Raleigh, North Carolina- I've already made plans to come back to next years event. That's how great the John Wall Holiday Invitational was from start to finish. From in state powers, to national wonders, the event featured a ton of house hold names over the course of three days. Before the final round of games kicks off, I reflected on some takeaways from the previous action.
The future is bright for Robert Dillingham
On a few occasions this season, I've heard whispers about the freshman that Jeff McInnis had at his disposal. Against a loaded Hillcrest Prep group, Robert Dillingham separated himself from many of his class of '23 peers. It wasn't just his stat line of eighteen points and zero turnovers that was impressive. No moment seemed to big and in fact, it felt like he was never out of place. Dillingham held his own with the big boys. The future is bright for him going forward.
Keeyan Itejere just keeps getting better
Every couple of months I get the opportunity to track the progress of Grace Christian forward Keeyan Itejere. Every outing seems to add more positives to report as his growth is easy to notice. It's evident that Itejere's confidence continues to grow, and it must be due to his steady progress. My last viewing I noticed his improved athleticism and mobility and while he continues to make strides in those departments, this time the uptick was seen in his handle. Some big to big passing and the ability to start and finish the break was seen in the junior big man. In such a short time, his development has been amazing to watch and yet his offer sheet has not reflected that growth. Hats off to Elon and Radford for getting involved early.
Mekhi Grant is a top 100 talent
It was at Andre Whiteheads Best in the State event this past June that I had the opportunity to lay eyes on Grant for the first time. Although he was worth jotting some notes down for at the time, his development from then to now is shocking to say the least. Added weight has added to his willingness to rebound and exert himself on both ends of the court. Couple that newly found energy with a range out to three, Grant has the makings of the next big man to make waves out of the HoopState. Combine head coach Jeff McInnis had this to offer up about his freshman talent. "Young kid with loads of upside. Can shoot, can play inside and out. Young Chris Bosh."
Lucas Taylor made a name for himself
It was a sign of things to come as Lucas Taylor first landed on my radar he gained top performer honors at our North Carolina Preview camp. On one of the biggest post Christmas platforms, Taylor increased his value with a very intriguing showing. Not only is he sneaky athletic, his first step, and improving jump shot give him a solid base to build from. The 6'4 Heritage guard has several tools to choose from, but it's his potential that should spark some intrigue. As he gets closer to his senior season, I expect an in-state division I program to kick off his recruitment.
Shakeel Moore is vastly underrated. I had to scroll much further down the national rankings to find Moore's name than I initially though I would have. Of course he hasn't reached his peak, but what he has now is a great base to build on. Sneaky, yet elite athleticism. Size, vision, poise and confidence. The thought of placing him in the top 100 nationally should be tossed around.
I know how hard it is to get players to buy into team defense. Been there, coached that. For all the reasons that a defense can go wrong, it's the strong suit for Montverde as they seem to have everything clicking as we head into the new year. Of course they have the talent. Potentially there are several lottery picks on the floor. But their offense doesn't come from just rolling the ball out. Defensively, they work. And that work, turns into turnovers. And those turnovers, turn into the highlights we love. I haven't seen a more locked in team at this level defensively. Their rotations, closeouts, and every other defensive nuance was executed at a high level. And again,there’s room to improve as were only at the mid way point of the season.
Kinston available guard Isaac Parson can help a program at the next level. Small college programs should take a look.
It felt as if Hillcrest had 6 players on the court at one point. Seriously. 6'7, 6'8, 6'9, 6,10, and 6'11 were the listed media guide heights for their starting lineup.
Chris Jiao is one of the best high major bigs that no one talks about. The Patrick school continues to gather unique talents.
NC State hit the pavement hard in their back yard. Josh Hall, Nick Farrar, Shakeel Moore, and Cam Hayes round out a great class for the Wolf Pack. Every player compliments the other in their own unique way.
North Carolina loves its basketball
The people in North Carolina love basketball. You know what, I'm sorry. I meant to say that the people in North Carolina are in LOVEEE with basketball. First game started at 11, I was there by 10. It was the only way to secure a seat comfortable to get work done at. By 4 pm every day the event was sold out. By that night there was a line out to the parking lot. The crowds were engaged and ready to cheer(or boo) whenever necessary. If you've never been, you should browse YouTube for what seems like the hundreds of highlight tapes posted over the years. It wont give you the full feeling, but you'll understand.
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