We continue our coverage of events out at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort. This time our focus is on the 9th Grade Super Showcase as well as a smattering of teams from the 8th Grade Super Showcase.
Anthony “A.J.” Caldwell of Nike Team Florida 8thGrade was about as good as one can possibly be in an 8AM pool play game on Thursday morning. The 6’2 guard will be a freshman at Sarasota Riverview and don’t be surprised if he sees plenty of time on the varsity level. We had him down for 20 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 steals but we did miss a few moments of play while getting info at the scorer’s table. Suffice it to say he most likely finished with a triple double. Caldwell has great court vision and awareness, strong ball skills, and an accurate jump shot off either the dribble or the catch. He won’t blow observers away with athleticism but he’s more than good enough.
While definitely works-in-progress, 6’8 twins Andrew and Brett Haeffner of Nike Team Florida 8th Grade each had their moments in that 8AM game. They are able to score around the rim if not jostled and control whatever rebound area they are in at the time. The twins continue to improve physically in terms of coordination and getting comfortable in the post with footwork and catching the basketball in traffic. The Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest pair plays hard, don’t mind physicality, and protect the rim.
We only got to see the second half of a game involving Team Pitbull out of Miami but came away intrigued by 6’5 rising junior (according to the media guide) Julio Alvarado from University School. He’s got a nice looking stroke out to the arc off the catch and plays with both energy and enthusiasm. Alvarado rebounded the ball well in the back of the zone for Team Pitbull. There remain questions about his dribbling and passing skills but hopefully those will get answered in the near future.
The Triple Threat program out of Central Florida cobbled together a fairly solid group for the 9th grade showcase. Aikeem Sims, a 6’2 guard out of Tampa Brooks-Debartolo, may have been the surprise of the day on Wednesday. Early on he scored in transition and drives to the rim, earning a couple of “and one” opportunities as well. As the game progressed Sims showed he can knock down jump shots when in rhythm and get guys the basketball in scoring position. He’s got a solid body and plenty of athleticism.
Though undersized at 6’5 to play inside, Nysean Giddens of Palm Coast is a tough hombre for Triple Threat. Strong and bouncy, all of Giddens work comes in the paint and around the rim. He currently scores only on putbacks and in transition so there is much work to do in terms of skills. Giddens shines at the defensive end where he is a good shot blocker against little guards that drive into the lane. Also noteworthy is ability to rebound out of his area and quickly outlet the ball to start the fast break.
GameSpeed Nation out of Tallahassee put together a surprise upset in 9th grade pool play Wednesday evening. Leading the way for them was 6’6 rising sophomore Ted Geogiadis of Jacksonville Bolles. He looks like he has spent some time in the weight room and it really helps his play on the court. He is strictly an interior player but did show he can step out and knock down 12-15 foot shots if left open. Geogiadis doesn’t have polished post moves and gets his points via muscle, effort, and sheer will. He moves well up and down the court but is not an explosive athlete. Geogiadis’ best attribute right now is his ability to rebound in traffic as he has strong hands and protects the ball once secured.
Directing the attack for GameSpeed was 6’1 Kyle Kincey of Tallahassee Leon. We liked what we saw from him back in the fall out our Source Hoops Fall Showcase and were not disappointed here. He compensates for any lack of bulk with some quickness and did a nice job of running the break. Kincey frequently got into the lane and generally made good decisions with the ball once the defense collapsed. He connected on a few drives and also made the most of his opportunities at the free throw line. Kincey took few if any jumpers in the contest so that is an area of his game that we hope to view as a positive in the near future.
Dylan Frye of Gold Coast/Team Miami impressed with his play Wednesday morning in a 9th grade pool game. The 6’1 rising sophomore from Hialeah Gardens was very good at both guard spots. As a point guard, he handles the ball well versus pressure with low, swift change of direction dribbles, sees the court well and delivers catchable passes to teammates for scores. When not responsible for directing traffic, Frye scores with a reliable jumper out to the arc as well as drives to the rim. Also impressive was his understanding of tempo and vocal leadership in running the offense. Defensively Frye is pretty good as he is quicker than he looks and anticipates very well on that end of the court.
Gold Coast/Team Miami has a pair of rising sophomore bigs that are raw but should certainly make an impact in a couple of years. Clayton Brown, 6’11 out of Coral Gables and Darius Hicks, 6’9 out of Coral Gables, are still a bit awkward in their basketball movements but do get up and down the court pretty well. Brown showed he can score by keeping the ball high and just turning and putting it off the backboard. He does a good job of protecting the rim as a shot blocker and shot changer. However, Brown has yet to find his motor to become the rebounder he should be.
Hicks is the rebounder of the two. He is a bit more athletic in terms of running and jumping ability. Scoring is difficult for him as he is new to the game and hasn’t had much exposure to even the basics of how to score near the rim. Hicks protects the rim well and is quick to chase down loose balls or bad passes in the paint.
Nike Team Florida fielded two teams in the 9th grade showcase. For the team labeled “2016”, 6’6 Johnny Mooneyof Altamonte Springs Lake Brantley was most impressive. What stands out most is his ability to see the floor and make passes the defense does not anticipate. Mooney is excellent on the wing, in the high post, and in transition at finding cutters for open scores. He’s not a guy to create his own offense but will get points in transition, via offensive rebounds, and perimeter jumpers out to the arc. He rebounds okay at this point and defensively he is very good at anticipating the next move for the offense and jumping into the passing lane to deflect or steal the ball. He won’t “wow” observers with athleticism but isn’t a bad run/jump athlete.
Playing up a year on the NTF 2016 squad is 6’4 rising freshman Darius Banks who is slated to attend St. Pete HS in the fall. Already blessed with a tremendous basketball frame and body, Banks is very good athletically but doesn’t have to rely on his physical attributes to be successful. He’s patient and does a good job of letting the game come to him and scoring within the flow of the contest. His jumper looks good form-wise but is not yet consistent. Banks can be a dynamic scorer on the break and slasher to the basket when given the opportunity. His passing and dribbling skills are adequate now and should improve as time moves on. Banks has all the ingredients to be a high major wing in four years.
Nike Team Florida South is the other squad in the 9th grade showcase. Their group is primarily from the Sarasota area. Blake Morrow, a 6’2 guard from Sarasota Christian, made an impression on us at the Nike Team Florida Workout in the fall and continued his solid play at the HP Fieldhouse. He initially comes across as a catch-and-shoot guy but he has a diversified offensive game. Morrow can be an aggressive attacker of the basket at the offensive end and can score or find open teammates for shots. Morrow is alert to get the ball ahead quickly in transition and finishes when on the break. Defensively he works hard and keeps his hands and feet active when guarding the basketball.
We must admit we were pleasantly surprised by the play of Chandler Black for NTF South. The 6’7 rising sophomore has a man-sized frame already and looks like a prototypical offensive lineman. However, he moves well up and down the court and has decent footwork in the post, Black is successful with power post moves in the half court and can step up to the high post and find cutters. What we liked most was how quickly he would outlet the basketball after securing a rebound at the defensive end. This resulted in several easy scores for his teammates.
Another new face for us was Christoff Nairn, a 6’2 rising sophomore at Suncoast High School in Riviera Beach. Playing for the Wellington Wolves Gold in the 9th grade showcase, Nairn proved successful at scoring from all three levels. He’s more strong than speedy and used that to get to the rim for baskets. Nairn also got points from mid-range off the dribble and from behind the arc. He’s not a creative playmaker for others at this point though he is quick to reverse the ball to open shooters. Nairn did a good job of being the primary ball-handler against pressure and wasn’t rattled when facing double-teams in the back court.
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