Houston, we have lift off! The season is officially underway as most teams got to get their first taste of action for the season this weekend. Didn’t seem to have any trouble finding CE King Middle School as the bleachers were filled with fans bringing energy and lifting the atmosphere. The hospitality room almost gave us the “itis” but luckily the players kept the games exciting for us to lock in. Let’s get into what we wanted to recreate what was once known as ‘Houston vs. The Nation!’
A W[arrior] flip flopped to a M[ustang]
Woodlands Christian vs Westfield tipped it off for Saturday. We always say we are about matchups and this was a no brainer. ’24 Zion Pipkin now at Westfield, was looking to get after his old teammates. Pipkin wasn’t his normal bucket-getting self as his shots weren’t dropping but he took on the matchup of guarding Austin Benigni and he still provided his team with leadership, defense, and hustle. Woodlands Christian initially had Westfield on the ropes majority of the 1st half fluctuating from a 10-13 point lead. Second half we saw a flip as Westfield started to string together multiple stops. Woodlands Christian had trouble converting in the paint, and Westfield capitalized on the other end. Once their energy and pressure turned up it really caused havoc and allowed for them to come out with the victory. Westfield won 53-40. Blake Washington of Westfield led the way with 16 points as he shot the ball really well to pace the mustangs. Westfield will be tough battle for any team, because if Pipkin and ’22 big man Willie Williams score the ball well, it could make for a long night.
Took a whole lot of trying just to get up that Barbers Hill
Barbers Hill is movin’ on up in the Win column after Saturday. The Eagles came out on top versus Aldine in a slow paced, execution focused matchup. ’23 Bryce Smith finished with 13 points for Barbers Hill. Smith was vocal, and really looked to get his teammates the ball when they’re open. A kid who plays the right way, he caused several turnovers getting deflections and diving on the floor for loose balls. Gavin Barber also was a calming presence for Barbers Hill and provided leadership and ballahndling. Aldine was aggressive on the glass as that was their advantage. Unfortunately, too many turnovers and lack of converting in transition and offensive possessions held them back.
What’s a Spartan to a Warrior?
The Stratford Spartans made their tipoff debut against Woodlands Christian who got another chance to try to get a W. 6’8 2023 Keanu Dawes really came to play. His combination of IQ, length/size, and skill give him the ability to impact the game in numerous ways. This game specifically he seemed ready for the matchup as he was more aggressive than usual. He was looking to create off the ballscreen, and his change of direction and handle was more in sync than I had ever seen it. He finished, got to the basket, and made tons of great passes. As good as he played, it wasn’t enough to beat Woodlands Christian. Austin Benigni had all aspects of his game clicking in this one. The Navy commit seemed more free and really commanded the game with his paint touches and finishing. Benigni led his team in scoring with 23 points. ’22 Chanse Perkins and Army commit played great defense and rebounded the entire game. Josh Bento provided a fiery intensity, great energy and spark to his group this game. He was taking more charges than matador at a bull fight, and found himself attacking and getting free throws in this one. A couple big 3 pointers from Stratford’s Luke Hatcher & Everett Bates tried to keep Statford within striking distance. But TWCA were able to fend them off and come out with the victory 56-53.
Marcus Sloan’s SWAIC sneak preview!
As we entered midday just as the atmosphere, spectators, and energy increased… so did the length and athleticism on the floor. We got our first live look at 2 members of Marcus Sloan’s SWAIC conference – and they did not disappoint. Big Tyme Sports Prep out of Dallas battled Shaun Dumas Academy out of Louisiana. Both teams had similar styles and similar type players. Good sized athletes who were tough and gritty on the defensive end. SDA being a 1st year program was playing their first ever varsity game and pulled out the big win. ’24 Jordan Moore led the way with 16pts 8rebs; his presence was felt on each possession. He uses his big frame and strength to bump players when attacking offensively. On the defensive end he attacked the glass hard and tried to get every 50/50 ball. Another big impact player was ‘22 Kyran Ratliff. Ratliff has keen instincts and good timing. He altered shots and had several blocks. At 6’8 has lots of length that he uses in and around the paint. For Big Tyme Sports 2022 6’6 Jaiden Lee is a player who does a bit of everything. Long arms allows him to get rebounds when the team needs boards. Can be good defensively. On offensive end he can hit the three when open, slash to the paint with 2-3 dribbles, finish above the rim. This game went to the last couple possessions, as it relied on getting a defensive stop in order to win the game. Shaun Dumas Academy won 49-48. Both teams were very evenly matched. The SWAIC conference will be very interesting once conference play starts!
“The Nation” shows up…
iSchool of Lewisville versus Grayson HS out of Georgia was a big game that lots of eyes were on. iSchool has had a lot of roster movement in the preseason so there was anticipation of the final product. 6’9 2023 Matt Reed has a great presence in the midrange and rebounded well throughout the night. He has the ability and feel to post low block, midpost, and stretch to the 3. He shots weren’t falling, but I believe that was credit to Grayson’s defense. ’22 Aaron Carter rose to the occasion giving iSchool flashes of shotmaking, especially out of the pick and roll. Solid build with good elevation on his jumpshot. ’22 Sam Akinrelere gave great effort in 50/50 balls and rebounding. However, Grayson’s speed, size, discipline, and teamwork was far too much for iSchool. Prayers up to Grayson player who suffered an elbow injury after a dunk early in the game that caused for a delay. After, we proceeded to see the Grayson 3-headed monster. Clemson commit 6’10 Chauncey Wiggins understood the assignment defensively against Reed, 3 quartering the post majority of the game and using his length to alter shots. Wiggins even had multiple possessions switching onto guards- he was very smart in these switches keeping his hips back, using his full wingspan to deter guards. Offensively he had the smooth face up jab & spin game. His touch and feel were evident. And even more impressive he was knockdown from the 3 ball. Essentially played a perfect game. ’22 NC A&T commit Tyrese Elliot gave fits to his opponents. Wingspan, speed, athleticism, dog mentality. He got to the paint whenever he wanted to and had multiple high level crafty finishes. Transition nightmare with his downhill nature. ’22 PG Caleb Blackwell truly was the engine and the conductor. His leadership was present for 32 minutes as he demands his teammates to play at a high level. He understands time and score; pushing pace in open lanes looking for an opportunity to create for himself or his teammates. Finds the correct finishes well especially with his left hand. Makes great reads in pick and roll, as well as draw and kick situations. Has the wiggle and always uses it at the proper time. Grayson was stingy on defense, and used their defensive stops to really push pace and get out and run, and iSchool just couldn’t keep up. Tyrese Elliot had 29 pts and they pulled out a convincing win 87-56.
Panthers on the Prowl!
The buildup had been long enough, as the PSAT Panthers and the CE King Panthers were both eager to face off to see who’s the big cat. This was also the debut of another 1st year program and SWAIC conference member in PSAT. Both teams were really electrifying to watch. PSAT came out with several high-flying dunks by 2023 6’7 Johnathan Ogunfye. Lengthy wing who really gets out and runs the lanes like a wing should. Nice faceup jab game- a promising upside. One we were probably most stoked to see make his high school debut was 2025 6’8 big man Alejandro Aviles. Fresh of a U16 stint with the Puerto Rican national team, he was outstanding Saturday night. Alejandro right now could arguably be one of the best big men in the country in his class. His touch around the rim is great, his jumpshot is automatic, his feel, understanding and awareness are high level. I love his ability to attack from high/midpost off faceup moves, not force a contested finish, but instead absorb contact counter and transition to low post attack so smoothly. Very low-maintenance and does everything asked of him. I believe he has a Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan type game. Despite a 20pt 8reb game from Aviles & 13pt 9reb from Ogunfye…. None other than Tyshawn Archie stole the show and captivated everyone in attendance. Archie was an absolute bucket, and rose up in the clutch moments of the 4th quarter. When you guard the smooth 2023 lefty you better have a map so you don’t get lost trying to stay in front of him. Has the “bop bop” package, and plays the PNR extremely well especially on slow/late defenders. He has the ability to slither into the paint and find all kinds of crafty finishes versus length. Then if you back up he will knock down the 3 ball. Arguably the best performance of the entire event. Fellow panther 6’6 2023 wing Xavier Iyeyemi provided CE King with increased toughness and a constant defensive presence on the ball and in passing lanes. Lots of deflections, steals, altered shots, and 50/50 balls. 2024 Odis Carter was really good defensively on the ball being a disruptor, and played solid minutes as Jaylon Jackson was out. CE King outlasted PSAT 62-60 behind Tyshawn Archie’s 24pts.
Did the Newton Rams (GA) grab life by the horns?
The Newton Rams out of Georgia took on the Concordia Lutheran Crusaders in the second to last game of the day. Concordia had all they could handle. It was tough for them to get anything going (credit to Newton). There were flashes where we could see how Concordia can be successful. ’22 Trey Miller competed nonstop and looked to create for himself and his teammates by attacking the paint. Both 2023s Jacob Hudson and Jesse Fuller showed some athleticism and above the rim plays. To say the least, Concordia just happened to be outmatched in this one. Newton’s roster was filled with size and build, coupled with toughness and dog. 2023s Stephon Castle and Jakai Newton are physical specimens at the guard positions. Castle a 6’6 PG is a great passer that takes pride in being unselfish and making on time on target passes. Had a couple full court outlets that were right in the numbers. He definitely has the physical attributes to be a lockdown defender; anticipation, understanding, wingspan, athleticism. Made the game look easy. 2023 Indiana commit Jakai Newton is one in the same. At about 6’4 195 at the guard position once Jakai gets his shoulders by you, it’s a done deal. He has no problems using his strength to get to spots and using his body to play through contact. Good motor and pace to his game. A great defender. Plays above the rim when he slashes. Wants to dominate you and assert his presence. 2023 Marcus Whitlock also was on go mode from the jump. A microwave. Has good spatial awareness of when to shoot the 3, stop and pop for the dribble pull up, or get around the paint and shoot the floater. There was no drop off in their roster. The game was in hand, and I remember looking up saying “why don’t he take his guys out?” but then I looked at the bench and realized that Castle, Newton, Whitlock were all actually subbed out. Newton has a natural makeup to be an elite defensive team. They cruised to a victory 68-37.
THE MAIN EVENT: Link Academy v Legacy SSS
Atmosphere. Energy. Easily the best game of the day. If you missed it you missed a battle. Link features tons of the top players in the country – and one thing Legacy is not? Scared. Right off of the tip Legacy gets a dunk from Fred Payne, Link proceeds to take the ball out and gets denied and was forced to call a timeout. From that point we knew exactly what we were in for. Legacy’s defense and intensity was stifling; it frustrated the Link players because there was nothing easy. ‘22s Dionjahe Thomas brought the house down with his dunk, Jaret Valencia was catching lobs, and Jevon Hill was strapped up from three point land. Legacy was up as much as a 23-12 lead during the 2nd quarter. But the game would balance out as Link strung together stops and started to really establish on the inside. Tarris Reed and Felix Okpara were a load in the paint. Which in turn gave a little breathing room for Arkansas commit Jordan Walsh and Trey Green to get looks to score. At the half Link went up 29-23. 3rd quarter Link would stun Legacy a bit switching to a matchup zone that stagnated Legacy’s ability to really see the rim at all or even get a good look. Legacy went through a slight drought and it seemed as if things started to look a little bleak as the end of 3rd score was 43-35. Nowhere near out of reach though; for a good stretch of the beginning of the 4th the game was stuck at 8-9 point difference. They always say your team/players is a reflection of your coach and PJ Cousinard never shies away from a challenge, they keep fighting. A couple of steals and momentum started to swing Legacy’s way and the energy was back on their side. And once they get the environment behind them they can rattle you. Now we have a barn burner 49-48 Link Academy with 2 minutes left in the game. College basketball type feel. A lot of back and forth ensues. Fred Payne eventually gets an ‘AND 1’ with about 20 seconds to put Legacy up 2. Link goes down searching for an answer Link’s Trey Green gets to his crossover, then spin off the screen jumps to shoot the 3 and the refs call foul on the attempt. This turned out to be a VERY controversial school. Green arguably Link’s best shooter knocks down all 3 free throws. 11 seconds Legacy tries to get a look, Payne fumbles the ball, but gets granted the timeout. Legacy comes back out with 2 seconds left and just can’t get a great look off the inbound. Link wins in nail-biting style 57-56.
It was very even play by multiple players from both sides. Jordan Walsh definitely has the upside. I always envision him hopefully maturing into an elite defender; he has the build and attributes to defend those scoring machines at the next level. Walsh is continuing to work on his skill and perimeter game and that will take him a long way. Trey Green had a slow night credit to Legacy’s defense, but you can see his craftiness and quick handle, nice deceleration and hesi game. Tarris Reed is just a pure beast inside the paint. He’s too big and too strong, and knows how to attack hard. He becomes tough to handle when he stretches to the perimeter and attacks closeouts off PNR or draw and kicks.
Legacy just has that grit. Dionjahe Thomas and Jaret Valencia are athletic enough to really compete with opposing frontcourts. They are bringing an aerial assault every night. 2023 Fred Payne made big play after big play, and wasn’t scared to take the big shots. He can fill it up on any given night. Great balance and center of gravity, he also really dials in on the defensive end and will get on the floor. Jevon Hill provides the much needed floor spacing with his knockdown shooting; he’s also long so he can mix in some versatility on the defensive end as well. Guys like Masyn Howell, Kam Burton, Jaden Gallien, and Julius Morris all understand the culture of Legacy basketball. They are going to defend their tails off, and never take plays off, play scrappy, and rattle the opposing team’s guards. Howell gives that extra PG play with his IQ and poise, scrappy for 50/50 balls, and is low turnover. Burton also brings extra 3pt shooting. Legacy is built for it and they will be just fine! They represented well for the H!