HAMPTON, VA - The Hoop Group Southern Jam Fest continues to be a must-stop in the spring travel schedule, with a consistently strong field of competitive teams from the DMV making the trip down.
Here’s a look at some of the area standouts I saw on Saturday:
MARCUS DOCKERY, DC PREMIER UAA 17U GUARD
The University of Maryland commit has found himself in a leadership role with the DC Premier, and so far he’s embracing the challenge.
“I’ve never really been a leader before, so it’s kind of new to me,” he said. “Like, with basketball, new things come and different challenges, and I’m just thankful to be able to do this.”
Dockery’s talent was on display early Saturday, as he scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half of a 66-49 win over Higher Level Premier. The Bishop O’Connell (Va.) 2020 guard is the top player on this year’s edition of DC Premier, which is looking to repeat after winning the Under Armour Association title last year.
“We know what the stakes are, and the stakes are high for us,” Dockery said. “I mean, when they see DC Premier, they want to attack us because we won a championship. So, you’ve just got to come at it full force, knowing that no one’s going to back down from us and we’re not going to back down from them.”
Dockery had a strong season in his first year at O’Connell after transferring from Theodore Roosevelt (DC), scoring a team-high 16 points per game.
“Coach Joe [Wootten] really came at the mindset instead of the actual, like, playing with the basketball,” Dockery said. “He taught me about taking charges and doing little things to get myself rolling in the game like if I’m off, get someone else involved and get to the free throw line - just the tips and tricks and everything.”
FAVOUR AIRE, NEW WORLD GOLD 16U CENTER
The Bishop McNamara (Md.) 2022 big man has made visible strides on the offensive end, and took control late in his team’s tight 60-58 win over East Coast Power, scoring 8 of his 12 points in the second half.
Aire played good minutes as a freshman at McNamara, and he said the introduction to Washington Catholic Athletic Conference competition was an eye opener.
“It showed me how varsity should be played, and it gave me a little experience of how the top guns in the country actually play basketball,” he said. “So it just put it in perspective of how I should be going forward. … When I played Hunter Dickinson - that’s the big man for DeMatha - when I played against him, he showed me some of how a big man should actually play. So it just put a little something in perspective for me.”
At 6-foot-10 and 200 pounds, Aire already has size and plays with a good motor and strength. He displayed some nice hands and technique near the basket, finishing off one move with a smooth jump hook.
“I understand the post more now,” he said. “Like, before the game was a little bit fast in the post, but now I can get the ball and I can just go down and actually do a move and like, understand the game. I can score on my own if I want, I can get a bucket if I want, and I know what I’m doing. So the post is kind of like my strong suit.”
Aire has listed offers from Rutgers and IUPUI, but said he isn’t putting too much thought into his recruitment at this time.
“I’m just trying to get better personally and improve my own game,” he said. “I’ve got a little time to get offers and all that - I’m just trying to improve my game and see how good I can be actually.”
JAHMAL BANKS, DISTRICT WAWG 17U GUARD
A two-sport standout at Bishop O’Connell (Va.), Banks enjoyed a breakout season on the hardwood for the Knights.
“I think the high school season for me was huge; it was a significant part of my growth,” he said. “Playing with the guys I was playing with like Brayon [Freeman] and Marcus [Dockery], Ayan [Teel], Charlie [Weber] and Wes [Peterson], I think it really helped me. I was playing with guys who are going to be able to play high at the next level, so it was good for my growth.”
The 6-foot-4, 197-pounder listed basketball offers from George Washington, High Point and Wyoming, but has several more as a wide receiver, with Massachusetts, Rutgers, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton and Yale among the most recent.
Banks said he hasn’t decided if he’ll pick on sport over the other in college yet, but he’s gotten used to trying to manage both.
“It’s pretty tough; it comes with hard work, which I’m all about,” he said. “After the basketball season I was still dealing with a little injury and I was doing a lot of rehab, but I started doing a lot of football work - wide receiver stuff, speed, agility and lifting and trying to prepare my body for the next level. This is my third year now as a junior, and I’ve been playing varsity in both sports since I was a freshman.”
Banks used his athleticism and strength effectively for a short-handed WAWG squad on its way to the 17U Elite Division championship, getting to the basket, rebounding and defending.
“We started out with a pretty good team and lost a lot of guys -we’re only playing with seven today - but I think now, we’re playing with a lot of tenacity and grit,” he said. “We’re looking for each other a lot more and we’re not being as selfish. We get out on the break and we use our athleticism to get to the rim and take the shots when they’re there.”
ANGELO BRIZZI, TEAM BBC SELECT GOLD 16U
Brizzi led the way with 18 points as BBC cruised to an early 76-35 win over Team Loaded 757-Hughes, displaying the smooth shooting stroke that led him to a stellar sophomore season at Highland School (Va.)
“The high school season went pretty well,” he said. “I thought we came up a little short and got knocked out earlier than we would have hoped, but it was a good season. The transition to the spring’s been easy because I was with this team last year, so I already knew everyone.”
The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Brizzi came into the event with an offer from Columbia and added one from Howard University on Saturday. He seems primed to add to that list this summer.
“Personally, I’d hope to pick up a couple of offers - I’m sure everybody does,” he said of his goals for the travel season. “But that’s about it - and get better. Team-wise [the goal is] win everything, I guess. Win every tournament and go undefeated. I love it; it’s a great group.”
JOSIAH FREEMAN, DISTRICT WAWG 17U GUARD
Freeman enjoyed success in an expanded role at Paul VI (Va.), as he got a chance to showcase his versatility.
“This season was really big," he said. "Freshman and sophomore season, I was more classified as a shooter, but I think as a junior I showed everybody that I was more than just a shooter, you know? Getting to the rim, scoring at all three levels, that’s all I’ve been trying to show.”
Freeman’s all-around game was on display Saturday in Hampton as he helped a short-handed District WAWG squad - they suited up just seven players - to victories over VA Premier and Castle Athletics. WAWG went on to win the 17U Elite Division title, beating Garner Road Gold, 60-55.
The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Freeman currently lists offers from Bryant, East Carolina, George Mason, Loyola (Md.), Mount St. Mary’s, Old Dominion and Robert Morris, with some higher level programs showing interest.
“My recruitment is good, you know” I’m picking up more and more high major letters; I’m getting letters from Georgia, Florida, Wichita State - so I feel like my stock is rising. And with the live periods changing, it’s going to be on my high school [performance] more, and it’s going to be a lot better when I come back and do some things with my high school this live period, so I think it’s good.”
Overall, Freeman said he’s enjoying his time with the new District WAWG program and his first look at the Under Armour Circuit.
“It’s great,” he said. “You can never be naive about the talent that’s in the country, you know? A lot of kids play basketball, and being on the Under Armour Circuit I see a lot of new talent and lot of new competition, so going at different dudes is really, really fun.”
JAKE KOVERMAN, DMV STAGS 17U WING
The 6-foot-5, 180-pound Koverman enjoyed a solid season at Southern-AA (Md.), stepping into a leadership role as a sophomore.
“I carried more responsibility on my team,” he said. “I averaged like 20-plus [points] a game, and I played way better than I did my freshman year and I felt like I was more involved in the game at Southern. [Southern coach] Will [Maynard] challenged me, and I’m glad that he did.”
Koverman has attracted some DI interest, and is hoping to receive his first offer this summer. He has good size, range and showed his versatility in Hampton.
“My jumping ability has gotten way better,” he said. “I’m handling pressure more and pushing the ball up the floor and not panicking if they come to double team me or something like that. And then my mid-range pull-up and stuff like that. And my defense is getting way better; it’s a mindset, and in my mind I’m thinking ‘OK, he’s not scoring’ and I just lock them down.”
Koverman has high expectations for himself and his DMV Stags squad, which went 2-0 on Saturday (they suffered their first loss of the event to Team Thrill Black on Sunday).
“I feel that we have a really good chance of shocking everybody,” he said. “We have really good talent on our team, and I feel like we could just shock the world.”
JAO ITUKA, TEAM S.T.A.T. 16U GUARD
The 2021 Gaithersburg (Md.) star led his team to a nice upset win over DC Premier UAA 16U, scoring 11 points in a 50-45 victory.
“It’s a really big win,” he said, “because that’s a circuit team and it’s always good to win against a circuit team and prove to everybody that we can bang with anybody and we can play against anybody.”
After a strong sophomore season at Gaithersburg, Ituka attracted attention from a host of shoe circuit teams, but opted to remain with his original squad.
“I’ve been with my coach and this team for four years now,” he said. “I started with them and I’m very big with loyalty, so I just love my teammates, love my coach, love the parents that are alway around to help - his sister, his wife. I love how we move - we move together and we move as one, and this is our family and I love being a part of something like this. I don’t feel comfortable with playing for different teams and jumping here and there; I’m not that type of guy. I’m a guy with loyalty and I love my team and I love my coach and I love everything he’s done for me. Coach Tree [Ridges], he’s been there for me all the way - he gives me advice, he helps me out, and I love everything that he’s done for me so far.”
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Ituka showed his strengths in Hampton, using his physicality to overwhelm defenders and get to the basket late as Team S.T.A.T. fended off a Premier rally. Getting to the rim is currently Ituka’s calling card, but his primary goal now is improving his perimeter game.
“It’s real big,” he said of this summer. “I’m working on my handle and jump shot - I’m just working on my full all-around game as a point guard and being able to see the floor better and make the right passes and the right plays for my teammates. And just making sure I’m putting on a show for whoever’s watching me and making sure I’m doing the right things on the court.”
Ituka currently holds a DI offer from South Alabama, with interest from several mid-major programs.
“I feel good about my recruitment,” he said. “It’s going to get better - I hope it does - and I just hope that all the schools that are out there watching hopefully see something in me that they want in their program and I’ll be very happy if they offer me a scholarship.”
SAVEON JACKSON, NEW WORLD GOLD 16U
After a tremendous sophomore season at KIPP (DC) Jackson is ready to help New Word make its mark on the Adidas Gauntlet.
“Right now we’re like 6-1,” he said. “We lost one game where we thought the game was over and we gave the team life and they ended up coming back on us. That was like a tough loss so ever since then we’ve bounced back and we’ve been locking in and we haven’t lost [on the circuit] since.”
Jackson and his team closed out strong Saturday morning, holding on to edge East Coast Power, 60-58.
“[The key was] Staying aggressive on defense because they were hitting shots. We weren’t hitting many shots but we were getting stops on defense so it kept us in the game.”
Jackson followed up with 17 points in another close win, 64-61 win over BWSL EYBL. The 6-foot, 180-pounder broke out as a sophomore after transferring from St. John’s (DC), leading the Panthers to the inaugural DCSAA Class A championship.
“It was a big season for me,” he said. “It was, like, a motivation so I could keep going and it was like, history for my school.”
JULIAN REESE, TEAM THRILL UAA 16U FORWARD
The 6-foot-8, 230-pound Reese is one of the more intriguing prospects in the 2021 class, and the New Town (Md.) product showed why while putting up 19 points in a 61-53 win over New World Silver.
Reese showed a nice inside-outside game on the offensive end, with a nice touch from outside and good strength and technique in the post. He’s already attracted offers from Virginia Tech, George Washington, Coastal Carolina and Stony Brook, and is on track to see that list explode in the next few months.
“I like it,” he said of the increased attention. “That’s what I’m working for, and I can’t stop now.”
Reese said he’s working to improve his speed and strength. He had a solid sophomore season at New Town, even though the Titans - considered a state title contender - fell short of that goal.
“I liked it,” he said of his season. “We didn’t get the outcome we really wanted, but we were probably the hardest working team in the county.”
Thrill made a run all the way to Sunday’s 16U Elite Bracket championship before falling to Team Durant EYBL, 70-64. They’ll look to regain their winning ways back on the UA Circuit.
MALIK MISSOURI, TEAM THRILL UAA 16U WING
Missouri was a key starter for Gilman (Md.) as a sophomore, and said the expanded role has definitely aided his development.
“High school was cool; I learned a lot,” he said. “I was an underclassman and I learned a lot from the upperclassmen and felt like I got a lot better throughout the season. I got a little bit faster and a little bit stronger, and a little bit wiser.”
Now, the 6-foot-5, 190 pounder is hoping to continue that upward trajectory this spring and summer.
“My first goal is of course we want to be a perfect team - I wanted to go out with a perfect season,” he said. “It was possible, but we started off slow and we got a couple of losses early. Then a couple of people left the team so we had a few adjustments, but I feel like this is a fresh start and from here I want to just keep winning more games and get better in the process.”
Missouri said he considered his mid-range game as one of his biggest strengths, as well as his ability to drive and kick to open teammates.
Missouri - who picked up an offer from St. John’s last summer and one from Loyola (Md.) during the high school season - said he’s pleased with where his recruitment stands at this point, but isn’t sweating it.
“I feel like it's getting there; the tempo’s starting to pick up,” he said. “I mean, I don’t really want to focus on that, I just want to hoop and have fun.”
NATE LACEY, KOA ELITE 17U
The Sherwood (Md.) 2020 standout guard is still recovering from a late-season ankle injury that has hampered him, but hopes to return to form soon.
“[The high school season] didn’t end how I wanted to; I got injured the last few games of the regular season and it kind of diminished my playing ability during the playoffs,” he said. “I’m where I am now and I’m glad Im here to push through. I’m not full strength but I’m getting there.”
The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Lacey has a good frame and motor, and said his strength is his ability to drive. He also looked good distributing, and seems in line for a productive travel season on a KOA squad featuring an intriguing collection of Montgomery County-based talent.
“This is a great team,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of MoCo standouts - Marcus Davis (Springbrook), Ebby [Asamoah] (Magruder) - he committed already to Delaware, Raef Hetherington (Blake) - we’ve got a bunch of big names here.”
BEN LI, TEAM LOADED VA GOLD 17U
A recent Lehigh commit, Li made his Team Loaded debut in Hampton, scoring 9 points in a 65-56 win over BWSL Meech.
“Education is No. 1 for me,” Li said, “and I wanted to go to a school that had a perfect balance of education and basketball. So I think Lehigh was a great spot for me. I had school talking to me like NC State and all those high major schools, but I felt like I wanted something I could rely on after I stop playing basketball, so I want to go to Lehigh and get a good Business degree and also play good basketball and hopefully a certain amount of years of pro after that.”
A transfer from Thornlea Secondary School in Ontario, Canada, Li enjoyed a strong first season at Middleburg Academy (Va.), averaging close to 20 points and 11 rebounds per game/
“It was a good transition for me and it went smoothly thanks to my coaches at Middleburg,” Li said. “It was just a great decision to come down here from Canada; I felt like I definitely improved and it provided a platform to showcase myself.”
Li said the biggest thing he had to adjust to was playing against taller and more physical players, but added that the strong level of competition in Canada helped him ease into his new surroundings.
At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, Li has a nice frame and good strength, along with nice hands and a nice inside-outside game. With his commitment done, he’s focusing on improving his all-around game and preparing for the next level.
“The reason I committed early is just to get it out the way and get a head start on getting ready for college. I want to get a year early to get my body right and mentally right.”
DAVID N’GUESSAN, TEAM BBC SELECT GOLD 17U
N’Guessan is still awaiting his first scholarship offer, but if his play on Saturday was any indication, he won’t be waiting much longer.
The 6-foot-8, 195-pound N’Guessan had 13 points in a 60-50 win over NJ Beasts, displaying good athleticism and versatility.
“I think I can do pretty much everything,” he said. “I can pass, I can put it on the floor, I can shoot, rebound and play defense. The biggest thing, I think is I can get in the lane and make plays for my teammates.”
A native of the Netherlands, N’Guessan spent last season at Mt. Zion Prep, and said that playing against post-grad players as a junior helped speed up his development.
“At the beginning it was very physical and I had to get used to it” he said, “but after a couple of weeks I started to get in the flow. “It was a great experience, playing with the older guys and learning a lot,” he said. “They were teaching me a lot of new things on defense and offense, so I’m just trying to use it.”
MARTAZ ROBINSON, TEAM BBC SELECT GOLD 17U
The New Town (Md.) product toyed with defenders in a 60-50 win over NJ Beasts, scoring a game-high 19 points while also helping to run the offense efficiently.
“I can score, but I’m always looking to get my teammates involved,” he said. “I call myself a pass-first point guard, I like to really get everybody involved and then I’ll get me going. I want to get more aggressive; sometimes I tend to pass the ball when I can really score myself.”
With Robinson at the helm, BBC made a run to the 17U Elite bracket championship before narrowly falling to The District Basketball Club, 43-40.
“This spring we’re trying to make our team more known around the area,” he said, “and we want to expand and get offers and stuff like that.”
“I like this group, we’re very aggressive. We all can score and we’re very athletic. Last year, we could score, but we weren’t that athletic, but now everybody can dribble and put the ball in the hole.”
ANDREW RHEUBOTTOM, TEAM THRILL 15U GUARD
A 2022 guard from Pikesville (Md.), Rheubottom looked impressive while scoring 15 points in a 62-48 win over Team Richmond on Saturday.
The 6-foot-1 Rheubottom was strong going to the basket, and chipped in on the boards and the defensive end, continuing his momentum from a nice freshman season.
“[I did] Good for my freshman season,” he said. “It was a good season, and I feel like I got better during the season. The biggest transition I had to make is with AAU at first I played big man,and [in high school] I started playing as a guard and developed a better jump shot and better ball handling.”
Thrill fell short in its title quest on Sunday, falling to Team Takeover EYBL in the 15U Elite bracket title game, 75-61. Still Rheubottom saw enough to be pleased and positive about his chances for the rest of the summer.
“I’ve been playing with them for a long time,” he said. “We have good chemistry and we play hard and we play together.”
District WAWG 17U claimed the 17U Elite Division title with a 60-55 win over Garner Road Gold. Flint Hill 2020 center Noel Brown had 13 points. … Team Thrill Black won the 17U Platinum Division. … Team Durant EYBL 16U claimed the 16U Elite Bracket Championship behind 10 points from Rock Creek Christian 2021 guard Guy Fauntleroy, 9 from Georgetown Prep 2021 guard Zion Russell and 8 from Gaithersburg 2021 guard Jordan Hawkins. … Team Pro Look-Robinson claimed the 16U Platinum title 70-58 over Maryland 3D White to complete a DMV sweep of that division as well.