In a talent-stacked Reynoldsburg gym on Sunday, several Ohio prep hoopsters put on performances to be remembered. While Jackson, Andre Wesson and Kevin Vannatta guided their squad to a championship, the level of talent in the 2016 class was remarkable.
The Best of the Best
Jae'Sean Tate (6'4 SF, Pickerington Central / 2014):
Donning his uniform from the LeBron James Skills Academy, the Ohio State commit Tate played an offensive style reminiscent to the four-time MVP. Getting most of his points in the paint, Tate was an absolute bulldog on Sunday, barreling through traffic for points. In a first round matchup vs. Tanner Houska & Co., Tate would score clutch baskets in the overtime period, topped off by a three-point play to put his team ahead 52-49 with just under a second remaining. Although his team would be dispatched in the second round vs. the eventual champions, Tate played with his signature high-running motor that many in Ohio have come to love. Check out Tate's go-ahead basket at the end of regulation below.
Willie Jackson (6'5 SF, Garfield Heights / 2016):
Arguably the tournament's MVP, Jackson had his best all-around performance in weeks on Sunday. Controlling the glass, Jackson was the day's most dominant rebounder, in addition to being a force on the defensive end with his long wingspan. Jackson wowed spectators with powerful dunks in transition, and showed improved touch from the mid-range area. The 6'5 sophomore is a confident kid, as he told me last month that he plans on being the nation's No. 1 player, and it showed on Sunday. Jackson's inside presence, and ability to hit from 15 feet, helped stretch the floor and open up the three-point shooting of Mason Baich and Seve Stavroff. Jackson was the key element on a team that steam-rolled its way to a tournament championship. Playing alongside Buckeye commit Dave Bell, look for Jackson to help lead the Bulldogs deep in the state playoffs this season.
Eric James (6'6 SF, Westerville Central / 2014):
Committing to Duquesne at the end of September, James played with the free flowing mentality of a prospect done with a strenuous recruiting process on Sunday. Paired with Ohio Dominican commit Ronnie Williams, the tandem of seniors led a young core to the final four. James' most notable attribute during the AAU circuit was his three-point shooting and athleticism, and each were on display. Although losing to the eventual champions led by Willie Jackson, James' 23 points in the semifinals were a team-high. James has a beautiful jump shot and above-average athleticism to go with a 6'6 frame, making him quite the matchup for defenders.
Andre Wesson (6'5 SF/PF, Westerville South / 2016):
Seeing Wesson for the first time on Sunday, I came away more than impressed with the sophomore. With great intangibles and feel for the game, Wesson is a promising prospect in Central Ohio. At 6'5, the forward is a good shooter with a thick frame, and is very strong around the basket. Paired with Jackson in the post, the duo altered a high percentage of shots and were active on the glass. While his father is 6'9 and his younger brother, Kalib, is 6'8, look for Andre to add more length to an already impressive frame. The sophomore has a high basketball IQ and should see heavy minutes for the Wildcats this season.
Tarik Wright (6'4 SF, Columbus Walnut Ridge / 2016):
Leading his team all the way to the championship game on Sunday, Wright played with a combination of finesse and physicality that was simply hard to defend. Like Tate, Wright has a big body, and gets the majority of his paints around the basket. However, in the championship game, Wright slashed from the left wing, showing a level of finesse that I didn't expect out of the sophomore. With the graduation of do-it-all forward Rob Wheelwright, expect Wright to fill the role that the Wisconsin wideout excelled in for the Scots.
Dymiere Finch (6'2 PG, Columbus Walnut Ridge / 2014):
The flashiest of guards in the gym on Sunday was Finch. At 6'2, the senior was good size for his position, and adequate quickness which makes him hard to stay in front of. With above-average court vision and natural scoring ability, Finch is on the rise in Ohio's class of 2014. The senior does a great job of getting into the lane and either finishing gracefully or dishing it off to open teammates. Look for Finch to be one of the top players in the City-League South in 2013-'14.
Kevin Vannatta (6'2 SG, Upper Arlington / 2014):
Committed to UNC-Asheville, Vannatta was one of two seniors on a team that rolled to a tournament championship. Excelling in the half court, Vannatta has an ability to score both on the perimeter and around the basket. One of the area's top scorers a season ago, Vannatta has continued to add elements to his game to become a better all-around prospect. The guard found his way into the lane multiple times on Sunday, finishing with either hand and setting teammates up for scores. Alongside junior guard Danny Hummer, look for Vannatta and the Golden Bears to compete for an OCC championship.
Names on the Horizon
Mason Baich (6'2 SG, Dublin Jerome / 2016):
Really getting my first in depth look at Baich on Sunday, I was amazed with the all-around attributes that the sophomore possesses. With a great shooting stroke and quick feet, Baich is a good athlete that can excel in any system. Spotting up on the perimeter, Baich knocked down three after three, while also getting into the lane and finding Jackson for points. However, it was Baich's fastbreak poster slam on a defender in the semifinals that stole the show and captured the attention of everyone in the gym.
Seve Stavroff (5'10 PG, Dublin Jerome / 2016):
Drawing comparisons to Steve Nash from the people around me, Stavroff did everything that a coach would want out of a point guard on Sunday. The sophomore is a flashy ball-handler that rarely turns it over, and can keep a defense guessing with his deep shooting ability. Dialing up Jackson multiple times for alley-oops, Stavroff was the highest assist man in the tournament, as a loaded squad full of shooters gave the sophomore options on who to pass to. Look for Stavroff and Baich to lead a talented group of underclassmen at Dublin Jerome this season.
Xavier Holston (5'11 PG/SG, Columbus Eastmoor / 2015):
Arguably the top 2015 prospect in the house, Eastmoor's Holston was a scoring machine on Sunday. Built like Miami commit JaQuan Newton, Holston's quickness on the drive and finishing ability reminded me a lot of Newton. The junior has good court vision to go along with a nice crossover dribble that he uses to create separation. Look for talented junior guards Holston and Jalon Lewis to lead the Warriors this season.
Tanner Houska (5'11 PG, Medina Highland / 2015):
After impressing for the final several weeks at Coach Vic's Open Gym, Houska continued his high-level of play at the point guard position on Sunday. An excellent game-manager, Houska has every intangible that you look for from a lead guard. Playing great on-ball defense, and finding ways to create offense on the drive, Houska's team was one Jalen Tate mid-range jumpshot away from completing a shocking upset on Sunday. Houska dealt with the 6'4 sophomore all game long, and rarely turned the ball over, even with the physical on-ball defense. Houska and talented forward Brogan Scott lead a talented junior class at Medina's Highland High School.
Jaden O'Neal (6' PG/SG, Lima Shawnee / 2016):
Looking strikingly similar to Tyus Jones, O'Neal was another impressive guard on Sunday. Fearless on the drive, O'Neal went against bigger defenders and held his own in the paint. While many guards can get to the rim, it is the finishing ability that sets them apart from others, and O'Neal was able to do just that. O'Neal is one of several talented sophomore point guards in the Lima area, as Central Catholic's Xavier Simpson and Tre Cobbs are two of the state's best.
Travis Gleason (5'6 PG, Reynoldsburg / 2014):
More often than not, Gleason is one of the smallest players on the floor in the majority of games that he plays in. However, the Reynoldsburg senior fears no evil with the ball in his hands, and can make an instant impact, either from the opening tip, or coming off the bench as he did all summer with Ohio Varsity. Gleason is a tremendous on-ball defender, having excellent foot speed and quick hands, which are used to maximum potential in the full court press. The senior has improved his scoring ability, as Gleason looks to be a more confident jump shooter, while also finishing at a higher rate around the rim.
Ronnie Williams (6'3 SG, Columbus Brookhaven / 2014):
Committing to Ohio Dominican this past week, Williams played stress-free basketball on Sunday. While the Brookhaven senior has always been an incredibly tough defender, Williams took the defensive pressure to the next level. Terrorizing opposing guards with a defensive style that can be best characterized as "94 feet of Hell," Williams created several turnovers that turned into slam dunks from Eric James. Williams carried over his good three-point shooting from Coach Vic's Open Gym, and was an offensive threat, either hitting from deep or slashing to the rim. Paired with rising junior Shad Kimble at Brookhaven, look for the Bearcats to be a continual threat in the City-League North.
Demarco Cannon (6'1 SG, Springfield / 2015):
Coming off knee surgery, Cannon showed a level of bounce that is a great sign for the junior's development. Cannon is a great athlete that has improved his jump shooting, and should be one of the top players in his area this upcoming season. The junior is an active defender, and can rise up in an instant in transition. After impressing at the Cincinnati City Series a year ago, look for Cannon to continue to improve his stock in the month of October.
Shawon Wilson (6'2 PG, Columbus Africentric / 2015):
One of the more underrated guards in Ohio's class of 2015, Wilson proved again that he can excel in whatever role he is needed. Getting his teammates involved early on, Wilson can heat up rather quickly on the offensive end, scoring both on the drive and from the perimeter. The sophomore guard gets great arch on his jump shot, and reacts well to physical defense. The Marion-Franklin transfer wont back down from anyone, and provides the type of toughness at the point guard position that is necessary in the Columbus City-League. After an impressive summer on the AAU circuit with the Ohio Hoopsters, one that included a 34-point outburst vs. Carlton Bragg and Ohio Basketball Club, keep an eye out for Wilson and the Africentric Nubians this season.
Other Notable Performers
- Austin Armwood (6' PG, Westerville North / 2015)
- Ulmer Manzie (6'8 C, Columbus Africentric / 2015)
- Nic Bapst (6'2 SG, Grove City / 2015)
- Jimmy Ratliff (6'6 SF, Hilliard Davidson / 2016)
- Kalib Younger (6'2 SG, Columbus Walnut Ridge / 2016)
- Evan French (6'4 SF, Warren Local / 2014)
- Erron James (6' PG/SG, Westerville Central / 2016)
- Jalen Tate (6'4 SG, Pickerington Central / 2016)
- Brogan Scott (6'5 SF, Medina Highland / 2015)
- David Dunnigan (6'7 PF/C, Padua / 2015)