The Under Armour Association Finals wrapped up showcase play on Thursday afternoon and got into bracket play thereafter. There were plenty of standouts and we highlight the ones that caught our eye the most — including a 16U player who offered his thoughts on the state of grassroots basketball.
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Make no mistake, the teams in Suwanee, Ga. for the Under Armour Association Finals want to go home with one of the three shoe company-oriented team championships that are earned on the summer grassroots circuit. There is a lot more to the games than winning, however, as college coaches are evaluating players on the 17U, 16U and 15U level to see if they are the right fit for their program — or if they can project to play at their level down the line.
Two Thursday standouts at the UAA Finals on different levels of play and in different stages of their recruitment offered their opinion on the state of the game.
Matt Mitchell, a 6-foot-6 power forward who has used the circuit to improve his face-up skills as he develops into a powerful wing prospect, plays for the Earl Watson Elite (Calif.) 16U team. He feels the most important aspect of 16U ball is developing for 17U play and preparing for the college level, not necessarily the team’s won-loss record. Mitchell is killing two birds with one stone as programs in the West Coast and Mountain West Conferences are making serious inquiries while he helped EWE win two games on the court on Thursday.
Mitchell, a 2017 prospect who played his sophomore season at Roosevelt (Corona, Calif.), scored 11 points in a 51-45 victory over Young Legends in a Showcase game. Mitchell has improved his face-up game and steps into his jump shots with confidence, something he didn’t do with regularity during the 2014-15 high school season. Mitchell also is a good passer off the dribble in the open court and makes simple plays that college coaches are taking notice of.
He was even better later in the day, icing a 78-72 victory over the Atlanta Express in pool play by canning two free throws with 33.3 seconds remaining to give EWE a 74-70 lead. Mitchell finished with a team-high 23 points.
Troy Baxter, a 6-foot-8 small forward who played his junior season at The Rock School (Gainesville, Fla.), is in a different boat than Mitchell. He plays 17U ball for Team Breakdown and is already committed to college. The slender athlete announced in May he would attend South Florida in the fall of 2016.
Baxter, who will attend Oldsmar Christian (Oldsmar, Fla.) as a senior, feels he could have earned a scholarship without travel ball, but similar to Mitchell feels the UAA has been important in his development. Neither have a personal trainer, and neither feel it leaves than at a disadvantage over their peers who do.
Baxter is a fantastic rebounder and a good spot up shooter on the wing, but needs to develop into a more physical presence on the block and on the defensive end. He has quick leaping ability and good timing and can finish with either hand around the basket.
On Wednesday, he sealed a big win over Supreme Court with a resounding dunk and on Thursday helped Team Breakdown defeat Philly Pride, 52-51, in pool play by scoring 13 points and eight rebounds. Earlier in the day in a Showcase game versus We R1, he had the full arsenal working, finishing with 25 points and seven rebounds.
“Troy is a big-time, NBA-type athlete,” said Team Breakdown coach Jordan Fair, who also happens to be the head coach at Oldsmar Christian. “He needs to work on his handle as he develops into a 3-man. Not many out there have more talent. He has a high talent level and recently he’s been playing the best I’ve ever seen him play.”
In addition to Mitchell and Baxter, here are five players that also caught our eye with their play on Thursday in various age groups at the UAA Finals (listed alphabetically):
Bryan Antoine, Ranney School (Tinton Falls, N.J.)/Team Rio 15U, 6-5 SF 2019
The UAA is filled with an abundance of talent in the 15U division and Antoine is definitely a standout. One of the nation’s better talents in the rising freshman class has a plethora of scoring ability and lead guard skills. He went for 21 points in Team Rio’s 70-54 Showcase win over KC Run GMC.
Josh Jackson, Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.)/1 Nation, 6-8 SF 2016
The well-traveled and well-known big guard prospect has had an up-and-down start to the UAA Finals from a team perspective, but his individual play has been up to par. On Thursday evening, 1 Nation fell 69-57 to Thon Maker and Canada Elite, as Jackson tried to keep his team in it with 13 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 blocked shots. 1 Nation is undersized and Jackson spent plenty of time battling Maker on the block after battling DeAndre Ayton and his Supreme Court team earlier in the day. Jackson has good defensive instincts and makes the correct open court decision with the ball a vast majority of the time. In the 61-56 win over Supreme Court, he finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds. On Wednesday night, he had 23 and 12 in the buzzer-beating loss to We R1.
Jayce Johnson, Santa Monica (Calif.)/Earl Watson Elite, 6-11 C 2016
This burly big man had an excellent showing at the West Coast Elite/Elite 100 Camp in California during the first NCAA July viewing period and his Thursday performance against Thon Maker had the Suwanee Sports Academy buzzing. Johnson went toe-to-toe with Maker and finished with 17 points and 7 rebounds in EWE’s 67-57 win over Team Canada. Johnson’s physicality and improved conditioning makes him a tough check and a legitimate top 100 national prospect. Maker finished with 11 points and 9 rebounds and bounced back with a big 25-point, 11-rebound performance vs. Josh Jackson and 1 Nation later in the day.
M.J. Walker, Jonesboro (Ga.)/Atlanta Express 16U, 6-5 SF 2017
This explosive wing prospect was the unofficial runner-up to DeAndre Ayton for Grassroots Hoops National Sophomore of the Year honors last season and was downright spectacular in his team’s 78-72 loss to Earl Watson Elite on Thursday afternoon. A good athlete with big-time shooting ability, Walker was on fire in the second half and finished the game with 37 points. He converted 7-of-8 2-point field goals and 4-of-6 3-point field goals.
Bryson Williams, Roosevelt (Fresno, Calif.)/Team Superstar, 6-7 PF 2016
This long-time Fresno State commit is the ultimate glue-type that can help a team win in a variety of ways. Williams has a strong frame and even though he’s not an elite finisher against UAA circuit-type length, he finds a way to punish defenses. In a 47-45 Showcase win over the Texas Boys Franchize, Williams went for 15 points, including the game-winning lay-up as time ran out off an offensive rebound.