2023 Tark Classic: Prep school notes
LAS VEGAS, NV - The prep school division of the Tarkanian Classic is always stacked and with NBA scouts and college coaches alike in the gym to catch the action, there was plenty to take away from the first half of the loaded annual holiday event. Here are the three big things that jumped out from the action.
1. The Thierry Darlan Experience.
You could feel it mounting as the game went on
One of the best parts of being in this long strange trip world of evaluating players is being in the gym when a moment happens. You can feel the energy shifting, then focus on a singular player in a big-picture moment. It can be, at times, a legitimate life-changing moment. The small talk chatter subsides by those on the sidelines who make big-picture decisions and set the line for public opinion.
It is, truly, a palpable experience.
The buzz began back in July for NBA Academy Africa guard Thierry Darlan when he starred at the NBA’s showcase during the summer NCAA Live Period. 247 Sports writer Travis Branham did a terrific job of setting the table for the prelude of what we experienced this weekend here in Las Vegas.
It didn’t take long or an experienced eye to notice Darlan in action for the African Academy team once again on this stage. He’s a long, lean and velvety smooth wing guard that jumps off the court the minute you lay eyes on him.
Darlan has a feathery offensive game. The ball just rolls off his hand when he squares up as a shooter. It is a pretty thing to see. As a passer, the ball gets right to where it needs to get and he doesn’t force things. Arizona and the G-League look like options at the moment, according to those in the know.
The Senegalese wing was the best prospect on the floor at Bishop Gorman on Saturday. There were dozens of NBA teams on hand. All the scouts had to leave with a deeper book of positive notes on the rising elite-level prospect.
It is always interesting to think about international players like Darlan and where he would stack up with the college-bound players. I have a lot of videos to watch of him but my first impression was elite. At 6-foot-7, he is a do-it-all skilled guard. He's blue-blood good.
Suffice it to say, I'd put Darlan very high on our 2023 HS rankings. Obviously, I'd like to get more context but he was clearly the most impressive long-term guy in the building at the Tark Classic over the week. What a prospect.
Everyone in the gym could feel it.
2. Sunday was a bit of a slower day for action and the focus became quite narrow for the players that warranted eyeballs. For the pro scouts in attendance, Sunday’s slate meant it was time for a sniper scope of Texas-bound guard AJ Johnson.
Anyone that is remotely close to the high school basketball conversation is quite familiar with the incredible upside and potential of the Southern California Academy guard. He’s dripping with intrigue and on Sunday, we saw that dog really come through. Johnson was the most assertive guy on the floor.
Johnson gave me some flashbacks to watching Brandon Boston, Jr. at the same age. Both guys don’t lack confidence and use their slender frames to squeeze into tight spaces and make big plays. Johnson showed a really nice catch-and-shoot jumper from three. When presented with a ball screen, he worked quickly off of it and made great decisions on what to do.
It was hard to not be impressed with Johnson and what he brought to the table on Sunday in a one-sided affair. The Texas roster has been a favorite one for the pro scouts to inspect over the last couple of years and this year’s in-bound recruiting class warrants further time spent in Austin.
On a separate note, he's going to make that jump in our upcoming rankings refresh for the class of 2023 at the national level.
3. In an event where upperclassmen seem to rule the realm at the prep school division, the youth movement was so good that you couldn’t ignore it. Let’s run through some of the top dogs from the underclassmen divisions.
A. Let’s start with 2026 super stud Tyran Stokes of Prolific Prep. The Kentucky native brings NFL tight end size to the table and pairs it with an athleticism that forces defenders to make business decisions at the rim.
Stokes is a mixture of incredible bounce, strength and versatility as a long term guy. He reminds me of a young Miles Bridges. Stokes is making his debut as a high school prospect a memorable one for this very good Prolific Prep program. He should be a mainstain in the elite group of players in this 2026 class for the duration of his high school career.
B. JJ Mandaquit of Real Salt Lake just knows how ot play. The Hawaiin native is smart, vocal, active and engaged at all times. Just a sophomore, he plays like a seasoned veteran who has gone head to head with the best of the best on a regular basis. He has such a poise that you don’t see too often from young players - especially point guards.
Mandaquit recently picked up an offer from Stanford, joining the likes of Washington State, Portland, Hawaii and Chaminade.
C. Imahri Wooten of Redemption Christian will be a player in the class of 2026 to monitor this high school season. He’s big guard at 6-foot-5, can handle, and is a coach’s son. Wooten plays with an aggressiveness that says he’s in it for the long run and high-majors are already putting him on their watch list. Warranted.
D. I’ve seen Jaden Toombs several times in different situations this high school season and the class of 2025 big man from Dynamic Prep in Texas always impresses and always leaves me wondering what else can he develop into. A legit 6-foot-8 big man is a versatile two-way player with a big body that looks like it is prime for a future bully body at the high-major level. He’s going to be a player that we have seen programs in the Big 12 geographical area make a priority for the last five decades.
E. This year's Dream City Christian (AZ) group is an interesting one. They are deep. They are big. They are certainly talented. But finding an alpha male in this group is a tough call. There isn't a Shaedon Sharpe type of player on the roster for coach Kyle Weaver. And that may just be the genius of this year's roster. To date, sophomore big man Alejandro Aviles has been a constant for this year's roster. A fundamental big man, Aviles is a double-double problem around the cup. He's very good in the post and has some throwback qualities to him. Consistency is a skill and Aviles is as consistent as any young big man that I've seen in the West this high school season.
F. You'll want to keep this name on your quick search tab: Khaman Maluach. The 7-footer from NBA Academy Africa has been one of the. most impressive and interesting players in the field, regardless of class. The class of 2025 big man stepped out and hit threes, played like a 7-footer around the rim, and gave you a wow moment here and there. If he were to be in North America, he's a no-brainer five-star candidate in the class of 2025.