Section 7 a SUCCESS for Gorman, College Coaches
National Grassroots Editor
Ronnie has evaluated basketball talent for 20 years and has over 15 years of experience in publishing, editing and managing high school sports websites for companies such as Student Sports, ESPN and Ballislife. Ronnie compiles the FAB 50 National Team Rankings while serving as an account manager and consultant for grassroots event run by Ballislife and other companies, in addition to serving as a color commentator on high school broadcasts.
Follow @Ronnie Flores
Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) captured the championship in the top division of the Section 7 Team Camp held during the first of two weekends of the June scholastic live period that is part of the NCAA’s new recruiting calendar. The Gaels ventured to Phoenix and defeated another FAB 50 power, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), 79-66 in the championship game in front of a herd of college coaches. We break down some of the top individual performers in the event and examine how and why Section 7 benefitted players and college coaches.
In front of a gym filled with college coaches of all levels at Brophy Prep (Phoenix, Ariz.), Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) showed everyone in attendance why it will be a serious contender for the 2019-20 mythical FAB 50 national title by taking down Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) 79-66 in the title game of the main division at the NFHS-approved live period Section 7 Team Camp. The Gaels are deep, talented and have chemistry that few elite high school basketball programs possess. No, they don’t have some secret sauce other high school coaching staffs don’t, they simply have played together for a longer period of time than most elite high school teams do nowadays.
We won’t know exactly where the chips will fall in terms of some elite high school players moving on to “greener” pastures until they are actually enrolled in school (we know so will be on the move), but we’ll be hard pressed to find more than five to seven teams deserving a higher preseason ranking than Bishop Gorman in the preseason 2019-20 FAB 50 National Team Rankings.
Bishop Gorman (which finished No. 23 in last season’s final FAB 50) will be extremely difficult to beat under any circumstance in 2019-20. The Gaels are nearly impossible to take down when junior (2021) shooting guard Will McClendon and senior wing guard Noah Taitz are hitting from the outside. In the title game of the All About People bracket (which consisted of a majority of the top teams competing at Section 7), the Gaels got six 3-pointers (in seven attempts) from McClendon in the first half when they took a 43-34 lead. In the second half, Taitz hit two 3-pointers and had 12 points.
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) June 24, 2019
McClendon hit a seventh 3-pointer in the second half and finished with a game-high 23 points to go along with five assists. Taitz, who is considering Washington, Stanford, USC, BYU, and St. Mary’s, among others, finished with 19 points. West Virginia-bound center Isaiah Cottrell contributed 12 points and five rebounds, while junior point guard Zaon Collins did a bit of everything offensively (10 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals) while playing good harassing defense on Mater Dei’s ball-handlers.
Mater Dei, which trailed 22-20 with 6:30 remaining in the first half when its best perimeter shooter, 2020 Ryan Evans, left the game with a severe ankle sprain, got a team-high 16 points and six rebounds from junior power forward Wilhelm Breidenbach and 12 points, five rebounds and four assists from fellow 2021 prospect Devin Askew, last season’s Cal-Hi Sports State Sophomore of the Year. Six-foot-3 senior Aidan Prukop contributed 12 points for the Monarchs.
Mwani Wilkinson Among Section 7 Big Winners
Obviously many of the top players on the top teams at the Section 7 Team Camp were well known to college coaches coming in, but the event was beneficial to many players and the coaches themselves. For example, since the event ended Sunday afternoon, McClendon has reportedly received scholarship offers from Arizona, Arizona St. and USC. Collins also reportedly picked up an offer from USC, while Arizona St. and UNLV are also recruiting him hard.
Other prospects also parlayed outstanding play over the weekend into scholarship offers. Ceasar Chavez (Phoenix, Ariz.) 2021 point guard Ty Ty Washington was offered by Grand Canyon University and Loyola Marymount. LMU also offered Six-foot-2 Evan Nelson of Salpointe Catholic (Tucson, Ariz.), as did Nevada, Cal Poly SLO, and Harvard. Dylan Andrews, a 6-foot-2 combo guard who will be a sophomore this fall, has been offered by Northern Arizona and UC-Irvine and Pac-12 schools are now showing interest in the tough and skilled 2022 prospect.
Andrews led Windward to the Native Grill & Wings division title with a 68-60 victory over Coronado (Henderson, Nev.). It was a break-out performance for the talented guard with a fiery demeanor and a terrific pull-up jumper, as he finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and three assist and played quality defense on nationally-ranked 2021 guard Jaden Hardy of Coronado. Hardy and 2022 point guard Richard “Pop Pop” Isaacs, who was part of the United States’ Gold-Medal club in the FIBA Americas 16U Championships in Brazil in early June, each netted 14 points in the loss. Windward, which played without 6-foot-9 sophomore big man Kijani Wright (who was also part of that 16U USA Basketball championship team), also get major contributions from 6-foot 2021 point guard Jaren Harris (19 points) and 6-foot-6 2020 forward Devin Tillis (6 points, 13 rebounds).
The big winner among players likely was Mwani Wilkinson, a 6-foot-6 wing forward who is just scratching the surface of his potential and who some college coaches got to see for an extended period for the first time at Section 7. Wilkinson was a seldom-used reserve on Gorman’s 2018-19 state title team after playing in the post on Gorman’s lower level teams as a sophomore. Wilkinson has been coming into his own since Gorman’s post-season run and followed up a solid performance at the 2019 Pangos All-American Camp (Top 60 game selection) with a spectacular performance at the West’s only live period team event during the June 21-23 weekend. Wilkinson had 15 points, 10 rebounds and two spectacular blocked shots versus Mater Dei. He also had some terrific games earlier in the tournament, including a 20-point, eight-dunk performance in Gorman’s 72-59 first round win over Skyline (Mesa, Ariz.).
Wilkinson was arguably the most athletic wing-type in the event less than a year after not even having the know-how of shooting a jump shot while elevating off the floor. He now shoots with ease over high-level high school defenders, makes an impact on the boards and plays sound on-ball defense and is just what the doctor ordered for one of the best teams in the country with his combination of athleticism and big-play ability in transition. Wilkinson was offered by Nevada at the conclusion of Section 7, already has been offered by hometown UNLV and will likely be high on the board of some Pac-12 programs before July is complete.
After defeating Skyline, the Gaels downed a tough Weston Ranch (Stockton, Calif.) club, 81-66, and defeated Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland, Calif.) in the semifinals, 77-56. Windward defeated defending CIF D2 state champ Campolindo (Moraga, Calif.), 72-57, to open the tournament and followed up with 66-50 win over host Brophy Prep, followed by a 66-59 semifinal victory over Eastside Catholic (Sammamish, Wash.).
Reactions From Section 7
There were nine, 16-team brackets at the Section 7 Team Camp and four were won by California teams, three by Arizona clubs, one was won by Fremont (Layton, Utah) and Gorman won the main division. For the most part, the event put on by the Arizona Basketball Coaches Association (ABCA) was well received by parents, fans and the high school coaches in attendance, some who we had a chance to speak to about the event. The event was well-organized and the hospitality for the teams and the media was well-received.
Some high school coaches from far destinations such as Northern California simply didn’t want to take the time or couldn’t raise the money to make the trip to Phoenix. Some high school coaches are always going to have this stance and don’t want to be as involved during the summer. The NCAA claims to want to inject the high school coaches back in the boys basketball recruiting process, but it is simply lip service. The lines have always been blurred between grassroots and high school coaching and at Section 7 we saw some coaches who direct or coach travel clubs acting as the head coach for high school teams. The event had plenty of grassroots club directors and coaches in attendance and their influence on the recruiting scene is not changing because of the changes made to the NCAA recruiting calendar.
The event also thrived because it was “one-stop shopping” for college coaches in the West, as many state associations, including the NIAA (Nevada), OSAA (Oregon) and CIF (California), declined to sanction or host June scholastic live period events this year. CIF officials were in attendance at Section 7 to get a glimpse of its execution and viability, and there is growing sentiment that the CIF will eventually host a similar tournament if the NCAA keeps this current recruiting model. If more states join Arizona in hosting June live events, this year’s event could become an anomaly because the live weekend will become fragmented, with teams having to choose one event over another. There is little doubt should California teams have the ability to stay home and play in front of college coaches without having to travel, they will choose to do so.
There were also comments about how it’s beneficial to see potential D1 recruits in an atmosphere more realistic to the style of play college coaches employ, rather than the endless amount of grassroots games potential scholarship players participated in the old model. There are some problems with that notion as well. Many D1-bound players are out of position with their high school team, which could hinder evaluations. They also get in more practice time with their high school team, so game play tends to be crisper and more to the liking of some college coaches. Some grassroots programs are well-coached and conduct solid practices.
Many high school teams don’t have the size realistic to what a D1 college has and in many games played within a high school team setting, college coaches are evaluating much less bonafide D1 prospects per game than they would in a live period grassroots setting. In order for college coaches and scouts to maximize their viewing time and evaluations because of the amount of prospects per high school team, games at the main Brophy Prep site (with Central High School a short walk down the street) should have been conducted with two games at a time per gym (as opposed to one) and that would have allowed for seven games, opposed to four, to be played at once at Brophy and Central. It would have also been advantageous for championship semifinal games to be conducted at different times, instead of coaches having to choose to one to watch, because both started at the same time.
Section 7 had the feel of a big-time high school holiday tournament and was well received and with a few tweaks, would be a good long-term option for college coaches to evaluate prospects. The growing sentiment we hear is to keep the June scholastic live period in addition to, but not at the expense of, one of the live weeks in July for shoe-sponsored or independent travel teams.
The following is a sample of what college coaches at Section 7 said about the event and the June scholastic events in general (on the condition of anonymity):
D1 assistant coach: “I really like being able to watch these players with their high school teams, which showcases a few critical elements that you otherwise are unable to to see this time of year. Their understanding of the game given the structure of their high school, combined with the long-standing relationships with both their teammates and coaches is a unique perspective that we typically do not get with the AAU teams. They have done a nice job of creating competitive matchups in this tournament as well that has given a good level of competition to be able to appropriately evaluate the talent. I am frustrated that some players are not able to experience this event because of the lack of resources their team has available for them to travel here to play.”
Power Five assistant coach: “I like the fact that it is well-organized and the best teams play against each other. I would rather see AAU though so I can see D1 payers playing against each other.”
D2 assistant coach: “I really love this event. It’s a chance to see players in a high school setting being coached. I’ve always been in favor of this, but at the same time play in a AAU setting as well. I just think that in a high school setting you get to see how they think within the team structure and it will give you an idea if they can fit in your system.”