Delaware.
-- One other local program to make a run into the semifinals of a main bracket was the East Coast Power 15Us, who beat two Nike-based programs to wind up in the final four. In a quarterfinal win over Boo Williams, it was Anthony Wise (21/Exeter) who hit the game-winning free throws with 0.3 seconds left after getting an offensive rebound and drawing the foul. Bonner-Prendergast 2021 James Welde impressed with 15 points, six rebounds and three steals, as the 6-3 guard showed a smooth handle and capable outside shot along with a willingness to go inside. John Seidman (21/Haverford High) also chipped in three 3-pointers for nine points, adding two rebounds, two steals and two assists as well.
-- Ishmael Leggett ended up scoring what would prove the be the difference maker in Team Takeover’s 70-69 win over The Family in the 16u semifinals. Leggett’s mid-range jumper to seal the game was just one of his many assets he displayed on Sunday. in the 16u championship game, Leggett dropped 11 en route to a victory. The 6-2 rising junior at St. John’s College HS (D.C.), Leggett was all over the floor on the defensive end, and made some nifty moves to get to the rim as well. He describes himself as a tough player, and his defense leads to his offense. On a team with a plethora of talent, Leggett is just one of many Division I players. Currently, the schools that have offered Leggett include George Washington, Stony Brook, Towson, Mount St. Mary’s, and Loyola (Md.). VCU has been expressing interest as of late, and Leggett hopes to add to this list of offers next week down in Orlando to wrap up the July Live Period.
-- Over the last few weeks, when he’s been able to play in front of college coaches, Noah Fernandes’s recruitment has begun to blow up. Old Dominion, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, and Clemson are just a few of the schools chasing after the 2019 Woodstock Academy guard. Fernandes claims he wants to try and make a decision before his senior year of basketball starts, sometime around November. He’s visited Pitt, NC State, Boston University, and will go see UMass on August 4. He’s still waiting for offers from Pitt and NC State, but hopes to get them soon. An assistant from Pitt was on hand to watch Fernandes play against District Basketball Club. The quick 6-foot guard displayed his ability to play defense, and to find teammates in the open floor and distribute the ball.