Still, what could be better than spending a warm day in August with Craig Leighton, Jerry Castelucci and my dad, in air-conditioned Alumni and the Peterson Center, watching some basketball?
Last year, Providence already had a commitment from Jalen Lindsey, and there was talk about a Fab Five type class. Paschal Chukwu, Abdul-Malik Abu, Jared Terrell and Kaleb Joseph would all be in attendance and the Friars were hot on the trail of all four. A special phone call would take place with Chris Webber, where Webber would extol the virtues of building a Fab Five class. On top of that, a very deep and talented group of New England prep underclassmen, including Donovan Mitchell, Jalen Adams, Josh Sharma, Jared Reuter, Tyler Lydon, Aaron Falzon and Tomas Murphy, would all also be present. It was a glittering showcase of talent at Alumni Hall.
Well, we all know what happened. PC pursued all of the above players with zeal, but as of this date, the only player who pledged to the Friars was Chukwu. The latest heartbreak was Mitchell, who the Friars were in on first and who Ed Cooley and company had devoted two-plus years of intense recruiting, only to see him commit on Thursday to late-comer Louisville. So, even with all of the talent present, the Elite Camp was not necessarily a recruiting panacea last year. This year could be different, though… with far less fanfare. PC received a verbal commitment from Javon Taylor, a Class of 2017 6-3 shooting guard from Beaver Country Day, right after the camp ended, and there may be more to come.
This year, the stars weren’t quite as bright, but that didn’t stop over one hundred players from showcasing their talents and hoping to catch Cooley’s eye. And there was one very special visitor.
Alex Owens, a four-star, 6-8, 240 pound power forward/center from Oak Ridge High School in Orlando, Florida, is ESPN’s 16th ranked power forward in the Class of 2015 and its’ 94th rated player overall. Owens recently narrowed his list to Providence, Missouri and Central Florida, who he had originally committed to. Owens made the trip up from Florida and was certainly the focus of attention. At one point, Ben Bentil strolled in and was chatting with Owens, and Owens was about a half inch taller than Bentil, and wider, so he’s a legit 6-8.
Among the other players who attended the camp, and we saw, were: Damon Gomes (2015, 6-3, Hyde School), Quincy McKnight (2015, 6-3, St. Joseph’s, CT), Kealon Ives (2014, 5-11, Classical, RI), Jared Wilson-Frame (2015, 6-3, Believe Prep Academy), Mamadou Diarra (2016, 6-8, Putnam Academy, CT), Terrell Brown (2016, 6-8, St. Andrew’s, RI), Jordy Tshimanga (2016, 6-10, MacDuffie School, MA), Saul Phiri (2016, 6-3, Worcester Academy), Weymen Gabriel (2016, 6-8, MA), Arkel Ager-Lamar (2016, 6-5, St. Thomas More), Hamidou Diallo (2017, 6-3, Putnam Science Academy, CT), Mohammed Bamba (2017, 6-9, Westtown, PA), Javon Taylor (2017, 6-3, Beaver Country Day), Najia Hunter (2017, 6-6, Westtown, PA), Ishmael El-Amin (2017, 5-11, Hopkins, CT) and Geo Baker (2017, 5-8, Buckingham, Browne & Nichols).
The camp is run primarily in Peterson, with players dotting four courts, receiving coaching and running drills. The highlight are the 5-on-5 scrimmages in Alumni, where Cooley picks his guys, Bob Simon and Andre LaFleur pick theirs, and the teams go at it for two fifteen minute periods with refs. It’s a great opportunity to evaluate talent and catch glimpses of players in real basketball action.
Based on the scrimmage, here are one man’s observations:
Alex Owens (2015) – Owens manned the middle for Cooley’s team and had a terrific battle with the taller Tshimanga. As advertised, Owens threw a couple of eye-popping interior passes and rebounded well. He attempted one jumper, which missed, but his form was solid. An active rebounder, he looks to dunk whenever possible, although not an explosive leaper. He uses his butt well to fend off players and is a willing defender. Owens keeps balls alive in rebounding situations, has a nose for the ball and hit the layup to give Cooley’s team a 39-38 win.
Jordy Tshimanga (2016) – A 2016 big man, ESPN has him ranked as the 10th best center in his class and 54th overall, and he showed why. Like Owens, Jordy has a nose for the ball, has the bulk to defend well down low and will be one of the top big men in high school next season. PC has an in with him, as George Wright-Easy, a former Friar grad assistant, trains him in Springfield. Tshimanga is a long big man who jumps well and is a tough rebounder. Like Owens, he looks to do his damage inside.
Jared Wilson-Frame (2015) – Wilson-Frame is built much like Jared Terrell, a broad-shouldered, stocky guard who takes the ball hard to the basket. He finishes fairly well and had one monstrous dunk. He did not show any outside shooting and missed the front end of a one-and-one that could have beat Cooley’s team. Not the star he was projected to be as a freshman, but still, as a complimentary piece and rotation player, Wilson-Frame could be worth a scholarship.
Kealon Ives (2014) – Ives is a heady point guard with quickness who shows a willingness to apply heavy man-to-man defense. He did not show any offense in this scrimmage.
Mohammed Bamba (2017) – This young man is one to keep an eye on. A tall, very thin athlete, Bamba is extremely long and versatile. He can throw down thunderous dunks, hit short jumpers and handle the ball well for a big man. Monster wingspan.
Njiah Hunter (2017) – Another versatile wing, Hunter made the Cooley team and showed no fear in attacking the basket. Runs the floor well and has a nice jumper but is really explosive in the open court.
Ishmael El-Amin (2017) – El-Amin was bothered by Ives’ defense but showed a nice ability to run and direct a team. Threw some nice passes and showed a grasp of running Cooley’s ball screen offense. Didn’t score much, but showed a willingness to jump shoot and take it to the hole.
Weyman Gabriel (2016) – Gabriel has a chance to be an impact frontcourt player but must put on some pounds. Long and extremely thin, he challenged shooters and blocked several shots and showed no fear going up against heavier players down low for rebounds. Will get pushed around at this point, but the talent and potential is apparent.
Javon Taylor (2017) – Another athlete who can finish with authority and flies up and down the court. Taylor showed his youth at times, and disappeared for stretches, but he flashed a decent shot, defense and leaping ability. Good motor and can attack off the dribble. He projects as a high major wing, and in fact, verbally committed to Providence after the conclusion of the camp.
PC players spotted today at the camp: Carson Desrosiers, Kris Dunn, Tyler Harris, Ben Bentil, LaDontae Henton, Rodney Bullock.
From here, with the team departing on August 12 for Italy, Providence will be happy with the commitment from Taylor and look for a possible commitment from Owens and then resume recruiting upon their return. There is no doubt that some of these prospects will show up on future recruiting lists.
After the conclusion of the Elite Camp, coach Ed Cooley and Providence received a second piece of…