Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Uno En Uno with: Anfernee King

ZS: In high school, you had a pretty significant two-man foundation alongside Jordan Harris (now at Georgia) while at Donalsville. In going the prep route, you've got a very different make-up with guys all across the court contributing and a balanced offense. How have you adjusted?

AK: Being that we have a number of different guys that can score, I don't need to score as much. It's helped me change my identity to more of a defensive guy and a creator with the ball in my hands. I don't have as much pressure on myself to score so I've been able to concentrate more on shooting the rock and taking the right shots. I don't need to go out and look for my shot every night, I have the freedom to create for my teammates and use my defensive aggression to create buckets.

ZS: As a multi-sport athlete going up, what made you choose basketball over football?

AK: Don't get me wrong, I loved football. I played running back, cornerback, wide receiver, some safety different positions and loved the competition. Basketball just had more of an appeal to me and I felt it was the path I wanted to pursue for my future. I truly love the game more than anything else and it's where my passion is so that's what I based my decision on.

ZS: Which components of your game have grown and evolved in taking the post-graduate year?

AK: My shot selection and my shooting has been the biggest difference and also my involvement on the defensive end. Also right now, I'm trying to develop a consistent pull-up game and have the pull-up 3-pointer as a key piece to my overall package. Also I'm getting stronger and getting better at finishing around the rim. Being in the gym more and having more of a responsibility to work at it everyday has helped me improve steadily.

ZS: Given the recent roster changes you guys have undergone, how has your role increased on this team?

AK: Right now, everybody sees the chance to contribute and score the ball because we have a pretty balanced offense where we can have a different guy be 'the man' every night. Guys are stepping up at the right times and we're playing as a team, so we continue to challenge each other and bring our game up a notch.

ZS: How has both the prep environment and coach (Brad) Traina helped cultivate a new work ethic in you?

AK: Coach Brad reminds us every day how hard we have to work and goes out and exemplifies it himself. He stays on us in a way that makes us work harder and not only respect the grind but love it and stay committed as well. Being here at Conrad it becomes your life, you don't got much of a choice.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Sloan Shines In Return To Taylor County

Richard Gatewood and David Sloan were back at Taylor County High School on Sunday afternoon.

One year later, however, the tandem was not helping TCHS earn a third consecutive berth in the state tournament as one would initially envision.

Key figures in Taylor County’s ascension to Kentucky High School hoops prominence, Gatewood and Sloan instead were on on opposite sides of the court.

Sloan scored 16 points in helping his Conrad Academy (FL) team stamp an 82-61 victory over Gatewood-coached 22 Feet (S.C.) during the Grind Session’s Heartland Hooparama.

 Luguentz Dort, one of the nation’s most underrated Class of 2018 prospects, bulldozed his way to a game-high 36 points to lead Conrad.

 "It was definitely our best defensive effort of the year," Conrad head coach Shaun Wiseman said.

"I was pleased with the toughness and tenacity they showed on defense throughout the second half. The fans gave David a great ovation and it was clear they were happy to see him back there. It was a nice reunion for both those guys, David and Coach Gatewood. Obviously both guys had pretty big contributions at Taylor County and the fan base showed they were appreciative of it and their chapter in the school's basketball history here."

 Gatewood, as you may recall, is the coach who helped revitalize the Taylor County basketball brand with a rigorous 12-month program and ramped up non-conference schedule.

 Sloan, the high-scoring 5-foot-11 point guard, starred alongside Quentin Goodin (Xavier). Both were treated to an emotional ovation from the crowd.

Many in the Taylor County Community tried to persuade Gatewood not to leave for 22 Feet Academy, expressing disappointment.

Sloan also had a fair share of people in his ear, imploring him not to leave the situation he had helped create at perennial contender Taylor County.

In a perfect world, both would have stayed and relished the basketball-crazed community and massive fan support.

Gatewood, who aspires to eventually break into the college coaching world, was offered a position at 22 Feet that suited him both financially and as a career move.

Sloan transferred to Ballard directly after the season’s end, citing a desire to be with his family and play before his home city in Louisville as a senior. His abrupt transfer was met with stern action by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

After a long and arduous process, the KHSAA ultimately ruled Sloan ineligible. Faced with the prospect of having to sit out his senior year, Sloan transferred to the Conrad Academy in Orlando.

At Conrad, Sloan had the opportunity to play alongside 6-foot-11 Austin Wiley (now at Auburn). He’s risen into a major presence as the team’s quarterback and supplementary scoring piece to the flashy 6-foot-4, 215-pound man-child Dort.

Sloan initially received interest from programs such as Louisville, Florida, and Tennessee. Now he’s shaping into a mid-major recruit who has the potential to be a steal at a program such as Florida Gulf Coast, IUPUI, or Bradley.

Sloan continued to stake his claim as one of the country’s more unheralded still-available Class of 2017 recruits Saturday, scoring 32 points in TCA’s loss to Hillcrest (AZ).  

Saturday, February 4, 2017

In Buying Into Team Component, TCA Red Has Thrived

Their roster may not possess heavily recruited star power or surefire Division-I appeal as others throughout Florida. They may not have the acclaimed, high-rising guard or the five-star recruit or the 7-foot rim protector who has drawn national attention and media coverage and fanfare.

Yet TCA Red has become a sleeper this season, a surprisingly effective guard-heavy core which has ripped off eight straight wins. Ryan Rodriguez has helped forge a piecemeal collection of guys from across the world into an overall developed unit. This team has a unique blend of bench depth and balance, with all 13 guys playing meaningful minutes and getting a piece of the action in high-pressure moments.

While unfortunate aspects such as selfishness and disinterest tend to sully teams in the prep environment, TCA Red has suddenly become illustrative of the team component.

 Rarely in this atmosphere, where guys who have never played together before must get acclimated and play a slapdash, condensed schedule from November to March, do you witness this quality of togetherness. 

Placing extra emphasis on effort and sustainable defensive aggression, there are times when they play above and beyond their perceived competitive level.

Down the roster and off the bench, each and every individual buys. Because of it, the squad has exceeded the less than lefty expectations it entertained at the season’s start.

On Thursday, a layer of poise and late-game savvy cemented a pair of come-from-behind victories. 

Against Champions Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Karn Goraya hit back-to-back tie-breaking 3-pointers and later connected on an eight-foot floater that proved to be the go-ahead bucket.

The team wound up gutting out a wild, 76-73 victory. Champions would ultimately  squander a 16-point first half lead, one in which they appeared to have a considerable upper hand.

Conrad showed crunch time grit in a previous win against SCORE Academy. TJ Gittens, a 6-foot guard out of Houston, splashed a go-ahead 3-pointer.

Gittens later sank a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left, solidifying a win after falling behind by as many as 13 in the first half. Goraya’s presence was pivotal in this one as well, as he hit a trio of timely treys during a key stretch. Mathis Sellin had a critical tip-in which helped Conrad stay alive during those edgy late-game sequences.

A well-built 6-foot-2 guard out of Reno, N.V., Goraya may have been a casualty of the inexact science that is high school recruiting.

A consistent scorer and 3-point shooter, Goraya has put together several 30+ point scoring onslaughts this season.

With his scoring acumen and the fact that he won’t have to make the same transition strength-wise as most freshmen, his coaches see Division-I potential in him. If he does get passed up on, there’s still the possibility of becoming a primary piece at a reputable Division-II program.

There are options with Conor Seville, a scrappy guard/forward who can play multiple positions and provide interior scoring and rebounds. Running parallel to the team’s ascent has been the much improved play of Shaq Doctrine, who has evolved into a shooter while providing another leg of scoring.

 The aforementioned Sellin has become active on the glass and around the rim, while Lenny Maguir has been a serviceable combination guard with contributions on both sides of the court. Adrien Audoin has shown glimpses lately, as he's another versatile threat with a soft touch and a penchant for crashing the boards consistently.

While Gittens and Goraya lead by example in the backcourt, there is notable depth in that category. Rodriguez has also made sure to hold each player to a high standard, holding a quick leash and a natural intolerance for defensive lapses. In a variety of cases, prep school can be an experiment turned disaster.

 Consider that everyone is looking for a scholarship, which often results in stats-padding and jealousy and division. There is also cases of guys adjusting on the fly who just don't commit to the team concept. Since prep programs of this ilk don't have a great deal of time together and do have scholarship-thirsting, me-first individualists, some of these post-graduate programs are rendered a place where team basketball goes to die.

These issues have never occurred with TCA Red, which has the look of a tight-knit team that will gladly sacrifice individual desires for team success.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Uno En Uno With: Jalen Hawkins

In three seasons, Jalen Hawkins rapidly shaped into one of New York State’s most promising young scorers. Effective at scoring the rock from all three levels, the 6-foot-3 guard flourished at knifing to the rim and scoring with either hand.

 As a sophomore, he averaged 32.3 points and shattered a majority of the school’s scoring records. Since arriving at Utica-Proctor, Hawkins set out to be a focal point capable of shouldering a majority of the offensive weight.

Playing for the Albany City Rocks on the AAU circuit gave Hawkins greater exposure.
In gauging his scoring aptitude against top-percentile competition, Hawkins learned he had to adjust his game for taller, stronger defenders geared to stymie the scoring onslaughts he authored in upstate New York.

As he became more realistic about his basketball future, more and more people got into his ear about playing against better competition. Hawkins too acknowledged a need to shed the tag of “bully,” and prove his buckets binges against meager competition didn’t put blemishes on his advanced skill-set.

After a summer in which he enhanced his image as a slasher and following a semester at the now-defunct City Reach United Basketball Academy, Hawkins has transferred to The Conrad Academy in Orlando.
After spending his first two seasons chowing down on the perceived cupcakes of upstate New York, the Class of 2018 guard will ply his trade in one of the nation’s top high school conferences. Hawkins has already transitioned by scoring less and study defensive presence.

Hawkins on Transferring

There were a lot of coaches and teachers telling me I should leave and get better opportunities. My coach even sat down with me and talked to me about leaving and pursuing better opportunities on my journey. Proctor really doesn’t produce a lot of Division-I players. So as much as I liked it there I had to go on with my career and look to play against better competition. I came to Conrad and the SIAA because I heard it’s a place that will produce a lot of guards, big men, and dudes that can flat out play.

On His Relationship With Proctor Legend Josh Wright

We had a good relationship on and off the court. He used to tell me stay humble and don’t let my head get too big. He told me about staying out of trouble and avoiding hanging around the wrong people, he told me to stay around positive vibes.
I worked out with him a couple times and he was on me hard. He was at a majority of my high school games. We had a strong bond, for sure.

On His Role                                 

Right now I’m playing my role by stepping up my defense. I’m getting used to the players and getting used to how everyone plays. If they need a rebound, I’ll go get a rebound. If they need buckets, I’ll go get a bucket.

On Transitioning

I think people don’t really know about me defensively. I play very strong defense and that’s something I’m going to bring to the table here along with my ability to drive the ball.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Uno En Uno With: Thomas Fortier, TCA Basketball

ZS: How long have you been in the United States and how have you adjusted to the vastly different American style of play? What are some of the key differences in these two brands of basketball?

TF: I've been in the United States since September, so almost five months now. Here, it's fair to say my game changed. First of all, the American game is so much different than the style played in Europe. The game here is more selfish so I had to adapt my game style and I understand it because everyone who can score wants to shine. So, I had to get my teammates the ball more and give them confidence. I had to change into a facilitator and make sure my teammates knew I could make them better. It's been a great transition because I've had to push it to my limits and try to kill myself to make my name, win their confidence and get respect. It has all made me work harder and want it more, knowing the increase in competition.

ZS: On this particular team you are a bigger guard and capable of playing the small forward position. How do you utilize your strength and physical traits to your advantage at this level?

TF: Nowadays, I try to crash every time for an offensive rebound. I try to take my opponent full court in defense. However, the game here is much faster-paced and much more built around strength. So, I try to use my physique and go to the basket more. One of the key things coach Brad (Traina) emphasizes is how to finish at the rim with contact, how to score plus the foul.

ZS: How has coach Brad helped cultivate an all-around threat in you and allowed you to shed the "shooter" tag and therefore become more multi-dimensional?

TF: Coach Brad is the kind of coach I like. He knows how to hoop and every time he shows us where are mistakes are. He really wants us to get better and get a scholarship. He wants me to play as hard as I can, apply full court defensive pressure on the point guards and knock down my 3-pointers. He really wants me to be better finishing at the rim after a drive. I've gotten better at this compartment of my game but we are still working on it because I need it. I try to bring some European skills such as moving the ball quickly. Also, I try to help my teammates shine, so as much as I like to put the ball in the rim I like to drive and get the assist and find out who is left open.

ZS: What are the central areas of focus for you in this post-graduate year? What are your aspirations with basketball moving forward?

TF: I'm here to improve my basketball skill-set and also improve on my athleticism. I want to improve everyday because I'm look for a scholarship opportunity to play in college. I want to study in America and of course play basketball in college to develop my game more. Then, following college, I wish to be a professional in Europe.

ZS: What's the identity of this team right now and how do you hope to improve collectively as you move forward and move into the stretch run of the 2016-17 campaign?

TF: Coach Brad is an American but he played professionally in Europe as well. He knows which are the key qualities in both continents, so he tries to combine it and teach us. I think the team overall is good, everyone can jump and everyone can hoop...At the beginning of the year, we struggled with selfishness but we've worked on it and now it is not an issue. Prep is a bit different because everyone is trying to get a scholarship so oftentimes there is selfish play.

We've had a lot of tight games where we've had to be tough in the late minutes and I think we've become better and closer because of this. We can trust each other and this is the key to our future success. We know how to handle the pressure at the end of the game, we've been tested for that a lot of times this season.

ZS: What was the competition level like you played at in France and who were some of the toughest foes you faced?

TF: In France, I played against good teams like Strasbourg with the German Muchidi, Nancy, or L'INSEP, which typically gathers the best players in France. You must probably know Sekou Doumbouya. Last year, I had the chance to play against top local guys but we are a national team. The opponent I began to appreciate as we played against them more was Paul Djoko.

 They won the 3 x 3 FIBA U18 European championship with France. When I was younger, I played against guys like Kevin CHam, Renathan Ona-embo. I also played with and against one of my best friends, Wilfried Gantswa who I've known since I started playing basketball and who I respect a lot because he's helped my game grow over the years.

ZS: There's been no shortage of guys from France or guys who speak French fluently at TCA. How have you built bonds here and how have you guys benefitted from each other's presence?

TF: I love putting in the extra hours and having more freedom of time on the prep schedule, because I really want to be better. I've been putting in extra work with guys like Mel Esso, Freddy Zotchi, Adrien Audoin, Luguentz Dort, and Shawn Barthelemy. If I need their help or advice, it's always there. We feed off each other. I put in the most work in the unseen hours with Turkay Barutcuoglu. He's my roommate and a real brother I can trust. Every night we try to do something to add on to our game, especially with dribbling drills. He's a great player who played on the Turkish national team. He is fast with the ball, he's got very good handle and he can hit crazy 3-point shots.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Now A Freshman, Newman Proves He Is As Advertised

Early born success doesn’t occur so simply in today’s hothouse, hyper-competitive prep basketball landscape.
Especially not in Orlando, where basketball is quickly shaping into the city’s favorite pastime.

With a slew of powerhouse high school/prep school basketball programs in the area and surrounding area, hoops has become the uppermost winter attraction.

While some may show promise as inexperienced freshman and sophomores, the player development process as well as the road to impactful minutes is often a process. 

For Downey Christian’s Julian Newman, this is clearly not the case.

Now on the periphery of 2,500 career points, the ahead-of-his time point guard has played varsity since fifth grade.
A relentless gym rat with an unprecedented motor, Newman’s story is as unique as it is unheard of.
Once a pocket-sized guard scoring at will over defenders nearly three feet taller than him, Newman’s story garnered national publicity.

Newman became a pioneer for those of the advanced skill-set. His story resonated with those who wanted to sidestep age-appropriate levels and play against bigger, stronger opponents.

As a 4-foot-5 and 70-pound fifth grader, Newman was shockingly fit for the physical challenges of playing Varsity.
Possessing rarified quickness and ability to blow by defenders and create space, Newman did the unheard of.

 Schools throughout the country have rules prohibiting middle schoolers play varsity minutes. In a lot of cases, a maneuver of this type would be frowned upon. 

“Our main thing was that we needed another ball handler and we figured we would give it a try and throw him into varsity minutes,” said Jamie Newman, Julian's father and head coach at Downey Christian.
 “He didn’t start the first few games. People persuaded me not to do it at first, but then everyone was like 'wait a minute, he’s actually producing.' Suddenly it was like, he's scoring, he’s getting by people, this is actually working."

Newman added, “Julian’s always played four to five to six years up in age, and I allowed that to happen. What you see now is a result of him rarely playing age appropriate. He’s progressing now by playing against Division-I guards every night.”  

Arduous workouts prepared him for the rigors of being an undersized guard among towering upperclassmen thirsting to expose him.

Worldwide eminence, which many depicted as too much too soon, rendered Newman a household name even before his freshman season.

A collection of Youtube videos, a New York Times feature article and his status on ranking services have put him under a microscope.

“The pressure and the attention from the publicity I got early on really never bothers me,” said the 5-foot-6, 130-pound Newman, who is on target to score 1,000 points this season alone and will likely eclipse the 2,500-point milestone this year.

“It helps me go out there and prove people wrong if I have to. And there’s nothing I like more than proving people wrong, so it keeps me motivated.”

There's been commotion of a too-early hype machine on Newman. There's also been talk of Downey playing a lack of competition, and Newman having a green light to feast on meager competition. 

 Newman has done his work to defy doubters, putting up numbers in the talent-laced SIAA.

The conference features Division-I bound players all across the roster with teams such as (defending champion) West Oaks, Oldsmar Christian, The Rock, Potter’s House, Conrad Academy, DME, Arlington Country Day.

This assortment of high-level prep programs traditionally churn out Division-I talent on the high school and post-graduate level.

“There’s isn't a competition level in the country that’s better the SIAA,” Julian Newman opined. 

“The guards are strong and talented, they can shoot it. Playing against Division-I guys every night, it’s only getting me better.”

According to his father, Downey Christian’s transition from a softer schedule to the SIAA has evoked a monstrous new work ethic in Newman.

“He’s just a tremendously hard worker. I know everyone considers themselves a hard worker, but this kid is making 500-700 shots a day, doing 1200 pushups a day, 500-600 situps a day without fail. He hit the weights 5-7 days a week leading up to the season. You can see it in his game now, you just can’t push him around. Now he’s taking the bumps, he’s finishing through contact.”

Newman scored his 1,000th point as a seventh grader. This season, Downey has upgraded its roster while Newman has remained the facilitator and the offensive focal point. 

The addition of Zavien Smith, a left-handed sharpshooter, has taken some of the scoring weight off Newman's shoulders. 

“I liken it to the Jameer Nelson-Delonte West tandem at St. Joe’s (in 2004),” Newman said.

 “You’ve got Julian whose more of a scorer, like Jammer was, and Zavian whose a lefty and a shooter like Delonte. They just feed off each other. He’s catching double teams now. As soon as he catches the ball, they throw two at him.”

Coach Newman saw no foul in showcasing his son early on, feeding a potential hype machine which could be overwhelming for a young kid.

“He’s playing college level guys and Division-I players everyday,” he explained.

“You can’t say he’s beating up on lesser competition because we’re in the SIAA. So, when he plays in showcases or tournaments against kids his own age, there could be some games where he might score 50 points. That’s because of the competition he plays against. His learning ability and his evolution have come along.”

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sloan Picks Up Offers Following Mustang Madness

The Conrad Academy senior guard David Sloan has picked up a pair of offers from Bradley and IUPUI. 

Both offers result from the crafty 5-foot-11 guard's performance during Grind Session's recent Mustang Madness tournament in Paducah, KY.

On a massive stage against one of the country's top-shelf programs in Wesleyan Christian Academy (N.C.), Sloan turned in a 28-point effort.

 He found his touch in the second half, drilling pivotal 3-pointers and helping TCA slice down a 21-point deficit.

Sloan, whose game is more predicated on skill-set and IQ than flash and athletic ability, even got free for a rare two-handed dunk.

Sloan faced a lot of question marks after abruptly transferring from Taylor County (Ky.), where he emerged into a high-scoring guard.

Immediately following his junior season, he transferred to Ballard High School.

The objective was to be closer to his Louisville home and have the opportunity to play before family as a senior.

In the midst of a frustrating experience with the Kentucky High School Athletics Association--which stalled in granting him eligibility--Sloan promptly transferred to the Orlando-based TCA.

"We're extremely proud of (Sloan) because he's as hard-working a kid as there is out there," said TCA head coach Shaun Wiseman, adding that Sloan is a McDonald's All-American nominee.

"He's risen to the challenge on several big courts, in several big tournaments this season. He's answered to the high-pressure stakes as good as anyone on our team. He's deserving of the recent accolades and he's going to continue to generate mid and high-major Division-I interest."

Wiseman knows a thing or two about Bradley, which jumped into Sloan's recruitment and immediately heaped a scholarship offer on the table.

He coached current Bradley freshman guard Jayden Hodgson and freshman forward Koch Bar just last season at Arlington Country Day School (Jacksonville, FL).

Sloan, initially among the favorites for Kentucky's prestigious Mr. Basketball award, averaged 20 points and 4.4 rebounds under coach and former guardian Richard Gatewood during his stay at Taylor County.

Gatewood, 31, authored quick-hit success with Sloan and Quentin Goodin in his emergence at Taylor County, becoming one of the state's reputable young coaches.

He wound up taking the vacant head coaching position at 22 Feet Academy.

At Conrad, a first-year program, Sloan's become more of a facilitator.

He's operating a frenetic-paced offense featuring 6-foot-4 bulldozing guard Luguentz Dort, 6-foot-3 sharpshooter Malcolm Farrington, and 6-foot-8 power forward Madiaw Niang.

Averaging 16.5 points and 7.0 assists during the Charlotte Hoops Challenge, Sloan inherited the quarterback responsibilities on a team flooded with guards.

He scored 19 points and dished out six assists during a win against the aforementioned Gatewood and 22 Feet Academy (S.C.) last month.

"David has continuously shown expertise in the way he finds his teammates and also knows how to create his shot and make the right shot in the half-court set," said head coach Shaun Wiseman.

"With his handle and ability to see the floor and defend, he's just an energizer that keeps us in line. We're extremely happy for him. This year he's grown as a scorer and a facilitator. His handle and his passing game gives Luguentz freedom to roam off the ball and David really at excels at finding him in the open court and alley oop situations.

Sloan initially had interest from Louisville, Florida, and Memphis. Schools such as Texas, Florida Gulf Coast, Western Kentucky, and Eastern Kentucky have all been in pursuit of the smooth and heady class of 2017 guard.