While elite high school teams facing each other has become much more commonplace over the years, thanks to a group of event operators featuring them throughout the season, it is still great to bookend the high school season with eight of the country’s best programs under one roof. GEICO Nationals has delivered year in and year out and always includes a conglomerate of future college and NBA stars. This year's tournament, taking place from March 31- April 2 at Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Ft. Myers, FL, features teams stacked with McDonald’s All-Americans, boasting depth charts that will feature some high major NCAA talent coming off of the bench.
Montverde Academy (FL), the reigning national champion and number-three seed heading into the week, has won five of the past eight titles. This year’s field also includes past champions such as number-two seed IMG Academy (FL) (2019), number-five seed Oak Hill Academy (VA) (2016) and number-seven seed La Lumiere (IN) (2017). Vying for their first GEICO Nationals title will be number-one seed Sunrise Christian Academy (KS), number-six seed AZ Compass Prep (AZ), number-eight seed Prolific Prep (CA) and first-time participants, number-four seed Link Academy (MO).
Last year was an entirely chalk bracket, with top seed Montverde Academy beating Sunrise Christian in the finals. While there are definitely tiers when it comes to contenders, the 2022 bracket seems much more wide open. Much like the NCAA Tournament, even with some familiar faces making it far, upsets seem entirely possible, if not expected. Once again, GEICO will give us a glimpse at some of the best the high school game has to offer and a good look at some players who may be headed to the NBA in the very near future.
Before the first game tips at 2022 GEICO Nationals, Pro Insight has put together a roundtable discussion to preview the event, featuring top storylines, a list of individual players to watch, along with an idea of what some teams bring to the table, collectively. Pro Insight’s Michael Visenberg compiled a list of questions and they were answered by P.I.‘s Tyler Glazier, Alex Brown, and Aneesh Namburi, along with Cerebro’s PD Web, and Rookie Scale’s Jon Chepkevich.
Michael Visenberg: Who are three of the top prospects that you are most excited to see and what do you hope they show during the tournament?
Jon Chepkevich: As a Notre Dame alumnus, I’m very much looking forward to getting a look at JJ Starling. I missed him at NIBC in January and he didn’t suit up for the McDonald’s All-American game, so I’m very much looking forward to getting a look at him in this highly competitive setting. News leaked out today that Blake Wesley intends to test the 2022 NBA draft waters, but if he ultimately decides to return, a Wesley/Starling duo could be really dynamic.
Secondly, I’m looking forward to seeing how Mookie Cook performs. He really struggled when I scouted him a few weeks back at the Flyin’ to the Hoop Top Gun Showcase, being held scoreless in a loss to Link and fouling out with only six gimme points in game two. I know he’s got more in the tank than that and I look forward to seeing if he bounces back on a big stage.
Lastly, I’m going to go with Judah Mintz. Some analysts that I trust are quite fond of his game and long-term potential, but he’s a prospect that I haven’t had much of a chance to get a strong feel for to this point.
Aneesh Namburi: Every time I watch La Lumiere's JJ Starling, I get increasingly more intrigued with his skillset and now consider him a legit one-and-done prospect for the 2023 NBA draft. It's pretty evident what he can bring as a scorer. He is built to get downhill on just about anyone and also has extremely sudden counters to regain lost advantages. As someone who seems extremely scalable in terms of role, in order to really solidify himself as an NBA connecting guard prospect, it would be great to see continued strides as a passer off advantages at GEICO, where he has shown occasional high-level flashes, but overall remains fairly basic in this aspect of his game.
Link's Julian Phillips, standing 6’8” with a 7’0” wingspan and fluid athleticism, has become an integral part of his team's menacing defense as the main on-ball stopper. Offensively, Phillips seems certain to eventually attack closeouts with the best of them due to the aforementioned physical tools, but in order to really generate legit NBA buzz at the end of the 2022-23 season, it would be great to see some of his 3-point streakiness start to show some consistency and the shot volume increase after a small break from Link's regular season schedule.
Finally, I am hoping to get more clarity on what level of creation IMG's Jett Howard has in his game before he joins his dad at Michigan. His playmaking is among the best in his class, but how is he bending defenses as a scorer? Is it as a shooter, getting paint touches, or will he continue to improve within the pick-and-roll?
Alex Brown: I am very much looking forward to getting another live look at Jordan Walsh, Gradey Dick, and Layden Blocker. Walsh is an elite, freakish athlete with absurd length and excellent mobility. When he plays with an edge, he can take over games with his physicality, slashing, and defensive prowess. He is simply on another level for a wing prospect when it comes to athleticism and tools, only exceeded in some capacity by Dillon Mitchell. In such a competitive setting I am hoping his motor shows up huge and that he uplifts others in his role while being able to score in the halfcourt. I am looking for him to create his own as a slasher and hit some perimeter shots.
Moving on to Gradey Dick, his ascent has been a real pleasure to watch. He is a superb shooter with defensive chops and has really played with more confidence this year. I am hoping to see him play that 3-and-D role while maintaining his poise and adding some off-the-dribble creation.
Lastly, Layden Blocker is a 2023 lead guard prospect with excellent bounce, solid playmaking, defensive energy, high level handles, and is a capable shooter. I am looking forward to seeing how he handles the pressure of GEICO as a lead guard for the first time. Will he get sped up as a decision maker? Will he let the game come to him? How will the pressure and energy change his approach? Very much looking forward to answering those questions at GEICO.
Tyler Glazier: While it’s tough to narrow it down to only a few players, the top-three intriguing prospects that come to mind are; Mookie Cook of AZ Compass Prep, Dillon Mitchell of Montverde and Caleb Foster of Oak Hill Academy. To start with Cook, during the early portion of the season, the Portland native struggled to figure out how to fully insert himself within a deep, talented AZ Compass squad. He’d show flashes, but wasn’t quite taking the game over like you’d hope a top-5 prospect in his class would. However, the dry spell didn’t last long as Cook quickly asserted himself as one of the top dogs and the go-to option for a team that’s been on a GEICO mission since day one. Now that the Dragons are here, it’s time for Cook to firmly establish himself as one of the best wings in the country as well as a bonafide first option on a championship level team.
Montverde Academy wing Dillon Mitchell really burst onto the scene around this time last year as he and former teammate Emanuel Sharp were shredding the hardwood with Bishop McLaughlin (FL) and E1T1. While Mitchell has always been a stunning athlete and versatile defender, the shot consistency and creation ability are still playing catchup to the rest of his strengths. GEICO Nationals is a useful stage for Mitchell to not only show off his upside, but to showcase more of a complete player who could be ready to shoulder heavier offensive responsibilities for Texas next season.
Lastly, Oak Hill’s 2023 maestro Caleb Foster enters GEICO as perhaps the most unflappable guard in the tournament. After a long and windy road to get onto the big stage, Foster has been excellent at playing with poise, commanding the offense, and functioning as the tip of the spear for one of the country’s most historic prep programs. With legitimate NBA tools and a mature feel for the game, Foster seems ready-made for the big stage as he moves up levels. However, GEICO provides us with another opportunity to see how he can galvanize the troops during trying times, as well as if he’s able to make defenders consistently pay for giving up space. Should be fun to watch.
PD Web: Link Academy’s Julian Phillips is a player I haven’t quite seen enough of in-person compared to other prospects of his caliber — but what I have seen has me fascinated. Phillips as it stands is a hand-in-glove fit for the defensive expectations of swingmen in the league — 6’8 wings with large wingspans, technical prowess and a huge motor are as rare as they are coveted. I’m excited to get a larger sample of his shooting to more accurately place him on the developmental continuum. The last two times I have seen Link in person, recently, Phillips is 1-7 from 3 and I’m sure I’m responsible for some kind of jinx as according to Cerebro’s database, that is the worst consecutive events from 3 for him all season. The percentages overall are positive and the most encouraging element is the attempt rate and general confidence in shot attempts.
MVA’s Skyy Clark, who recently reopened his recruitment, has been a stabilizing factor for the Florida powerhouse since returning from an ACL injury in January. Clark’s GEICO run will be interesting on multiple fronts: the scouting, the schematic and the recruiting. On the scouting side, patience is required for players returning to injury, especially to go from not playing to playing NIBC basketball. GEICO will be the best opportunity to get an insightful scout on Skyy now that he has ~3 months of competitive basketball under his belt. In the schematic sense, MVA greatly benefits from having a guard who can stir the drink and run offense. Clark, if back in full form, changes the dimensions of the bracket with his ability to take some creation burden off Dariq Whitehead’s shoulders, as well as find easy shots for others on a roster that is challenged for advantage creation. And finally, on the recruiting side: Clark has named his final six: Illinois, Louisville, Tennessee, USC, Maryland, and Washington — and the implications of where he lands will have reverberations across the landscape.
This cycle’s biggest riser over the last year, in my eyes, has been Oak Hill’s Judah Mintz. The former Gonzaga combo guard has gone from an interesting volume scorer to a dynamic three-level threat who has proven the ability to get to spots against anybody. Going into EYBL, there were concerns about his shooting from deep, Mintz answered those questions emphatically by knocking down 38% of his 3s. When defenders feel the need to aggressively contest Mintz’s jumper, it plays into his best skill — getting to the free-throw line at volume. Some people may not like the aesthetics of foul-craft but no one can question the effectiveness — for example, in three games at the Metro Classic, Mintz got the line twenty three times! Said differently, his Metro Classic free throw rate of 67.6 is in the range usually reserved for ultra athletes who throw themselves at the rim, not skinny guards who win with craft and guile. For Oak Hill to advance forward in Steve Smith’s ultimate season as head coach, Mintz will need to pull out every trick of his scoring bag against the elite defense of Link Academy.
MV: Who are three of the top long term underclassmen prospects in the field? What skills do they have that merit excitement about them as prospects and what should we look out for from them throughout GEICO Nationals?
AN: Montverde Academy’s Derik Queen is the underclassman that has the biggest role on any of the GEICO teams, showing potential as an offensively versatile small ball 5. He currently is able to take advantage of mismatches and also finish over size due to excellent touch and footwork around the hoop. Queen has shown flashes of stretching the floor to 3 in addition to skills as a ball handler and has an off-brand movement style that is a change of pace to what most defenders see. Currently still maturing into his body, many of his immediate defensive concerns are mitigated with the presence of senior teammates Dariq Whitehead, Dillon Mitchell, Jalen Hood-Schifino, and Malik Reneau.
AB: Christian Humphrey-Rembert is an intriguing underclassmen for La Lumiere due to his physical/athletic tools and budding perimeter play. At around 6’7” with great run/jump athleticism, he is really a 4 at this stage trying to make the jump to the wing spot. He can shoot it from outside a bit, and at Pangos he looked like one of those lengthy young tweener forwards that wants to emulate KD. La Lumiere will put him in a box and use him as a finisher, rim runner, and defender, and seeing how he responds in such a competitive setting will be interesting.
While he is unlikely to play (at all), Link Academy’s Ethan Lathan is another interesting 2024 big with some budding perimeter skills and great size at 6’9”. He is a solid rim protector at this stage, but needs to add some toughness and physicality down low. Additionally, Prolific Prep’s Zion Sensley is interesting as well, as he is quite a good athlete with positional size at the guard spot. His guard skills are budding, but not quite at the level where I would have him getting on-ball time during GEICO. Doubt he plays during the competition here, but if he can improve his mechanics as a shooter and keep battling defensively I really like his long term upside.
TG: Chris Riddle, a 2024 wing out of AZ Compass, is a gifted physical prospect who has become more of a reliable option during the back half of the season. He’s still developing his perimeter skill set, but the two-way talent is evident. While Mercy Miller is unlikely to get much burn for Oak Hill, the 2024 guard out of Minnesota and recent Houston commit is gaining valuable experience playing alongside guys like Caleb Foster, Judah Mintz and Chris Livingston. A smooth scorer and dynamic creator, Miller has the requisite skills to take over the reigns in the near future.
PD: Zion Sensley of Prolific Prep is a long term prospect who I’ve been keeping track of for a minute now, transferred from Riordan in SF to Prolific before the season. The 6’8” sophomore wing has shown flashes in his smaller contributing role, especially as a havoc defender. The release point is really high on the jumper with good touch, with a bit of mechanically smoothing over the next few years it’s not hard to imagine a scalable big wing shooter with good defensive feel.
MV: Who is the best unsigned 2022 player in the tournament and what will they bring to a college?
JC: I’m gonna cheat a little bit here and maybe not go with the best per se, but I wanna give another shout out to Link’s consummate glue guy, Damien Mayo, Jr. The kid just knows how to play the game and, despite living in the recruiting shadows of some supremely talented teammates, has a chance to be an immensely valuable player wherever he ultimately commits. Absolute winner.
AN: Malik Reneau just finds ways to help teams and consistently make a positive impact when he's on the floor. Defensively, Reneau projects to be a college version of Maxi Kleber, big and strong enough where offensive players cannot easily go through him, and light enough on his feet and smart enough with his understanding of body positioning where he can slide around the perimeter. Most importantly, he communicates a ton on defense, which is rare for most high school players. It doesn't necessarily look pretty on offense, but Reneau does a great job filling the gaps and outworking opponents. He is a menace on the offensive glass, can operate out of the short roll, and has great touch on push shots/floaters as well as the mid-range, which should expand to 3. Reneau will fill a ton of gaps for a team at the 4, and should be able to play the small ball 5 in most conferences (basically just not the Big 10).
AB: Julian Phillips would be my bet at this stage. Phillips is a lengthy, talented wing with great athletic tools and a positive on-court presence. He is a streaky three-point shooter with all the tools to be a plus-wing defender at the college level, and should provide a winning impact quickly without needing to be a high usage player.
TG: Adrame Diongue of AZ Compass. As Aneesh highlights below, Diongue has been one of the more productive bigs in the country throughout the season, but only recently started to pick up more attention from HM+ colleges. While the physical and athletic tools initially pop on the court, it’s Diongue’s toughness, self-awareness, and high motor that will help him get on the court early and contribute to winning at the next level.
PD: Best is certainly a word choice. If we are interpreting this question as the best bet to produce and impact games in the tournament — I’m picking Malik Reneau. Reneau’s game is rarely the most alluring on the floor, unless your taste is catch to pinch post face-ups and inside hand reverses, but he has been able to find a way to get his game off in every game I have seen him. Defensively, he has the strength to kill possessions as a front side rim protector and seemingly ends up with the ball in his hands when a rebound is needed. There is more to him as a prospect than a limited bruiser, the shooting touch is a good indicator for future development and I would love to see a movement or princeton-heavy scheme have Reneau operate as a decision-maker in college.
MV: Which prospect(s) currently outside of the top-75 in their class should be in line to move up the rankings post-GEICO Nationals?
JC: I feel like this answer to this question may be a clean sweep with AZ Compass Prep’s Adrame Diongue, who is long overdue for an upward jolt in his ranking. His 134th overall composite ranking is kind of bananas. A 7-footer with a 7-foot-6 wingspan who moves well, runs the floor, and protects the rim? If Diongue plays to his potential and AZ Compass beats Montverde, expect his stock to soar. Whoever he ultimately chooses between Kentucky, Kansas, Texas Tech, UNLV, and Washington State should be ecstatic.
AN: I have been asking just about everyone I know within the prep basketball scene why Adrame Diongue hasn’t gotten more buzz. He finally got a couple big time offers from blue bloods Kentucky and Kansas but is still currently ranked well outside the top-100 in the 247 Composite Rankings. Diongue doesn’t necessarily have a standout skill, but for myself his intrigue lies in his versatility on both ends of the floor. Despite his slight frame, he is a legitimate threat as a screener, both with his ability to dislodge defenders at the point of attack but also understanding how to adjust his angles as well as when to release and roll to the hoop. Once at the hoop, he capitalizes on these chances with soft touch and patience. Diongue also uses that ability as a screen setter in tandem with a baseline level of handle as the fulcrum of Compass’ bevy of actions around the top of the floor, mostly centered around DHO’s. If you try to pack the paint with a big to dissuade Compass’ guards from finishing at the rim, Diongue will make you pay by knocking down an open three. Defensively, he is a sturdy last line of defense as a rim protector, using his massive wingspan and improved verticality as both a shot blocker and deterrent. In the pick-and-roll he is very comfortable in coverages below and at the level of the screen, with the ability to keep up with ball handlers for short periods before recovering back.
AB: 100% agree with Aneesh here, Diongue is the real deal and deserves recognition. I will also look at the former LSU commit and 6’8” wing Devin Ree here, as he is an x-factor for Oak Hill that should have a chance to boost his stock if he really shows out as a shooter and plays much better defense than usual. The main knock on his game is the lack of winning impact when he isn’t shooting, as he can tend to disappear when he isn’t shooting volume 3s. As a role player in such a competitive setting, I would love to see him elevate his game in other areas such as using his length to be more disruptive on defense or using his serviceable handle to attack a closeout and make a pass here and there. Overall, it is a great setting for him to show he can do more than just shoot it, and if he can do that at this level then he should raise his stock.
TG: Going with 2022 Sunrise Christian forward Cameron Corhen on this one. Sitting right at the cusp at #77 overall in the 247 Composite Rankings, Corhen could easily boost his stock with an impactful performance this week. At a versatile 6’9” and 205 lbs. Corhen is able to impact the game as a floor-spacer, rim runner and interior scorer, as well as a pressure release who can get hot when guys like Mark Mitchell, Gradey Dick and Layden Blocker start to occupy more gravity. However, regardless of performance this week, it’s worth following the Florida State commit in upcoming seasons as a potential draft prospect due to his translatable skills long term.
PD: So we are just stealing my picks? I’ll go in a different direction — Bobi Klintman of Sunrise. Klintman plays a smaller part for a loaded roster, but in seeing him in other settings where he is required to do more, I believe there is another level for Klintman as he develops. Dribble/pass/shoot wings who can defend multiple positions while executing scheme are scarce, scarcer still are winners who do all that. Should Sunrise hoist the title, my feeling is that coaches and scouts see the bigger picture with Klintman.
MV: What semifinals match-up are you most hoping for and why?
JC: Give me Link vs. Sunrise. Sunrise took down Link 74-65 at the Heartland Hoops Classic in early February to secure the No. 1 seed at GEICO. I have no doubt that Link will be well-prepared and highly motivated to avenge their sole loss on the season and take down the tourney’s top dog while Sunrise will be on a mission to follow up last year’s runner-up with a 2022 national championship.
AN: Although both lower seeds, a LaLu vs. Compass rematch from January would be a joy to watch. The teams are easily my favorite to watch in a vacuum due to their play style and how good their coaches are in terms of building creative actions that are tailored to the strengths of their roster on both ends of the floor. Will Compass' bigger initiators be able to take advantage of LaLu's lack of size within their top 5 or will LaLu pick-and-roll Compass to death?
AB: A rematch between Link Academy and Sunrise Christian would be an awesome semi finals matchup from a prospects standpoint. Link is likely to be out for blood following their only season loss back in February. Furthermore, the battle on the wings with Gradey Dick, Scotty Middleton, and Bobi Klintman against Jordan Walsh and Julian Phillips would be a great competitive matchup in a high stakes game, and I am all for that.
PD: Link vs. Sunrise II. Give me all the high level defensive rotations.
MV: Which player match-up is a must watch in the tournament if it breaks the way you predict?
JC: This probably won’t be a common answer, but I’d love to see Jeremy Fears Jr. and Kylan Boswell duke it out in the semi-finals. Two tough, competitive, savvy bulldog guards going at it.
AN: I kind of copped out and added the other semi-final matchup that I really want to see that will likely happen in Sunrise vs. Link. Basically I want to see Sunrise's crop of wings (starting with Gradey Dick) against the length of Link across the lineup. Dick is obviously a nutty shooter and has really developed his game with the ball in his hands, but how will he look against a much more shrunken floor due to Link's length a second time around, and how much help will he get from his teammates?
AB: I am really looking forward to watching round one Montverde and AZ Compass for a number of great player matchups. Adrame Diongue taking the Malik Reneau matchup will be a very interesting frontcourt battle with two uncommitted top bigs, and will put the post creation vs. length of Reneau and the rebounding/physicality of DIongue to the test. With the elite tools AD has, I would love to see him leverage his notable length, height, and fluidity advantage against Reneau (more traditional big) to own the frontcourt for AZ.
PD: The basketball gods have blessed us with a fantastic prospect matchup on day one: Dariq Whitehead vs. Mookie Cook. Dariq has cemented himself as the consensus best wing prospect in 2022 and has earned every one of his plaudits in his final year of his storied Montverde career. Mookie is a challenger to the title of best wing in 2023. It’s a rare cross-class prospect battle between premier prospects at the same position, in the same archetype. Compass has the wings to hang with MVA, in a lot of ways these teams are cut from similar insights and schemes. To add another layer of additional intrigue, there are persistent rumors of Mookie moving up to 2022 — and that seems likely if Compass is the 2022 GEICO champion. That road starts with a showdown between great teams led by great wings.
MV: Which team has the best backcourt among the GEICO Nationals teams?
JC: Gotta go with LaLu. I love the way Fears is wired and feel that his skill set and playing style bear great synergies with Starling’s game. With these two stars being complemented by strong depth in Biz and Mabrey, they’d be my pick.
AN: LaLu has 4 really smart guard prospects who work off each other extremely well. Jeremy Fears is your classic floor general who can keep an offense running smoothly. get his own bucket in a pinch if things break down or if there is a gap, and will dog you on defense every night. Aden "Biz" Holloway is more of a scoring PG who would be among the favorites to win a GEICO 1's tournament (more on him in a bit). Starling is probably the best NBA prospect out of this group as a scalable scorer (as touched on in the first question). Ryan Mabrey is an uncommitted senior, but is a P5 shooter who is proficient both off the catch and on the move, and has enough craft to make positive decisions if defenses are selling out to run him off the line. If that talent isn’t enough, they all play off each other really well, sharing the ball in a way that isn't a "your turn, my turn" type of way and is constantly keeping defenses on their toes. Simply put, they are often just playing free flowing basketball, and that is so hard to game plan against.
AB: Montverde’s backcourt of Jalen Hood-Schifino and Dariq Whitehead provides size, creation, high IQ play, and two-way impact. JHS is more of a steady floor general, playmaker, and defensive presence who can attack smaller guards with his size and physicality, and Whitehead can absolutely take over a game with his shooting and self-creation. Adding Skyy Clark off the bench is quite a luxury as well, as he can really change a game with his shot-making. Will be curious to see how he looks live after injuries prevented me from seeing him play earlier at Hoophall.
PD: LaLu. Starling has raised his game to another level as a senior, Holloway has the best hesi in high school basketball, Fears has a tenacity built for the brightest lights and Mabrey can really really shoot the ball. LaLu being able to have three of them on the court at all times, juggling roles and usage to fit the moment is a luxury other teams just don’t have.
MV: Which team has the best frontcourt among the GEICO Nationals teams?
JC: Think the answer here is clearly Link Academy. Tarris “Moose” Reed, Jr. took the Flyin’ to the Hoop Top Gun Showcase by storm in front of PD and me with a dominant interior performance against AZ Compass Prep a few weeks back. He’s able to overpower even the stiffest of competition. Jordan Walsh is a maniacal disruptor on each and every defensive possession while putting constant pressure on the rim offensively. Supplement those two with the likes of Felix Okpara and Omaha Billiew as mobile, rim-running, high-energy complementary depth whose talent is on par with other teams’ top bigs… look out.
AN: Link is worlds above the rest of GEICO upfront due to having three players who are excellent in their respective skill sets. Reed is a more traditional back-to-the-basket post-up big but is stronger than everyone not named Adem Bona in the tournament, and showed flashes of shooting touch dating back to AAU with MOKAN. Okpara is your classic vertical threat on both ends of the floor. Walsh is loosely a big, but I think he projects best in the NBA as an interior forward who can play out of the pick and roll as an athletic finisher as well as short roll playmaker. Phillips is probably a wing, but he is 6’8” and a jump-out-the-gym athlete who has even the bravest defenders stepping aside to make a business decision. There is so much depth that 2023 five-star forward Omaha Biliew’s role is essentially an energy big off the bench.
AB: Between Tarris Reed, Jr., Felix Okpara, and Omaha Biliew, the Link Academy frontcourt looks like the top in the GEICO Nationals. Reed has a scalable skillset to the Big 10 college game and a beast of a build. He can bully you down low and has shown signs of floor stretching, while Okpara is a better run/jump big with length and size. Adding in five-star Omaha Biliew off the bench is quite the luxury as well, as his high energy play and mobility help round out a terrifying big rotation to play against.
PD: I agree with Link, but I want to highlight IMG’s small-ball combo of Jarace Walker and Eric Dailey Jr. The idea of a powerhouse playing two 6’6”-ish dudes at the big spots basically 100% of the time would seem far-flung a decade ago, but here are the Ascenders at GEICO, rolling out high-motor brolic wings no worse for wear. It’s been a fascinating philosophy change from the last few rosters — this squad’s commitment to playing small while playing a slow pace hasn’t wavered at all regardless of competition.
MV: Which player could really increase their case as a top prospect in their class during this tournament?
AN: The 2023 high school class has two roles in abundance: guard creators and power wings. As such, a couple that not only fit those roles but also have a good shot to join a crowded top group are Aden Holloway and Scotty Middleton. As a small guard, Holloway closes the gap created by physical tools with elite quickness and shift as well as diversity in his finishing package. Holloway produces because he is so hard to stay in front of and has a counter to everything, and he is able to initiate contact into bigs and maintain air time with balance. Showing more as a shooter and passer once the defense is bent (might be an issue due to the presence of LaLu's plethora of guards) on a national stage should propel him up rankings. I see Middleton using this event as a springboard into a presumed AAU season with a loaded TSF (The Skill Factory) squad, but he just fills the gaps of teams super well. He has enough scoring chops to attack off advantages, makes good decisions, and has a great combination of strength and mobility on defense. He probably will not get to the level of Ron Holland, GG Jackson, or Mackenzie Mgbako, but I don't see a reason why he cannot end up just below Matas Buzelis and/or Mookie Cook.
AB: 2023 four-star wing Scotty Middleton would be my choice here. Often the third man behind Gradey Dick and Mark Mitchell, Jr., Middleton plays a more off-ball/gaps game that can really show up big when the gravity of the aforementioned stars is especially strong. He is an excellent athlete, his defense can really be excellent, and his shot has been capable as well. I will almost always bet on athletic wings that defend, shoot, and play with a high motor, and Middleton fits the bill there.
TG: Going to round this out with another Sunrise Christian prospect in 2023 guard Layden Blocker. Sitting at #36 in the 247 Composite Rankings, Blocker is a powerful two-way guard who can be a Tasmanian Devil on the court due to his toughness & high motor. In a tournament full of highly ranked guards such as Caleb Foster, Kylan Boswell, Dylan Andrews, Jaden Bradley, Skyy Clark, Dravyn Gibbs-Lawhorn, etc. — Blocker has a great opportunity to make his five-star case while helping lead Sunrise Christian deep into the tournament.
MV: Who do you predict to win the 2022 GEICO Nationals Tournament and who will they play in the finals?
JC: I’ll get in front of the fact that I’m likely succumbing to recency bias in having just scouted them at Top Gun, but I feel like Link has a real shot at taking home the hardware. I was really impressed how buttoned up the program is from top to bottom. Elite coaching, elite talent, elite discipline, and elite effort. I wouldn’t bet against that.
AN: Sunrise over LaLu. I think Sunrise has the best middle ground of star power (Gradey), skilled size (they start three 6-foot-7 wings with Gradey, Scotty, and Mitchell in addition to Cam Corhen at the 5 and still have Bobi Klintmann and CHR off the bench), and coaching. I picked LaLu to emerge as their opponent but I do think six teams all have a reasonable shot at winning the tournament, and I am especially interested to see the left side of the bracket where I do not think there is much of a gap amongst any of those four teams. Despite not really feeling great about this pick, LaLu is a team of complete dogs on defense despite their lack of size compared to IMG, MVA, and Compass, and I trust their offensive unit and scheme over the aforementioned teams due to how smart their guards are in the pick and roll.
AB: Link is my current favorite over Montverde. The frontcourt advantage and depth paired with their lengthy, high motor, tough wings make this a really difficult team to play against down the stretch. If 2023 point guard Trey Green gets going from deep as well, this team can look unstoppable. I would bet they show up when the going gets tough and won’t lose their heads, and they may be coming in with a vengeance to carry that energy through to the championship.
TG: Even though they dropped some games toward the back half of the season, AZ Compass has been on a mission all year and I’m going to roll with them defeating Link Academy in the championship. With a high octane coaching staff and deep roster full of creating, finishing, shooting, versatility, and defense, they’re tough to beat when firing on all cylinders.
PD: Link is the most impressive team I have seen this season and if the wing cadre can take and make enough catch-and-shoot threes, I believe that they will prevail.
MV: Lastly, is there a storyline we’ve yet to discuss that’s worth touching on as we head into the tournament? Last chance!
AN: There not being a team clear of everyone else at the top will make for a really fun tournament, especially when you combine the diversity in play style among each of the teams. Link will smother teams defensively with length on length on length. Compass is legit 12-deep and runs legit NBA sets. LaLu has such a good crop of guards that they will move the ball around and pick-and-roll you to death. Sunrise uses Gradey Dick's gravity as a shooter as well as their ability to mimic NBA roles in their starting lineup. Montverde has the best player in the tournament in Dariq Whitehead, surrounded by size, IQ, and athleticism. IMG has five players who can take over their offense for a game and drop 25-30, and defenses don't really have a way of knowing who it is until it is too late.
TG: How top high school programs are starting to mirror NBA and college teams in terms of player movement. While most teams are able to retain their top players, COVID has dramatically thrown things out of whack when it comes to players jumping from program to program and it’s not uncommon for prospects to have three or four programs listed on their resume by the time they graduate high school. Coaches have to be more diligent than ever when it comes to retaining their stars and constructing their rosters on the fly. Add in the fact that more and more international prospects are looking to come to the states to play in the prep ranks, it can be extremely challenging to build chemistry and ensure you’re putting the best team on the floor year in and year out. I’m all for players choosing where they want to play, but it’s tough not to feel some things can get lost in the developmental sauce when a prospect bounces between programs as frequently as what we’re now seeing.
PD: It might be time to add more teams to GEICO. 10, 12, 16 — there are enough great teams in high school basketball to field a fuller bracket without losing any competitive quality.