HAMPTON, VA - The Hoop Group Southern Jam Fest has become a must-stop during the spring, and a ton of DMV area squads descended on the Boo Williams Sportsplex for this year’s event.
I made a brief visit down last Saturday, and had a chance to catch up with a few players enjoying big travel seasons:
DERQUAN WASHINGTON, DC PREMIER 16U
Washington started the day off in impressive fashion, scoring 19 of his 25 points in the second half to lead Premier past Bingo’s All-Stars (NY).
Premier found themselves in an early double-digit hole, but stormed back in the second half behind the HD Woodson 2018 guard.
“I picked up two early fouls so I didn’t play much in the first half,” he said. “In the second half we were trailing, so I had to do what I had to do to pick my team up.”
Washington is known for his dangerous - if unorthodox - outside shooting and did plenty of damage from there while hitting five 3-pointers - but he also did a nice job of attacking the basket and keeping defenders off-balance.
“They were expecting [the 3’s] after I hit a couple,” he said, “but they were a pressing team and got out of order sometimes and that’s how I was able to hit open shots.”
Washington picked up an offer from Division II Virginia Union in April, and several D-I programs are showing interest. He said he’s focusing on strengthening his skills as a lead guard.
“[Shooting’s] always been my strength,” he said. “I couldn’t dribble very much at first, but I’m coming along with that. I’m trying to turn my game into more of a point guard than a shooting guard, since I don’t know how much I’ll grow or not.”
ANTWAN WALKER, TEAM LOADED 17U
The HD Woodson 2016 forward enjoyed a huge senior year, and his momentum hasn’t stopped as he’s added to his collection of Division I offers.
“It feels good,” he said. “As more offers come in, I just keep working.”
College will wait a year for Walker, though, as he said he’s narrowed his prep school options to either Hargrave Military Academy or Massanutten Military Academy. He said, “Trust and a coach that believes in me,” will be the biggest factors in his decision.
The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Walker flashed the ability to score from the wing during the high school season, and said he’s focusing on improving his dribble.
JERMAIN HARRIS, DC PREMIER 16U
The Clinton Christian 2018 forward has come on strong since the high school season, earning scholarship offers from Cincinnati,Hofstra and Towson.
The 6-foot-8, 215-pound Harris turned heads with his motor and work on the boards, and readily admitted that he hasn’t always played that way, crediting Clinton Christian coach Chris Cole with helping him flip the switch.
“No, it’s never been a part of my game,” he said. “I needed to be seen and get more offers, and I’ve got to get my name out there, so I had to play harder, and I just dominated. It’s just been me and my Coach from the beginning, and I’ve just been dominating ever since.”
When I got there at first I couldn’t run sprints - I couldn’t do nothing. Coach Cole, he’s really been helping me get better.”
LIAM HARRINGTON, VIRGINIA ELITE 17U
The Herndon 2017 guard is playing his first year with Virginia Elite and has made an immediate impact, emerging as one of their top players.
“Everybody knows their roles and everybody moves the ball,” he said. “Nobody is selfish on the team at all so it’s good to play with them; I like my teammates a lot.”
Harrington scored 23 in a loss to Team Takeover Orange, getting to the basket with ease against a talented collection of TTO guards.
Harrington said he has Ivy and Patriot League interest as well as several top Division III programs.
“They want to see me more of a point guard - getting other people open and not being a huge scorer,” he said. “Attacking the basket and passing out of stuff. I’m working on it, and I’m trying to open up my teammates’ games more than me. I’ve got the scoring part down, I’m trying to get everyone else in the game.”
KELEAF TATE, TEAM TAKEOVER ORANGE 17U
The Cesar Chavez 2017 guard has looked good in his first year with Team Takeover Orange, showing the ability to score in bunches while also looking to hone his point guard skills.
“Once I found out I was the leading scorer on this team, I told myself I had to start passing the ball and getting my teammates involved,” he said. “One day I’m going to run into a team that’s going to try to X me out, so I’ve got to get everybody involved and let them make plays.”
Tate has an offer from Division II Virginia Union, and listed interest from James Madison, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Mount St. Mary’s and Xavier.
“This summer I’m trying to get stronger and work on my ball handling,: he said. “That’s what all the D-I coaches have told me, so that’s what I’m trying to do this summer.”
“I think [TTO Orange is] a great organization for me and my best fit. It’s a good team to run on we’ve got good players and I’ve just got to play hard.”
JR CONNELL, TEAM TAKEOVER ORANGE 17U
Connell plays on the DC Blue Devils UA Association squad, but ran with TTO Orange with the Blue Devils off last weekend.
The 6-foot-7, 200-pound Connell is coming off a breakout junior season at National Christian and has looked very good so far this spring.
“It helped me a lot,” he said of the high school season. “Playing with Christian [Matthews] and Mohammed [Kabir] and practicing with them all the time helped me with my finishing and my jump shot. It made me actually be able to play the game a little bit better, and my confidence went up even more.”
Connell plays with a very high motor, and displays toughness and athleticism on both ends of the floor. He said High Point, James Madison, Quinnipiac and Tennessee State have all reached out to him.
“Right now it’s just about finishing at the rim, making my other teammates look better, knocking down the jump shot when I need to - just do it all: shoot it, pass it, dribble it. Overall I’m working on my whole game, mostly putting the ball on the floor: starting breaks, finishing at the rim all the time.”
BLAKE FRANCIS, BALTIMORE ELITE 17U
Francis - who committed to a prep year at Massanutten Military Academy earlier this week - turned in a fantastic clutch performance in a win over Team Loaded-Astrop, scoring 16 of his 22 points in the second half to rally Baltimore Elite.
“I knew we were struggling a little bit in the first half,” he said, “so I just had to do anything that I could to get us back in the game and get the win. We’re tough and we fight through adversity. That shows how resilient this team is, and we’re just tough overall.”
After guiding Westfield to the Virginia Class 6A Championship this past winter, Francis and several of his former DC Thunder teammates headed north to join coach Zach Suber with Elite following the dissolution of Thunder’s older age groups. Despite the new surroundings, Francis said the transition has been smooth.
“I think we got enough practice in before the actual season started,” he said, “so i think we were good from the jump. I’ve been with Coach Zach since I was 13 and he’s always had me under his wing, so I’m just going to play with Coach Zach until I stop playing AAU.”
BRANDON EDMOND, HIGHER LEVEL PREMIER 17U
Edmond has been one of the area’s top shooters during his career at St. John Paul The Great, but he hopes to use this summer to expand his game.
“I want to show people that I’m not just a shooter,” he said. “I can assist, pass the ball and get my teammates involved and bring the ball up the floor.”
Schools ranging from D1 to D3 have shown interest in the 6-foot-1, 165-pound Edmond. He’s still awaiting his first scholarship offer, but said he’s pleased with his current recruitment thus far and feels primed for a big summer with Higher Level.
“I love my team, this is probably one of the best teams I’ve played on,” he said. “Our team chemistry is great and everyone sticks to their role and does what they need to do.”
NATE WATSON, DC PREMIER 17U
The 6-foot-8 Watson has been one of the area’s fastest-rising Class of 2017 recruits, adding a host of high major scholarship offers since the high school season ended.
“It’s been crazy,” he said. “It feels really good to know all these big time schools want to come after me. and I just want to get better every day.”
Watson said Maryland will likely be his first visit after the summer, but added he’s currently focused on expanding his offensive game to the wing.
“I’m just trying to be the best that I can be,” he said. “I want to step out the perimeter a little bit; I want to be able to handle and attack from the perimeter.”
AJ WILSON, DC PREMIER 17U
The athletic Wilson is still weighing his future plans, and has the option of coming out with the Class of 2016 or doing a postgraduate year.
“I haven’t taken any visits yet,” he said. “Right now I’m leaning towards Duquesne, George Mason and Richmond. I talk to them the most, so those would probably be my Top 3 right now.”
After spending last season at Elev8 Institute in Florida, Wilson said his game has made definite strides.
“I definitely feel like my conditioning has gotten better and my IQ’s grown,” he said. “Being able to see the floor at different positions and different parts of the court has helped me.”
A PERSONAL NOTE
On behalf of the DMVelite Staff, I’d like to pass along our condolences to the family and friends of Lafayette Nelson, who tragically passed away earlier this week at the age of 22.
I got a chance to know Lafayette while covering him in his final two years of high school at Largo, and got to see them make an exciting run to the state finals at Maryland his senior year. I stayed in touch with him as he moved on, eventually to Chesapeake College.
I was intrigued when I saw him get into coaching with 6th Man Warriors at such a young age, but you could tell he had a knack for it. He was intense and intelligent, and most importantly, he loved it. And he LOVED his players. He felt strongly about guys he thought we were missing out on or ranking too low, and he never hesitated to let me know, lol. He fought hard for his guys and believed in every one of them, and served as a mentor to scores of young men that he was barely older than. He had a very bright future on deck.
I saw Lafayette briefly while down in Hampton but didn’t get a chance to stop and chat with him, and I’ll always regret it. He may not get a chance to grow into the excellent coach and man he seemed destined to be, but he left a mark on countless people in his short time here. Rest In Peace Lafayette.