The 2018-19 High School Basketball season is in full swing. Because of this I’m going to give my thoughts about every game that I’ve attended thus far this season and list the top performers from each game. I believe that the best and pretty much only way to truly scout high school basketball kids is through attending games and watching players in person. AAU is another way to scout players, but that’s a completely different type of game and lacks environments and structure that high school creates. So here are my thoughts for every game I’ve attended before christmas, I’ll have full breakdowns from the NEO Christmas Classic at Garfield Heights and games I attend in 2019.
Pickerington North 85 At Gahanna 77
Game thoughts: My initial thought was that Pickerington North is nowhere close to the team last season that was dominant, but that’s ok. It’s clear that a team losing Jerome Hunter, Eli McNamara, and the rest of the seniors that the Panthers graduated. Jack Sawyer is one of the few players with varsity experience, and he’s an even more dominant force for his Sophomore season. Sawyer is a NFL draft prospect, so his basketball evaluation isn’t the most crucial debate, but if he decided to go full time into basketball (he shouldn’t) he’s a clear Division I big man. Sawyer uses his natural strength and basketball IQ to get offensive rebounds and score around the hoop in a variety of ways. Sawyer has also shown more touch away from the hoop and more ball handling responsibility with the loss of all of the senior Panthers from Sawyer’s freshman campaign. I was disappointed with most of the role players on Pick North, their guards are athletic, but lack shooting ability to stretch the floor and take bad shots in the half-court when they can’t get the ball to Sawyer. Gahanna on the other hand played their hearts out, without Josh Corbin (Winthrop commit) the Lions were obviously outmatched but battled all night at home, fueled by a ruckus students section. Elijah Thomas wowed the crowd with dazzling layups over the bigs for Pick North. Thomas also made a decent amount of shots from the outside, but his main attraction was the acrobatic layups that he made to finish with 27 points. Gahanna has size on the frontcourt, but all of their bigs lack any real basketball skill at this point. They can rebound and battle down low, but they dropped passes, and couldn’t finish through contact or create for themselves.
Hunter Shedenhelm: Shedenhelm was impressive all night with his shot making ability. He stretches the floor for a Panthers team that lacks much other floor spacing with their starting lineup. His range stretches well beyond the three point line, and showed the ability to hit threes from deep and with defenders in his face. In fact, Shedenhelm air balled the most wide open three point attempt he took all night, despite this he still finished with a career high 33 points. Shedenhelm also had a breakaway dunk which was his first in game dunk of his career. The junior hardly played any varsity time with the loaded Panthers squad last season, but is enjoying a breakout Junior campaign. Shedenhelm doesn’t like to handle the ball to break the press, but does have the ability to beat defenders when they overcommit due to being afraid of his three point shot.
College level: Low Major – Division II
Sean Jones: Jones showed that he was ready for the bright lights even as a freshman, finishing the first quarter with 10 points of 5-5 shooting. Jones mostly does his damage through drives and steals to score in transition, but can score in the half court. Jones hit a couple of jump shots, but at times seemed hesitant to let it fly off the dribble. There were times when Gahanna had their offense stall, and Jones didn’t assert himself to make a play, this isn’t a huge concern because Thomas was feeling himself all game, and Jones is a freshman so he’ll become more confident in himself as he matures, but he’s already wise beyond his years on the court. Jones also still doesn’t look like he’s hit puberty, and if he grows to a bigger frame he’s going to be even more of a problem on the floor than what he’s already been.
College level: High Major
Solon 77 At Saint Ignatius 71 Overtime
Game Thoughts: Solon has already taken four losses this season, double what they did last campaign, it’s clear they miss Sincere Carry. However this isn’t a team lacking talent, with Bekelja and Williams back, they have two guards that played crucial roles in a team that made the state championship game. Williams was his usual self, hitting many three pointers and attacking the rim at will to finish the game with 23 points on a large volume of shot attempts. David Marbury and Nick Close are also returning starters, but neither played well in this contest against the Wildcats. Both big men need others to create for them, but Marbury especially struggled to score for himself in the first three quarters, and Close hit a couple big shots in overtime, but was ineffective for most of the night. Marcus Steele has been inserted into the starting lineup, but he doesn’t have much offensive responsibility to this point. He’s mostly used as a drive and kick dude and a passer in the half court. As a sophomore it’s still unsure what his offensive ceiling is, but giving him more time as a play-maker when one of Bekelja or Williams are on the bench will give the Comets a better understanding of what they’ll be getting in 2019-20 and beyond. For Saint Ignatius, the Wildcats started off the season with three huge victories over some of the better teams around the area, despite this when I watched them in person I was fairly unimpressed with the Wildcats. They’re very well coached and organized, but their individual talent isn’t overwhelming. Jonathon Effertz had a huge game the previous night with 18 points against Garfield Heights, but looked a step slow and pressured all night by the Comets. He’s a freshman so it’s clear he has talent and potential, it was just disappointing to see him deliver such a dud of a performance after a career night just 24 hours before. Chase Toppin is the one guard who will put fear into opposing coaches, Toppin has the ability to create for himself and hit jumpers off the dribble, he finished with a team high 24 points. Henry Raynor also threw down a thunderous dunk to give the Wildcats some momentum before halftime, and he showed that he’s a sturdy body down low, as the 6’6 sophomore was tough against the experienced Comets big men.
Mike Bekelja: Bekelja is somebody I’ve seen often as I attended five Solon games last season, but seeing him transition into a primary ball handler without Sincere Carry as he left for Duquesne. Bekelja was impressive with his handle and ability to create for himself. He’s also playing with main attention on him, and Solon lacks a ton of shooting so sometimes when he drives there isn’t exactly a knockdown shooter sitting in the corner for a shot. Despite this he hit some tough shots and got to the rim aggressively. His ball handling was also impressive when Saint Ignatius turned up the pressure to try and make a comeback in the fourth quarter and overtime. He took control of the game in overtime, wanting the ball to go to the free throw line, despite missing two free throws with five seconds left that would’ve put Solon up in regulation, causing the game to go into overtime. Bekelja finished with a game high 28 points.
College level: Low Major – Division II
Kevin Davet: Davet is a huge body and Solon struggled to deal with the 6’9 senior big man. Davet ended the night with 16 points and 13 rebounds, but was impressive around the rim defensively affecting numerous shots by the Comets offense, and blocking a few as well. Davet also was able to stay on the floor when Solon pressed, not fatigued by a quicker tempo than the controlled Wildcats are used to playing. Davet showed nice touch around the rim with a couple hook shots and layups through contact when he was just taller and bigger than the defense. This game was a good measurement for how Davet would play against teams with a faster tempo, and he performed well, but he had such a size advantage over the Comet big men that it probably isn’t the greatest bar for how his post game will translate. Davet also doesn’t have a great in game jump shot, his free throw has solid form so there is a base for an outside game eventually, but I didn’t really see any shooting ability in the natural flow of the game in the half court. If Davet can extend his range to 16-18 feet or even the three point line he will become much more valuable offensively at the next level.
College level: Low Major
Saint Edward 74 At Brush 81
Game thoughts: This was hyped as one of the top games in northeast ohio basketball for the early season, and it lived up to most of the hype. Saint Edward came in with only one loss after recently falling to Lima and Brush was unbeaten. Eds was disappointing with their shooting ability, Josh Ogle came in and hit two three pointers right before the end of the first half, but didn’t play much in the game. Montorie Foster went hidden for a long stretch of the game, he wasn’t horribly inefficient but he didn’t even score in double figures. I wish Foster had more of an offensive role because I really like his potential, but he didn’t shoot the ball well and was left open from downtown for most of the night. Meechie Terry attacked the Arcs defense at will, and finished with 19 points on a large volume of shot attempts. Terry is needed to be on the floor because he’s such a resilient scorer, but he gave the Eagles offense problems when he would be left open and unwilling to let the ball fly from beyond the arc. Terry did provide solid in your face defense, but wasn’t able to create many turnovers against the experienced Brush offense. Grant Huffman had a rough first half but came back with a tough second half performance. The first quarter Huffman looked a step slow and his jump shot still looked ugly and wasn’t giving great results. To end the first half Huffman had a steal and looked like he was going to slam the ball home but right when he jumped he seemed to lose all momentum and was forced to lay the ball in. I’m not sure if this should be a concerning play, but I’ve seen Huffman throw down windmill dunks in practice videos, so a basic breakaway dunk shouldn’t have been difficult. The second half Huffman looked like an experienced leader for an Eagles team needing someone to step up. Huffman scored in a variety of ways in the half court with tough shots and made his way to the paint to kick out, but typically it was to a non shooter. Spencer Crane provided solid toughness for the Eagles, battling with a much bigger matchup of John Hughley. He doesn’t have much of an offensive game, really only scoring on layups around the hoop when fed by guards, but he was a needed defensive presence against one of the top big men in the area. Finally, Devontae Blanton was a solid offensive performer for the Eagles. His jump shot still looks really odd, he keeps the ball so far forward it doesn’t look natural but he hit most of his threes in warmups and I think he hit two shots from downtown in the game as well. Blanton struggled getting easy buckets with a lack of floor spacing, but showed off some nice moves and touch around the hoop. For Brush John Hugley was looked as a huge advantage, and the 6’9 junior was a force all night finishing with 16 points and 18 rebounds. Hugley wasn’t a dominant scoring presence, but he had so much attention on him that he helped the Brush senior guards score in the twenties each. Hugley hit a couple hook shots over Crane and typically made the right decision when double teams came his way. I also liked how he never seemed disinterested in the game when he would go stretches without touching the ball, Hugley would stay active on defense and boxing out even when he wasn’t receiving the ball on the block often. Elmore James was hyped as one of the better freshman in the area, and despite his jump shot looking a little ugly, he fought hard all night. James didn’t look out-manned on the floor with one of the best teams in the area and made great decisions against the Eagles press. James also hit a couple free throws in crunch time, a huge moment for the young freshman. Corey Floyd also hit shots from the free throw line and provided good rebounding and defense for Brush all game. He’s another big body who will help when Brush faces a team with multiple big men, I wish he could shoot a little more, but he’s a valuable starter who doesn’t need the ball to be effective, which is super valuable on a team with three high level scorers.
Dj Dial: Dial was the best player on the floor and it wasn’t very close in my opinion. Standing at 5’9 he went around the Eagles defense time and time again, handling the pressure and showing his poise in a huge game. Dial was very efficient with his jump shot and seemed to hit almost every three he took. I cannot praise Dial enough for his performance defensively against Montorie Foster, Foster wasn’t on the ball often once Saint Edward got into their offense, but Dial made sure he wouldn’t be beat to the hoop easily or outmuscled against a taller foe down low. Dial also created something out of nothing for Brush often when their offense broke down. There would be points when Brush would run their wings of screens and when Eds switched there was nobody to pass to, Dial made a crossover or two and got to the paint to score for himself or dish to Hugley for a layup or free throw attempts.
College level: Mid major – Low Major
Andre Harris: To open the game Harris took a charge on Eagles and this helped set the tone for one of the most poised performances I’ve ever seen from a team. Harris and Dial both showed their maturity and put it all on the line for Brush, but always did this in control. I wondered if Harris could become a more consistent half court scorer, and despite him still being the third option in the half court, he was more smoother than what I remember from last season. Harris does most of his damage in transition and this game was no different, he leaked out when available and attacked the hoop when Brush had numbers to get buckets. He hit a couple jumpers and more importantly the jumpers forced Saint Edward to worry about his shot from the outside to give Dial and Hugley more room to score.
College level: Mid Major
Garfield Heights 51 At Shaker Heights 75
Game Thoughts: This game had a buzz that few atmospheres can contend with in the area. The Shaker students section was getting pumped in the JV game, and the Raiders used that energy to blow out their rival with a huge victory. For Garfield, they struggled to find easy offense all game. Meechie Johnson seemed to be pressing himself, he’s an elite scorer but didn’t find anything easy all game, en route to a season low scoring output. Sonny Johnson had a tough match-up with fellow coaches son and freshman point guard Danny Young Jr, but Sonny showed off his basketball fundamentals. It was clear to me that Sonny can get to the rim and has a really solid understanding of the game, his maturity is far beyond his age. Sonny’s jumper isn’t super pretty and didn’t look awesome results wise, but I’m willing to live with it if he hits shots in game situations, but with how he brings the ball back it could be difficult for him to pull up going right. Brison Waller was disappointing once again, he had a size advantage over anyone that Shaker put on him but only had six points in this contest. I was hoping that Waller would take a step forward without Donovan Forte and Allonzo Gaffney but it seems like he still hasn’t taken that step. I wish he played just a little angrier and had more of an attitude, I know it can be difficult to keep interest when Meechie is pulling deep three point shots, but this is the difference between a really high level big man and a rotation piece for a below average division I team. Brent Darby showed some skill but nobody on Garfield had much consistent success offensively. For Shaker Shammah Scott was in foul trouble, but he hit two early three pointers and played tough defense on Meechie whenever he was on the floor. Dante Benjamin doesn’t have great size, but he was a problem down low with double digit rebounds and he played relentless defense all night against whoever he matched up with.
Danny Young Jr: I think everyone’s initial reaction to this game is that Danny Young Jr is that DUDE. He was so impressive finishing with 31 points and making it rain from beyond the arc plenty of times throughout the night. He seems much stronger and bigger than Sonny at this point, but I don’t think that was the only reason he looked so dominant on the court. It’s clear that he took the first match-up between him and Sonny Jr, but when Sonny gets bigger it will get even more interesting. Danny also played physical defense on Sonny all night and gave him trouble when the refs allowed more contact on defense, Danny Jr also typically made the right decision on offense and rarely looked overwhelmed by the moment and playing in front of a sold out crowd in a huge rivalry game. I’m so impressed with Danny and cannot wait to watch him for the next four years at Shaker and see how this rivalry develops.
College level: High Major – Mid Major +
Dakota Cochran: Dakota typically took a back seat to Dale Bonner and Christian Guess, but in a game without Guess he had over thirty points against Saint Edward with a ton of three pointers, after Bonner and Guess graduated I expected Cochran to take his offensive role to the next level, despite him not doing this I was still impressed with his game. Cochran I believe has gained a considerable amount of weight from last season, he’s now guarding bigger players for the Raiders, whether that is the center or power forward with the loss of Guess and transfer of Kevin Bishop. Maybe this makes sense for the current because Cochran blocked a couple shots and had double digit rebounds, but this isn’t where he’s going to be the most effective at the next level. I think Cochran can be a division I wing if he gets quicker and has a tighter handle, but that only happens if he decides to lose weight starting next off-season.
College level: Low Major
Medina 63 At Brunswick 71 Overtime
Game thoughts: Brunswick came out and looked dominant for the first half and seemed like they would cruise to stay unbeaten in this rivalry contest, but Medina had a ferocious comeback to improbably send this game to overtime. Kyle Szumski led the Bees in scoring with 15 points and hit the game tying layup with twenty seconds left. You could tell that Szumski could shoot the ball but seemed too passive during the first half when Medina really needed some good shots. Medina didn’t have enough self creators in the half court in the first half and this caused them to get down by over twenty points in the third quarter. Corey Tripp helped spark a rally by attacking it to the rim and either finishing himself or dishing it to a rolling big man to help the Bees offense have some success in the half-court. Tripp’s biggest impact was on the defensive end however, Brunswick was a well oiled machine in the first half but collapsed when Medina brought full court pressure and traps to let Medina get back in the game. I figured the Blue Devils with Kyle Goessler, Tre Massey, and Trevor Mackey would handle Medina’s pressure, especially because the Bees aren’t crazy athlete, but Medina gave the Blue Devils fits all second half. Eventually Brunswick would come out in overtime and finish off the Bees unbeaten season, but it was much less than convincing.
Tre Massey: Massey was unconscious for the first half and hit so many jumpers in the first 16 minutes to help build a huge lead. It didn’t matter if he was a couple feet beyond the arc, off the dribble, or had a defender in his face, Massey was knocking the shot down. Massey was so impressive with his first half scoring outburst, just a couple games after scoring 32 points to lead Brunswick past Shaker. Massey did however get taken out of the game in the second half because he just couldn’t create for himself or break the Medina pressure with his handle. He reminded me a lot of Hunter Shedenhelm because both guys don’t want to dribble the ball up the floor but can occasionally create for themselves in the half-court. Both are elite shooters and can hit off the dribble, off screens, or way beyond the arc. Shedenhelm is a better athlete and is bigger at this point, but he’s a year older, I see many similarities between these two players.
College level: Low Major – Division II
Kyle Goessler: Gossler was scoring throughout the first half, but his presence was so impressive as he handled the half court pressure and always got Brunswick into their offense and the Blue Devils ran got great shots, that made the press struggles even more surprising. Goessler has a really solid jump shot base and can score from three different levels of the court. Goessler is an experienced winner, and when it was time to win in overtime he came through with a couple buckets and making his free throws to keep his team unbeaten. In the process he scored his 1000’th point and fouled out Tripp with a huge and 1 to change momentum.
College level: Division II
Toledo Saint Francis 67 At Benedictine 63
Game Thoughts: This was one of the most well played games I’ve seen this season, Benedictine has so many guards that can hit from the outside and that’s going to be a main reason why they will be so tough to beat this year. Eric Buckner, Jashun Cobb, and Bj Busbee all can hit from the outside and drive to the hoop. Most teams don’t have role players with that much offensive skill but the Bengals boast these three along with two division I commits who play from the outside. I understand why Rory Kilbane starts, as he can take charges and battle down low but Kevin Bishop is a better big man in my opinion. Bishop, the Shaker Heights transfer had a solid game with a tough match-up against two 6’7 big men for Saint Francis, but he played hard. Bishop uses his wide frame to get position down low and when he gets running at full speed he’s difficult to stop and surprisingly nimble on his feet. Andy Barba went non existent which was disappointing, with Saint Francis in a zone I think he should’ve done more to try and spot up but he stopped all of his drives at the top of the key and mostly was a passer for Buckner, Cobb, and Busbee, which isn’t a huge problem but he has to be more of a factor offensively. I honestly think he only attempted like three shots all game, and anyone with his type of offensive talent should always be getting more shots at the hoop. For Saint Francis, they were very impressive with their variety of skills that the different players on their team bring. They start two 6’7 big men, one of which can stretch the floor ridiculously well for a big who will be in the top performers section. Grant Sonnenberg is their other big man and he struggled with foul trouble all night, but he showed flashes of why he is in the Knights starting lineup. Some of their wings are knockdown shooters including Drew Kozak, the lefty hit a couple three’s but mostly did his damage on pump fakes and getting to the rim. Jakiel Wells is the point for the Knights and he was a consistent player in this game, he’s not the ridiculous athlete that Davin Zeigler, his match-up is, but Wells made enough plays to lead his team to victory. Wells isn’t a knockdown shooter but it certainly isn’t a glaring weakness, he also attacked the rim well and looked to kick to a shooter instead of taking a force runner in the lane. I was honestly so impressed with the completeness of the Knights as it seemed like they didn’t really have any massive holes on their team and with the amount of experience (four senior starters) they have I’d imagine they will be a very tough out in the postseason.
Jackie Harris: Harris, a 6’7 senior has unreal range with his jump-shot. He has great balance and his feet and form are absolutely textbook. He’s not necessarily quick, but it doesn’t matter because defenders need to get very close to prevent him from getting a shot up from three point range. Harris even hit a three ball when the pass given to him was at his feet, showing just how solid his form and feet are for his jumper. He doesn’t really have an off the dribble game for a jumper but with his size it’s not really needed. Harris also showed the ability to battle down low with Kilbane and Bishop.
College Level: Mid Major
Davin Zeigler: Zeigler is one of the best athletes in the state and had two fairly impressive dunks in this game, showing off his absurd vertical. What was more important for Zeigler to show me was his ability to shoot, I’m still skeptical of his jumper because despite the fact that he hit three, three-pointers he struggled from the free throw line and still pushes the ball from the side of his head. Zeigler’s form isn’t great, but it doesn’t hinder his ability to shoot off the dribble as he hit a couple mid range jumpers off the bounce, one after he left his defender in the dust with a dirty crossover. If Zeigler can continue to improve his jumper he will be a very solid point guard, but without a reliable jumper defenses will be allowed to completely leave him when he doesn’t have the ball in the half court which can affect Bowling Green’s offensive spacing when he’s on the floor.
College Level: Mid Major
Photo credit: @wesview_