Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sloan Picks Up Offers Following Mustang Madness

The Conrad Academy senior guard David Sloan has picked up offers from Bradley and IUPUI following the 6-foot guard's performance during Grind Session's Mustang Madness tournament in Paducah, KY.

Sloan, once the hot-shooting guard at Taylor County (KY), was recently named as a McDonald's All-American nominee.

Sloan turned in an efficient account of himself in TCA's loss to Wesleyan Christian Academy, scoring 28 points and drilling pivotal 3-pointers down the stretch.

Displaying a game built more on skill-set and IQ, Sloan even got free for a two-handed dunk in that one.

"We're extremely proud of him because he's as hard-working a kid as there is out there," head coach Shaun Wiseman explained.

"He's risen to the challenge in several big tournaments this season and 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 would know a thing or two about Bradley.

 Bradley's 6-foot-3 Australian freshman guard Jayden Hodgson and 6-foot-10 freshman center Koch Bar both played under Wiseman just last season at Arlington Country Day (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 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.

The 6-foot, 180-pound Sloan wound up transferring closer to his Louisville home at Ballard HS, where he soon become embroiled in eligibility issues.

Sloan eventually found his way to The Conrad Academy in Orlando, where he's operated 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.

Uno en Uno With: Turkay Barutcuoglo, TCA Black

ZS: What was going through your mind when you hit that dagger 3-pointer to put away a pesky GOTR team in Saturday's 91-83 win?

TB: To be honest, I'm not afraid to shoot the ball. I came here as a shooter, that's the role my teammates are comfortable with me having. Coach Brad (Traina) puts a lot of confidence in me being able to shoot the ball, because it is the compartment of my game which I really excel at. So, hitting shots like the deep three in the first half and the 3-pointer late in the game, I don't think about missing or worry about missing. You can't play scared out there.

ZS: Being from Turkay, the basketball buzz clearly isn't similar to what it is here in the United States. How did you get into the game and who helped persuade you to pursue basketball at a higher level?

TB: My father was a respectable basketball player in Turkey. He wasn't a professional, but he was often playing the game with other decent players throughout the country. He showed me everything about my shooting. He showed me how to get my form down, he showed me how to follow through, he showed me how to not get frustrated if I miss a couple in a row because I could also come back and nail a few in a row and get hot. So, we would go outside and shoot everyday and every night and I picked up on it and made it a real hobby of my own.

ZS: In which ways has your game improved since you've been here? As effectively as you can shoot the rock, you are still working at becoming more athletic and explosive, to prepare you for the greater stages of play. How do you go about doing this and really readying yourself for the rigors of NCAA hoops?

TB: We are in the weight room almost everyday and every night with Brad. Coming here to the United States, I've learned just how important adding strength is to my game. As a shooter, you have to have strength. You have to be able to get through picks and fend off defenders with muscle so you can get your shot off. Brad has really taught me a lot and instilled confidence in my game.

ZS: You've had moments where you've been quiet, but you've also had moments where you can shoot open a game if you catch the hot hand? How do you get into this zone? Does the basket keep getting bigger and bigger after each shot you hit, once you start feeling it?

TB: I think it's just about having confidence and patience and knowing I have to hit shots when my number is called. If I could get a few in a row, you bet if I get a good clean look at the rim the next shot is going up.

ZS: Which aspects led you to take your game to the United States and who were some of the influential figures who helped you choose to take your basketball career to the next level?

TB: It was my goal to become a college basketball player in the United States. I watched guys like Hedo Turkoglu in the NBA and that inspired me. When I was a young kid he was on the Sacramento Kings with Chris Webber and I used to try to watch his games and look at highlights.

One person who really helped me with my shooting is my coach in Turkey, Cavit Altunay. He is actually 86 years old now, yet he is still shooting. He is the guy who taught me how to dribble and create my shot, we spent a lot of time shooting between me him and my father and those were the good old days as they say. Vassalis Spanoulis is my favorite basketball player in Europe. I like his pick-and-roll concept and his leadership so I kind of tried to be like him.

ZS: How did you find you find your niche as a shooter here in the U.S.? How did it all come about?

TB: Well, at first, I went to a school in D.C. I had a good time but I don't think my game was improving or I was being used the right way. That summer, I worked really hard at shooting the ball and earned a spot on the Turkey U-18 National Team. I was playing point guard and shooting guard for them, but unfortunately our tournament was cancelled as threat of war took over the country.

Tamir Turkman, he helped me find this school. So I am eternally grateful for that. He helps foreign students who aspire to study in the U.S.A. find schools that cater to them. He helps me every time I need him and is a very trustworthy guy. So, I am extremely appreciative that he is in my life.

ZS: What's your relationship like with fellow guard Thomas Fourtier like and how does it benefit your play on the court?

TB: Thomas is my best friend and he's my roommate, so we spend a lot of time working on our games even outside of the school and the schedule. Sometimes we will go up to UCF and shoot against each other and dribble against each other and really push each other to our extreme. Thomas is a big, strong guard and he can shoot from distance too, so it's like having a challenge everyday. Our chemistry off the court leads to chemistry on the court, he always knows how to find me open for a shot or cutting.

Uno En Uno With: Jamari Wheeler, The Rock Basketball

ZS: Which aspects of Duquesne's program had most appeal to you, and how do you feel your game will best fit their style of play?

JW: Man, I just love all of the coaches up there. I love how they play, the fact that they run it and get up and down the floor. Plus, they in the A-10. So I feel like I'm going to go there and have an opportunity to play my game right away and then play at the next level after college. Right now, getting better everyday until I get there on campus is keeping me motivated.

ZS: You guys are now 18-1, all of sudden in the realm of basketball relevance in not just Florida but the entire country. What do you attribute the success to and what does Coach (Justin) Hardin preach to you guys, in order to sustain this effort?

JW: Defense, defense, defense! Coach Hardin really emphasizes defense and the importance of talking and communicating on defense so we see everything on the floor. That's his number one priority. That's what coach preaches to us 24/7. It's all about the defense with him.

ZS: Getting a lengthy, versatile 6-foot-9 forward in Daniel Mading has really helped you guys this season. How much of an addition has he been?

JW: Everybody who knows basketball knows how good he is. He's a top wing in the nation in the Class of 2017. I think his offers (Pittsburgh, Cal, Texas Tech, Providence, Butler, Georgetown, Iowa State) really indicate just how good he is.

ZS: What's the goal for this team and how do you feel you are being represented throughout the country and in the state of Florida?

JW: Just to be honest, we feel as The Rock basketball team as a whole is under-rated and we should be ranked throughout the nation in the upper echelons. Darius and myself, we both feel like we should be ranked in the nation. That's the type of confidence we got. Antrell feels like she should be Top-25 in Florida.

ZS: Which other schools offered and recruited you throughout the process and how did you narrow it down and eventually decide that Duquesne was the right place for you?

JW: Oh man...First, I had Bowling Green University and Chattanooga University. Then James Madison, Duquesne, University of Texas-San Antonio, Stetson, Buffalo, Jacksonville U, Georgia Southern, and finally VCU.

I originally narrowed it down to five schools and I was set on visiting all five. But when I visited Duquesne the players were comfortable to be around and I really got to know the coaches. They put academics first and made sure I knew I had to work for everything I was going to get. Plus, I wanted to play in a big conference.

ZS: Your younger brother, Antrell Charlton, has come a long way in a short period of time. He most recently stood out with a 17-point effort during the win over Oldsmar. How do you push him being the older brother and what's your relationship like?

JW: It's a really good relationship, I love playing with him to be honest. At practice, we make sure we always on the other team so we can go at each other. We just want to feed off our energy, like our competitiveness. That's why I want Duquesne to offer him and have him come play college ball with me.

The Rock Jumping Into National Spotlight

The Rock's Darius Days entered this season without generating the same buzz, lofty aspirations, and regal rankings as other formidable class of 2018 players in Florida.

Shouldering the weight of leader on both sides of the floor and barreling to the rim like a train, it's clear to say the perception of Days has changed.

The 6-foot-6 Days, known for bulldozing strength and an explosive vertical, has installed a funky cock-back jumper to his arsenal of offensive tools.

The improved touch on Days, which gives him a bird's eye view of the rim, has been instrumental in The Rock's 18-1 start this season. While developing a consistent shot from 18-feet out, he's also become more adept at creating his own shot and scoring effectively in the one-on-one game. It's a surprisingly soft touch which he can get off without difficulty, despite the fact that he's still evolving as a shooter.

"His shot has continued to progress and what Darius needs to do is continue to understand he can score on all three levels," said The Rock head coach Justin Hardin, who is constantly holding Days to a high standard.

"He can post up at times, he can knock down the mid-range, which is probably his best shot. His 3-point shooting has improved tremendously as he's now leading our team in 3-pointers made and percentage."

Days has offers from Virginia, Virginia Tech, VCU, UAB, and most recently Southern California have plunked down scholarship offers. Florida, which is in The Rock's backyard, Maryland, Wake Forest, Tennessee, and Georgia appear to be waiting in the wings.

The Rock returned arguably the league's top point guard in Duquesne-bound Jamari Wheeler. The catalyst in The Rock's 69-62 over Conrad Academy (which features the backcourt of Luguentz Dort and David Sloan), Wheeler shredded through the teeth of the defense for 22 points. During an 83-63 win against Oldsmar Christian, Wheeler finished with 12 points.

The emergence of Wheeler's younger brother, Antrell Charlton, has been pivotal. According to Hardin, the junior guard has improved drastically from his sophomore to junior year.

"I'd say Antrell is the most improved on our team, even if you include the growth of Darius and Jamari, I think he's come along the furthest," Hardin explained.

"Last year, he could barely dunk. This year's he's got about seven or eight in-game dunks. He had a monster one on an alley oop against Oldsmar. He's just made that extra push in his game. Against Conrad on Tuesday, he had about eight points. But hey, he knocked down a big 3-pointer in the second half and a couple key transition layups."

Hardin continued, "He's just a really active player at all times, just like his brother."

Little brother played to the level of big brother in The Rock's aforementioned win over Oldsmar, submitting a team-best 17 points. He authored a personal 7-0 run at one point and bagged three 3-pointers.

"I think everybody is starting to see how good he is and his name's getting out there more," said Wheeler of Charlton. "He feels like he should be one of the hottest wings in his class in Florida. As a team, we feel we're underrated so we always got that chip on our shoulder."

Also working in The Rock's favor is the return of Daniel Mading. The towering, long presence of Mading has helped The Rock jump into America's top 50 (they're now at no.46) nationally.

A wiry inside-outside threat with guard capabilities, Mading is being recruited by Pittsburgh, Cal, Texas Tech, Providence, Georgetown, Iowa State, and Butler.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Oldsmar's Weaver Is One Of The Nation's Prized Players

Elijah Weaver and the word “underrated” should not be found in the same sentence. Ever. 

From an outsider looking in, that would almost seem criminal. How could he possibly be pegged as underrated?

"Weaver" and "underrated" shouldn't be found in the same book, the same chapter, the same page, or even the same tiny blurb that vows to accurately depict high school basketball in America.
An electrifying lefty game-changer and multi-tooled talent at Oldsmar Christian High School (FL), Weaver has done enough to stake his claim as one of the Class of 2018 as well the country's most proficient guards.

And yet with averages of 18.2 points, 6.2 assists, 4.2 boards, and 2.0 steals on a national schedule, Weaver actually does go unsung and underappreciated.

Yes, a group of “experts” and “gurus” out there have failed to equate the blur-like 6-foot-5, 195-pound guard with the same blue chip status as other national household names.

Weaver hasn't paid any single iota of mind to it at all. Winning and an insatiable thirst for competition seize the Florida native's attention like nothing else in this world.

Since inheriting the reins of a traditional hoops breeding ground, Weaver has invested most of his focus on heavily-hyped matchups and this level's grandest stages.

 He’s the kid who dropped 37 points, doled out five assists, and ripped six boards to go with four steals during Oldsmar’s 63-61 win over Cannon School (NC) back during Thanksgiving. 

Weaver loudly announced his go-to presence this season, instantly filling the scoring gap left by since-departed L.J. Figueroa (West Oaks/New Mexico State) and Troy Baxter (UNLV). 

Weaver dropped 31 points on defending champion and nationally ranked West Oaks Academy in Orlando.

During a victory over The Conrad Academy in Orlando, with Rick Pitino on hand, Weaver scored 22 points and dished eight assists. 

In defeating Tennessee Prep during Grind Session's prestigious Mustang Madness, Weaver poured in 25 points en route to earning MVP honors.

And to think Weaver entered this season as Scout’s 37th ranked Class of 2018 prospect...Where was his name listed among ESPN's  Top 20?

“I would say he’s underrated still, that’s solely my opinion and yeah, it may be a bit biased,” said Oldsmar head coach John Bianchi, who has green-lighted Weaver with some ownership of this year's team.

“I’ve seen some of the guys who happen to be ranked above him and I don’t see how he’s not ranked above those guys.”

At Oldsmar Christian, rankings don't have much weight amongst the players. In fact, Weaver’s maturity and decision-making has given him his own privilege of rank on this oceanic-deep team.

“I would say his IQ is so high that he just knows when to either take a jump shot or get to the rim or go get a floater or go for the mid-range pull up,” Bianchi said.

“He knows what to get at all points of the game and nobody’s going to take that away from him. He’s grown this year just by making his teammates better off and on the court. In addition, he’s still staying humble and working as hard as he’s had to work to get to where he is now.”

For quite a while now, Oldsmar has been synonymous with gritty, in-your-grill defense. We're talking pressure all across the court.

Weaver has improved on that end as well, while also displaying scoring abilities at all three levels and becoming a headier game-manager.

Louisville, Villanova, Florida, Wake Forest, and Maryland appear to be putting in the most work for the SIAA’s most hotly-pursued recruit.

“I would say Maryland is starting to pick it up,” Bianchi added. “UCLA has been here once every couple of weeks even though they haven’t offered yet. So I would say those schools right there and also USC and UConn."
And, as effective as Weaver's been, he's clearly not alone.

D.J. Mitchell, who would be the focal point on a majority of the nation's superpower preps, is averaging 17.7 points as a supplementary piece. While Mitchell's been sidelined four games, Jhakeem Smith has filled in with a 24-point performance and a string of 15-point games.
Oldsmar features a frontline that matches up well in an SIAA loaded with 7-footers and wide-bodied rim protectors.
"The trio of bigs Stefon Fisher, Alex O'Guinn, and Mike Durr, they play major roles and they are all performing at a high level right now," as Bianchi noted. 

"(Class of 2018) Akiel Shakoor, he's had 14-point, eight-assist nights, 11 and eight, 12 and eight."
Bianchi is cognizant that the road to the championship will likely make a heavily anticipated stop through  reigning champion West Oaks or 18-1 The Rock.

"I would say the strength of our schedule is helping us improve as a team and getting us ready for the SIAA tournament coming up at the end of February," explained Bianchi. "The goal, of course, is nothing less than a state championship."

The somehow underrated point guard will play a significant role in leading them there.

Second Wind Allows TCA To Topple Game on The Rise

Quentin Scott found himself all alone in the open court, a position he’d been angling for all afternoon.

 Scott, an explosively athletic 6-foot-7 guard/forward, was engaged in repeated rounds of verbal warfare with some GOTR-Ocala opponents. So, when Conrad’s high-rising Class of 2017 was all alone with the rim, his eyes lit up.

With two defenders giving thorough chase, Scott levitated and crunched an extravagant and emphatic dunk.

He was uproarious after it, a statement which echoed throughout the gym at Conrad Academy High School in Orlando.  
Scott, who has scattered interest from Providence, Charleston Southern, Stephen F. Austin, South Florida, Southern Miss, Richmond, Texas State and a barrage of others scored a game-high 38 points.

A native of Ellender High in Louisiana, Scott averaged 22 points, 12 boards, and seven assists to bag MVP honors in District 7-4A. Since transferring to The Conrad Academy from TAAG Academy in Tampa, Scott has twice gone off for 35+.
The scoring punch of the kid they call "Q" fills a major void as high-scoring guard Cameron Corcoran (An Arkansas-Little Rock signee) and top-shelf athlete Deloran “Niko” Oliver are not currently with the first-year program.

Lacking grit on defensive rebounds and looking winded and disengaged defensively, TCA fell behind by as many as nine in the third quarter.

 GOTR (Game On The Rise) was paced by 15 first-half points from 6-foot-1, 195-pound point guard Rayne McKeyton.

A product of D.C., McKeyton is a gritty guard with all-around game and low to mid-major potential. He’s capable of scoring the ball in a variety of ways, as evidenced by a pair of 3-pointers, floaters, and hard finishes at the rim. A student who holds a 4.2 GPA and scored a 29 on the ACT, McKeyton oozes of Ivy League potential. Stetson, Howard, University of Maryland-Eastern Shore and Alcorn State have all been in pursuit.

All game long, Conrad coach/Director of Player Development Brad Traina emphasized his team's numbers advantage on their visitors. GOTR came with only six players, as TCA had the augmented depth advantage well in its favor.

The deft, long-range shooting of Turkay Barutcuoglo and the interior hustle of Freddy Zotchi was a major factor in TCA’s second half run.

This, plus the innate exploits of Scott—who scored on the full package of dunks, high-elevation mid-range jumpers from the elbow, 3-pointers, and drives—enabled Conrad to storm out of a nine-point rut and build a double-digit lead.

Barutcuoglo, who has potential at the next level as a kick-out shooter, finished with 18 points (five 3-pointers). He connected on a deep 3-ball from damn near NBA range in the first half. He also shut the door on the chance of a late GOTR rally with a corner trey with 2:57 remaining.

Zotchi, though forced to play at the four due to Conrad’s height deficiency, had 16 points.

TCA atoned for the lack of height by pushing the ball up court at frenetic pace, led by jet-quick, diminutive guards Dondre Rowser and Anfernee King.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Uno En Uno With: Nathan Mepandy, Calusa Prep Class of 2018

ZS: You enter this next game averaging 23.6 PPG and six assists, a guy who loves to attack the rim and get into the teeth of the defense. How did you develop to make this the true identity of your game?

NM:  Really, I just always liked driving to the basket. I first started scoring the ball that way and added a floater and was able to go to the rim with the contact.

What I also love about it is that when I get inside the defense really comes at me, so I have the option to kick the ball out to the shooters. Every time I get the ball I speed it up, I try to operate a fast pace game because we are a small team and we can get easy baskets that way.

I like driving to the basket and try to score with a floater or go to the contact and when I drive in the pain the defense comes at me so I can pass it out to the shooters , Every time I get the ball I push the ball very fast because we are a small team so my teammates can get easy basket.

ZS: How does your style of play, getting to the rim with ease and fighting to get inside the lane, match what coach (Derrick) De La Grana preaches for this team's offensive flow?

NM: It fit perfectly with Coach D. Coach D wants me to push the ball all the time and get to the rim all the time, because that's my style of play, I'm an energy guy. So, he tells me to go to the rim and to score the ball and make sure I find open guys like Nathanael (Jack) who can knock down shots. Basically, he wants me to be aggressive all the time and play with the energy I known I can always bring to the table.

ZS: How do you guys expect to fill the loss of Zach Brown, who had been averaging a double-double as a major 7-foot-2 presence?

NM: Zach Brown was a very good factor for us and really helping us inside, where he can impact both sides of the floor. But you know, we have some good players all around and obviously with Nate (Jack) as a leader, we're trying to score more points and to be more active defensively.

 It's just a matter of everyone chipping in and doing these things, getting rebounds, making good passes and scoring the ball. We're just trying to fill the loss by committee. Now, with him out, we have to maximize our effort on both ends of the court to keep up what we had going.

ZS: Which NCAA programs have expressed interest in you, and who do you currently hold scholarship offers from?

NM: Right now I have no offers but I have interest from schools such as Lafayette, Charleston Southern, Florida International, Richmond, Tulsa, and UNC Asheville.

ZS: How does your team expect to prepare for an upcoming game against a very talented Oldsmar Christian team, perhaps one of the SIAA's top-shelf teams?

NM: To be honest, every game is the same for me as far as giving my best. It doesn't matter what the name on the other jersey is. Obviously, though, when we play good teams such as Oldsmar with some top notch players I just want to show everybody what I'm capable of doing against big time players and I like the challenge. At the end, the victory is all that matters and that's what were all looking for against Oldsmar.