The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Hoophall Classic annually features the top high school players and teams from around the country. The event is held over the Martin Luther King Day Weekend at bball's ground zero, Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts, formerly known as the YMCA Training School, where Dr. James Naismith invented the game in 1891.
Hoophall has hosted the best high school teams in the country over the past 15 years, along with many NBA First Round Draft Picks, College All-Americans and McDonald’s and Jordan Brand All-Americans.
In the 2014 NBA Draft alone, 12 Hoophall Classic Alumni were selected in the first round including Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle and Kyle Anderson, among others. 13 players who participated in the event went in the first round in 2010, including DeMarcus Cousins, Lance Stephenson and Hassan Whiteside.
To put it mildly, Hoophall is the premier prep showcase for elite talent, featuring the stars of tomorrow showcasing their incredible talents in the shadow of the Hall of Fame and at the birthplace of basketball.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, just look around Blake Arena and check out the college coaches taking in the action with admiring and loving gazes. This year, the multitude in attendance included Hall of Fame former coach George Raveling, who is currently Nike’s Director of Global Basketball, UCONN’s Kevin Ollie, Kentucky’s John Calipari, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, Texas' Shaka Smart, Yale’s James Jones and assistants from many other programs.
Without further ado, I present The Shadow League’s most amazing performers from the 2016 Hoophall Classic.
KOBI SIMMONS – 6-Foot-6 Point Guard, St. Francis High School, Alpharetta, Georgia, Class of 2016:
Simmons announced, live on ESPN from this year’s Hoophall, that he would be attending Arizona next year instead of accepting the scholarship offers from his other frontrunners – UNLV, Ohio State and Kentucky. Despite sitting out more than half of the second quarter after picking up his third foul against Utah’s Lone Peak squad, which featured the electrifying Frank Jackson, Simmons put up an impressive 34 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two steals.
With outstanding size for a lead guard, Simmons is very smooth and fluid. Lightning quick in the transition game, he also has an explosive first step off the dribble in the half court. He’s also an excellent and willing defender. His squad won perhaps the most exciting game of the weekend, a thrilling 94-92 double-overtime victory over Lone Peak.
FRANK JACKSON – 6-foot-4 Combo Guard, Lone Peak High School, Alpine, Utah, Class of 2016:
We gushed about Frank at last summer’s Elite 24 event in New York City, but the Duke University signee took it to another level at Hoophall. There is no better scorer on the perimeter in this incredibly talented crop from the Class of 2016, which many are claiming is among the best ever in the history of high school basketball. While that last statement has yet to be proven, Jackson needs to prove nothing else. He will be a superstar at Duke next year, one of the best and most talented guards to ever wear a Blue Devils uniform.
The official scorekeeper had him scoring 49 points against Kobi Simmons’ St. Francis squad, but I was sitting next to the legendary talent scout Tom Konchalski, who told me that the official stat sheet was incorrect. Konchalski had him erupting for FIDDY!!!
His fundamental game and vision is unreal, but when he splits the double-team with a Pearl Washington-type crossover, motors into the paint and elevates to soar above the rim and throw down some crazy slam dunks, it’s almost enough to make you involuntarily slap your grandmother.
TJ LEAF – 6-Foot-9 Power Forward, Foothills Christian High School, El Cajon, California, Class of 2016:
Leaf’s inside/outside game will make Bruins fans very happy when he suits up for UCLA next year. Against a Sacred Heart squad from Connecticut that walked in with a 42-game winning streak and featuring stud guard Mustapha Heron, Leaf dominated with a triple-double of 30 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and a multitude of blocked shots. In Foothills Christian’s 82-80 victory, Leaf showed off a solid midrange game along with quick dribble moves in the paint and a nice, soft touch around the rim.
His bounce off of two feet can be surprising to the uninitiated. His motor on the defensive end is impressive, and his versatility, coupled with the fact that he plays hard bodes for him having an immediate impact in the PAC-12 next year. His passing from the high and low post, as well as from the wing, is eye-opening.
MUSTAPHA HERON – 6-Foot-4 Shooting Guard, Sacred Heart High School, West Haven, Connecticut, Class of 2016:
Heron, who is headed to Auburn next year, should have been included on the McDonald’s All-American roster, which was revealed this weekend as well. At the start of the 4th Quarter, Sacred Heart was down by 16 points to TJ Leaf and Foothills Christian. But Heron scored 32 overall points and his back-to-back three-pointers down the stretch tied the game at 80.
The left-hander is very strong and good at creating space of the dribble for his jumper. He’s able to impose his will on a defense because of his strength. His ability to absorb and score through contact is what separates him from some of the other talented guards in the senior class.
VJ KING – 6-Foot-7 Small Forward, Paul VI High School, Fairfax, Virginia, Class of 2016:
King scored 23 points in Paul VI’s 68-60 victory over Metuchen, New Jersey’s St. Joseph High School. A smooth, long wing player on the perimeter, his strength lies in the transition game right now. Headed to Louisville next year, his agility and fluidity will be an asset to coach Rick Pitino’s running game.
His ability to handle the ball will allow him to slide over to shooting guard in college if he can improve his deep ball. A native of Akron, Ohio, King does many things well, including defending, rebounding, finishing around the rim with both hands and passing.
MARKUS HOWARD – 5-Foot-11 Point Guard, Findlay Prep, Las Vegas, Nevada, Class of 2016:
A native of Arizona, rumors are circulating that he will reclassify in order to graduate this year and be eligible for college ball next year. He’s received scholarship offers from the likes of Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, UCONN and Indiana. Howard will not impress you during pregame warm-ups. He looks like your average high school player while others are soaring through the air to rip the rim down, but once the game starts, you can’t take your eyes off of him. An exceptional long range shooter, he connected on five three-pointers and scored 25 points in Findlay Prep’s 73-59 victory over the Toronto Athletes Institute and their much-hyped prospect, 7-Foot-1 Thon Maker.
(Maker is an exceptional help-defender and supreme shot blocker, but he is a work in progress on the offensive end, despite having a pretty decent shot. If you’re one of these “talent evaluators” calling him the next Kevin Durant because of his size and build, you’re an idiot. Please stop doing that, it’s unfair to the kid. Maker is very good and his potential is through the roof, but he’s got a long way to go in order to become an impact freshman in college, let alone a stud in the NBA.)
Howard is short and stocky, but his range extends beyond the college three-point line. His body control is exceptional and he’s deadly off the catch and shoot, along with pulling up off the dribble. A very good floor general, he also runs an offense while incorporating his teammates. In Findlay Prep’s second game of the weekend on Sunday, a 91-67 annihilation of Newark, New Jersey’s St. Benedict’s Prep, Howard dazzled again while connecting on six three-pointers en route to 26 points as the Pilots remained undefeated.
CHAYLYN MARTIN – 6-Foot-1 Guard, Weaver High School, Hartford, Connecticut, Class of 2017:
Martin had an outstanding all around game in Weaver’s 76-70 win over the Bronx’s St. Raymond High School.
(Photo Credit: courant.com)
The junior guard had 28 points, 16 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals. He also drew two charges.
MOHAMED BAMBA – 7-Foot Power Forward, Westtown School, West Chester, Pennsylvania, Class of 2017:
A native of Harlem, NY, Bamba is one of the prized recruits in the junior class. His matchup against big man Udoka Azubuike and his Potter’s House Christian squad out of Jacksonville, Florida was highly anticipated, but Bamba made easy work of Azubuike, the massive McDonald’s All American who is weighing scholarship offers from Maryland, Kentucky, Texas and Kansas, among a host of others.
Bamba’s physical makeup is astounding. He’s slim but has very broad shoulders and he’s a lot stronger than he appears to be at first glance. Azubuike is good, but he’s nowhere near Bamba’s projection in terms of potential. With huge hands, he has a wing span that nearly measure eight feet! Incredibly mobile and agile for a 7-footer, watching him simply move at top speeds in the open floor will make your jaw drop.
His ability to elevate is sinister and with his length and instincts, he’s a defensive menace on the wing and in the post. Bamba is a special, special talent. A very bright young man, he plays with that Harlem swag in terms of his attitude on the court and looks like he’s having fun while competing. He finished with 13 points, 16 rebounds, 10 blocks, five steals and five assists in Westtown’s 53-35 win.
BRIAN BOWEN – 6-Foot-7 Small Forward, La Lumiere School, La Porte, Indiana, Class of 2017:
A native of Saginaw, Michigan, Bowen scored 29 points and had three blocks, three steals and five assists in La Lumiere’s 62-58 overtime win against Elizabeth, New Jersey’s The Patrick School. A big, skilled guard with athleticism, he’s an aggressive scorer with a nice mid-range repertoire.
Bowen is weighing scholarship offers from the likes of UCLA, Texas, Michigan State, Louisville, Indiana and Boston College, among a host of others.
HAMIDOU DIALLO – 6-foot-5 Shooting Guard, Putnam Science Academy, Putnam, Connecticut, Class of 2017:
Diallo, who is from Queens, New York, scored 27 of his 30 points in the second half and pulled down 11 rebounds in Putnam’s 89-76 win over Massachusetts’ Commonwealth Academy. The junior holds scholarship offers from Syracuse, Louisville, Providence, USC, UCONN, Florida, Alabama and many, many others.
Diallo attacks in a plethora of ways on the offensive end and his mix of short jumpers and ferocious dunks was impressive.
BRUCE BROWN – 6-Foot-4 Shooting Guard, Vermont Academy, Saxtons River, Vermont, Class of 2016:
I know this sounds sacrilegious, but Brown looks like he’s some type of kin to Russell Westbrook. I ain’t saying he’s the next coming of Russ, but dude is definitely a freak of nature. Brown chose the University of Miami over a long list of suitors, and Hurricanes fans will be treated to one of the best guards they’ve ever had in the very near future.
The Boston-area native scorched for 37 points in Vermont’s 94-87 loss to New Hampshire’s Brewster Academy on Sunday.
He soared above the rim with an elite explosiveness on a number of occasions, drawing gasps from the crowd, in addition to being a marksman from deep. His two-handed rim-wrecker towards the end of the first half, where he split a double-team at the top of the key was mind-boggling in how crisp his dribble was, how high he elevated and how strong he finished.
TAUREAN THOMPSON – 6-Foot-10 Power Forward, Brewster Academy, Wolfeboro, Massachusetts, Class of 2016:
The Jersey City, New Jersey native scored 23 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked four shots in Brewster’s 94-87 win over Bruce Brown’s Vermont Academy squad. Thompson currently holds scholarship offers from SMU, Syracuse, North Carolina State and Xavier, among others.
He has excellent mobility and it’s easy to see that his best basketball is ahead of him. Thompson can play away from the rim, competes hard, runs the floor, and has a decent rhythm in the mid-range game.
WENYEN GABRIEL – 6-Foot-10 Forward, Wilbraham and Monson Academy, Wilbraham, Massachusetts, Class of 2016:
Gabriel, who will play at the University of Kentucky next year, is one of the most versatile players in the country. A classic late bloomer, he had zero scholarship offers going into the summer of 2014. The New Hampshire native is still somewhat raw, but his potential is through the roof.
He had 18 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in Wilbraham and Monson’s 69-61 loss to Massachusetts’ MacDuffie School. With a 7-foot-1 wingspan, he runs the floor with purpose and is exceptional on the offensive glass and on the defensive end. He attacks the basket with a quick first step and can drive with either hand. An outstanding student, he plays with a hunger that cannot be taught.
MALIK MONK – 6-Foot-4 Guard, Bentonville High School, Bentonville, Arkansas, Class of 2016:
Another stud in coach John Calipari’s 2016 recruiting hall, Monk scored 22 points, along with eight rebounds and six assists in a 72-50 drubbing at the hands of Jersey City’s St. Anthony’s and their legendary coach Bob Hurley, Sr.
Monk’s passing and vision is marvelous and his flight game is ridiculous. Hurley’s defensive pressure kept Monk in check for most of the game and he did most of his damage after the game had long been decided. But his otherworldly dunk with 1:30 left in the game showed off the elite athleticism that Kentucky fans will thoroughly enjoy in Lexington next year. He’s an adept scorer off the catch and the dribble and when he takes flight, buckle up your seatbelt. His transition game as a ballhandler will be fun to watch next year, when he’ll be playing with elite big men that can finish.
JAYSON TATUM – 6-Foot-9 Small Forward, Chaminade College Prep, Saint Louis, Missouri, Class of 2016:
The Duke bound Tatum, considered the best small forward in the country, scored seven of his 40 points in overtime of their 72-69 loss to Hyattsville, Maryland’s DeMatha Catholic, and also added 11 rebounds, four assists and a number of intimidating blocked shots.
An excellent athlete who will continue to add muscle to his lean frame, Tatum excels in both the transition and half-court game. An exceptional ball-handler for a player of his size, his footwork is excellent. Very fluid, his mid-range and post moves would work on the NBA level right now.
MARKELLE FULTZ – 6-Foot-4 Guard, DeMatha Catholic High School, Hyattsville, Maryland, Class of 2016:
Fultz surprised many when he chose the University of Washington’s scholarship offer over those from North Carolina, Kansas, Louisville, Georgetown, UCONN, Maryland, Arizona and a host of others. He played a very controlled game, scoring a quiet 20 points, but turning the offensive heat up when necessary. 16 of his points came in the paint while he continuously probed the paint and attacked the basket in DeMatha’s thrilling 72-69 win over Jayson Tatum’s Chaminade squad. He also added five assists, five rebounds and three steals.
Projected as an NBA point guard prospect, Markelle makes everything look much easier on the court than it actually is. Very smooth, his ability to change direction, get to whatever spot he wants, locate his teammates with crisp passes or pull up for soft jumpers is a joy to watch. With a natural feel for the rhythms of the game, he simply lets the game come to him instead of forcing the action. He has an advanced feel for utilizing the glass and a very soft touch while fighting through contact. Fultz can score with the best of them, but he’s also strong as a floor general, passer, defender, rebounder and leader.
LONZO BALL– 6-Foot-6 Point Guard, Chino Hills High School, Chino Hills, California, Class of 2016:
Frank Jackson had the best individual performance of the weekend, right up until Ball took the court. The future UCLA Bruin however, left the greatest impression of any player at this year’s Hoophall with his majestic performance in Chino Hill’s 100-75 win North Carolina’s High Point Christian squad, which featured elite big man Bam Adebayo and under-the-radar gem Ty Graves at the point guard position.
Ball mesmerized with his 15 points, 10 rebounds and 18 assists, with many of those incomparable passes to his younger brothers – junior LiAngelo Ball, who had 29 points, seven rebounds and five assists, and freshman LaMelo Ball, who added 21 points. If you have not seen these brothers play together, you’re missing out. They run up and down at a frenetic pace and loft precise 30-foot jumpers with regularity.
Lonzo’s vision and passing is unparalleled at the high school level, and he’ll be a premier college point guard from the minute he steps on UCLAs campus in a few months. The creativity of his assist game is like Kanye West’s production skills. You don’t know what’s coming, but when you experience it, you bathe in its unique brilliance. Like a major league Cy Young winner, his passes come from inconceivable angles and different speeds. If you take your eyes off him, you fear that you’ll miss a spectacular moment that will never be repeated again.
Very competitive and strong for someone of his slight build, he mixes it up on the offensive and defensive glass with abandon. The ball is like a magnet, as it always seems to wind up in his hands.
His basketball intelligence is beyond exceptional. His shooting mechanics are unique like Jamaal Wilkes’ were, but he splashes jumpers from Steph Curry range like it ain’t no thing.
There were many excellent performances at this year’s Hoophall, but none of them, even Frank Jackson’s 50-point explosion, matched the wondrous luminosity of Lonzo Ball’s hoops magic show.