Prep Hoops Bash In The Desert Top Performers

by Justin Vargas | Posted on Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

A nice percentage of the top local talent took part in this year’s Prep Hoops Bash in the Desert tournament, with some of the top local AAU programs out and in effect. Some news and notes and some food for thought over the weekend.

Powerhouse Hoops Dynasty out of Tucson won the whole thing behind the tournament's MVP, 6-foot-3 2020 nationally-ranked point guard Evan Nelson (Salpointe Catholic). Nelson was unbelievable all weekend, putting his team on his shoulders in some close, hard-fought games against the likes of Team Harden, 702 Elite and BCNP Elite on their way to winning the tournament. He would save his best for last in a 33-point effort in which he knocked down 6 3-pointers and got to the rim with ease. Offensively, he is about as crafty as they come. And when he really has it going, he becomes a great playmaker and sets up teammates for baskets that a 5-9 center from the local YMCA could finish.

6-4 2019 guard Jackson Ruai (PHH Dynasty/Amphitheater) might have had the highlight of the weekend when he went backdoor on a cut and ended the play with a 2-hand flush on top of a defenders head. Ruai is a special athlete in the sense of not just how high he leaps, but how fast he gets up. It's effortless and there is no wind-up in his jump. The fact that he also has the ability to knock it down from the outside and he is one of the better defenders in the state makes him one of the more intriguing prospects you will come across.

Powerhouse Dynasty's 6-9 2019 big man John Olmstead had a solid showing over the weekend. He gets down in the trenches and plays physical and has some fluidity to his game. He needs to be more assertive on the offensive end and work on pinning guys down in the post, but he has a good feel for the game and doesn't mind banging down low. He also has a nice outside stroke when he shoots it but he is not a volume shooter. Very solid rebounder and good help defender.

Blue Chip Nation Power Elite's 6-foot-4 2019 sharp shooting guard Jalen Williams put on a great showing this weekend. If there are 3 better shooters in the state of Arizona, I'd really have to see them. And what sets him over-the-top is that he isn't a shooter that has to sit down in a spot on the outside and wait to get the pass. He can get his own shot out there and nail it with regularity. And if you think you can just run him off the 3-point line and feed him to the tree's, you'd be sorely mistaken. He has no problem giving you buckets in the paint or off of a pull-up mid-range either. And he is just that, a walking bucket.

The player that broke out in my eyes the biggest way was a kid I have never seen play before. 6-foot 2019 guard CJ Nnorom from BCNP Elite (Cactus Shadows). Not only is he good money from behind the 3-point line but he is athletic and built like a strong safety and finishes off of penetration as well. On the defensive end he is a stud. Very active with unlimited stamina and gets up into you up the whole floor. Came away very impressed with him.

6-foot-7 2019 wing/forward Payton Dickerson (BCNP/Hillcrest) is very intriguing. He stretches out a defense with a great stroke from the outside and gets that shot up about as fast as you can ask a shooter to with his size. I would like to see him become more active and tougher inside but he has some tools in the shed for sure.

Powerhouse Schumaker's 6-foot-1 super bouncy 2019 guard Josh Ursery was in his bag a little bit over this weekend. In their loss to a Team Inspire team filled with D-1 prospects, Ursery was one of the better players on the floor. He challenged a very big and talented team on both ends of the floor. Offensively he was taking it as a personal challenge to try and dunk on everyone who stepped in his way. He was an equal opportunist on the defensive end, where he took it upon himself to challenge everything at the rim despite giving up 6-10 inches against just about everyone on the floor. More than the athleticism that Ursery displayed in that game, it was his heart that stood out the most. The kid loves to play at a high level. He also made plays for his teammates in this game and looked every bit of a point guard. On one play he found his teammate, 6-3 2019 guard Josh Hawkins, cutting back door with a nice pass that led to Hawkins throwing it down on someone's head. He showed me a little something that game.

6-foot-9 2019 big man Miles Houston (PHH Schumaker) has a pretty similar game to Olmstead in the sense that they do all the small things down low that some bigs shy away from and they do it with a smile on their face. The difference is that Houston is a little more assertive than Olmstead on the offensive end and has a little bit better of a technique in receiving the ball in the post and making a move. However, Olmstead is a little more sturdy down there in what might contribute to the fact that Houston is still making his way back from a leg injury. He also is one to watch moving forward as a D1 prospect.

5-10 2019 point guard Zach Paloma from that PHH Schumaker team is about as tough as they come. Despite lack of length, he plays the game so athletically imposing. He is compact and strong and has the pep in his step to be a pest on the defensive end. A pass-first point guard that runs an offense like a seasoned vet. Has a decent shot from the outside but needs more consistency out of it. Penetrates and dishes with the best of them.

Mountain Pointe's 6-foot-9 2019 athletic big man Jalen Graham suited up this weekend for Grassroots Elite in this event and shined. He undoubtedly threw down more dunks than anybody over the weekend in Arizona and caught a couple bodies and zipped the body-bag up himself on a few of them. He also made his presence felt on the boards and on the defensive end where he made shot-blocking his own personal hobby. While his skill is still evolving on the perimeter, he is a dog, despite his thin frame. He plays a little hungrier than most big men you will run across in AZ. Once he gets a consistent 16-foot jump shot, he is going to be a factor at the next level. He already has a good ability to make a move and put the ball on the deck. Great productivity and even greater upside.

The other player I really liked on that team, also a Mountain Pointe product, that caught my eye for the first time was 6-foot-6 2019 wing Jonah LaBranche. A physical kid with the body that can withstand some punishment. A nice step-thru game off of penetration and plays well with the ball in his hands. A nice creator that can find cutters and open shooters. A very underrated all-around game. Did not get to see much of his ability to shoot it, so that aspect of his game is still a question mark to me. But I love that he brings the fork, knife and spoon to the table. At this level, he can guard 4 positions on the floor and play both off the ball and on it.

Team Harden's 6-foot-2 2021 point guard TyTy Washington (Cesar Chavez) shows me something and entertains me every time I watch him play. He is from a family that is entrenched in the Phoenix basketball community and even without knowing him, you get the sense he has been around the game his whole life. He is one of the few players in the state of Arizona that looks like they have spent some time outside of an air-conditioned gym and played on a blacktop in 100+ degree weather. He is now starting to look like the best player on the floor each time he plays at this level. His pull-up jumper is one of the most consistent you will find. Also has a great knack for getting to the free-throw line. On defense is where he has improved the most in the time I have seen him. Where at one time he looked more like he was on that side of the ball just to hurry up and get to the other side, he now looks like he's on the defensive end with a purpose and to send a message. One of my favorite players to watch boogie on the scene right now.

It is almost becoming a broken record to speak on this kid along with Washington. They play for the same high school team, as well as Club ball and the chances of ever seeing one without the other as it relates to basketball is almost like seeing a solar eclipse. In case you don't know AZ basketball well, that player is 5-11 2021 point guard Ricardo Sarmiento. Sarmiento's pull-up game is about as lethal as Washington and he is every bit the dog on the defensive end, if not even more of one. The kid plays defense like you took his lunch money when he was 6 and he's coming back to collect. A super solid and steady guard that makes the right pass, hardly ever turns the ball over and creates space to get his shot off very well. The two make for about as well of a 1-2 punch as one of Tyson's jab-uppercut combos in the 90's.

Big DeAndre Henry, the 6-7 2020 "grown man" from Mountain Pointe and Team Harden had some impressive plays over the weekend. While he played like the junkyard dog he usually does over the weekend, he added in a nice little euro-step to his game and put it on display a few times over the weekend. Harden's other player that caught my eye was another Chavez product in 6-foot-4 2020 wing Nyjier Andrews. While I have always seen his toughness and his value on the court in doing the little things that mean so much to a team's success, I never noticed how athletic and bouncy he really is until this weekend. He is usually so scrappy and in the scrum defensively that you don't see him in the open court much where he can display that athleticism, but if you watch him in warm-ups or get a glimpse of him going up to block a shot, you will see that the boy has some bunnies in him.

Powerhouse 16U Elite's 6-foot-6 2020 wing Jerry Iliya was one of the better players over the weekend. He got buckets almost at will by driving to the rack and finishing over and thru defenders. While his shot from the outside needs a whole lot of work and he is still very raw, he has the things you can not teach. Great size, a big-time athlete and an ability to contort his body mid-air. While he can be erratic at times, he is as effective as you will find at this level when he has it going. He gets to the bucket with ease and will finish some buckets leaving you wonder how he got it off and some with dunks that make you want to walk out of the gym to collect your thoughts. He was PHH 16's best player this weekend.

PHH 16's 6-foot-4 2020 guard Kiimani Holt (Rancho Solano) had yet another strong showing. Did what is becoming accustom for the bouncy, athletic guard. Finished at a very high rate around the rim, got to the charity stripe on a regular, got timely buckets and had some dunks that put a sour taste in your mouth. He needs some work on that free-throw line and want to see more consistency from the outside from him, but he still makes it impossible for you not to talk about him in anything he takes part in.

PHH 16's 6-foot-1 2020 point guard Tay Boothman (Buckeye) struggled with his usually hot stroke from the outside over the weekend. However, it was nice to see that when shots were not falling he figured out a way to impact the game and help his team in other ways. He locked up on the defensive end, created for teammates and found a way to make plays. In the teams last game he turned the ball over too much but he played through some mistakes and stayed engaged.

The Alpha Males 6-foot-7 2019 wing/forward Jalen Johnson had a great showing over the weekend as well. He has a great look to him. He plays at his pace and a good feel for the game. He's long and smooth and gets his shot off with ease. While I'd like to see him get in it more defensively, his length and mobility make him a solid defender.
Team Inspire had a group from Hillcrest take part in the weekends festivities and they were scary when they got going. While the team as a whole looked impressive, especially on the eye test, there were a few that stood out even more.

6-foot-11 2020 big man Davion Bradford is a load that few are able to handle down low. While he is battling a minor ankle injury, his feet are starting to look like they are catching up. He had some moves inside that looked big-time and he finished down low at a high clip. Some of his dunks looked like a pro was throwing them down. His foot speed is still a step or two slow, but that will just come with time. I'd like to see him more dominant on the defensive end, where he could be a serious factor one day. Nevertheless, a high-major prospect without question.

6-foot-8 2019 forward Stephan Gabriel (Team Inspire/Hillcrest) is a grown man and then some. His ability to take the ball to the rack and finish over just about anyone that is crazy enough to step in his way is big-time. He can live at the line and has the body to inflict punishment inside. While he has the ability to put the ball on the deck, I would like to see him take his game to the next level by making his handle more of a direct asset. Meaning more dribbles that go north and south and less east and west. His shot from the outside is not broken, but it needs work. If he gets through a couple of his own hurdles, there is a chance we could be hearing his name on a major TV network one day as long as he is willing to get out of his own way with a few of the details to his game. While I am one of the biggest Gabriel fans, I am also one of his biggest critics.

The most impressed I was all weekend was with Team Inspire's new Hillcrest transfer, 6-foot-8 2019 wing John Harge. He is big time. He might have been the most talented player the event had over the weekend. It is so hard to try to pick out a weakness in his game. Size? CHECK! Shot? CHECK! Handle? CHECK! Good defender? CHECK! He is simply a basketball Swiss Army Knife. I came across a couple conversations he had with coaches and basketball people he was meeting for the first time and came away just as impressed with who he is off the court as well as he is on it. Very well-spoken, respectful and extremely coachable. Head Coach Nick Weaver and Hillcrest Prep got themselves a gem with this one.

Big Ups to Prep Hoops for holding a quality event with quality local and out-of-state talent. And to all that local talent for repping AZ so well! Way to work fellas!


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