In-Person Scouting Notes from The Under Armour 17U Finals and The PrepHoops Circuit Last Dance
This past weekend I had the chance to watch the Under Armour circuit finals as well as the PrepHoops Circuit Last Dance. Notes on top performers, risers, under-the-radar sleepers!
When I saw that Under Armour’s final event of their grassroots season was set to take place in the Chicagoland area, I was beyond ecstatic. After getting my credential approved, my own internal excitement built over the coming weeks. Finally, this past weekend, the Under Armour Finals were here. I had the chance to attend games on both Thursday and Saturday. The event was fantastic— it was well organized, the games stayed on schedule, plenty of information was provided to members of the media, and coaches made themselves accessible. Even better, though, was the basketball being played. Pool play led to a tournament, which saw an intense final between Team Thrill and West Coast Elite-NorCal that went into overtime before Team Thrill emerged victorious. Over these two days, I had the pleasure of watching many high-level prospects play, and I’m going to take you through the standouts.
The champions of the event were spearheaded by a class of 2024 prospects. That’s right, Derik Queen was a year behind most of his competitors but still emerged on top. Queen is a 6’9” big man currently ranked 10th in his class by 247Sports. He looks big on the court with an unreal standing reach. At one point, after a foul call, he held the ball over his head right in front of coaches and press on the baseline, and he looked like a Stretch Armstrong action figure. He uses his length well on defense. His ability to track the ball for blocks stands out, and he nabs a lot of steals for a center. He’s not a pogo stick leaper, but his positional awareness and ability to rotate are tremendous. Teams weren’t able to get easy looks with him patrolling the paint. Queen stays disciplined and doesn’t get out of position chasing blocks. He’s a talker on that end, too, which helps his team stay engaged. Offensively, he has a polished face-up game. His offensive sophistication is impressive for a young big man. He’s patient, he has an array of step-throughs, spins, and fakes, and he keeps his head up well. Queen handles doubles well and does a nice job of finding cutters. His jumper is developing, and his touch is soft. Queen uses his body well as a screener, too, and isn’t going to shy away from physicality. The only thing close to holding him back is simply his conditioning, which is a great problem to have. He’s already taken big strides in this department, and I expect him to continue to do so in an elite high school program at Montverde.
The 6’4” Michael Williams handled much of the creation duties for Team Thrill. He’s best as a penetrator for now. He elevates in traffic to finish over the top, and he also owns a nice floater that he can get off in a hurry. This allows him to do well against length, whether he leaps or stays grounded. He’s a tough defender on the ball and does a nice job of digging to help off it. His perimeter shot is best when he’s set for now, but given his touch, it’s reasonable to assume he’ll continue to grow. He has offers from Clemson, VCU, Houston, LSU, DePaul, and George Washington.
I would expect Rihards Vavers to be a massive riser coming out of the weekend. Listed at 6’7”, the Latvian native is an exceptional shooter with great size. He’s not just a standstill shooter, either— he has an array of sidesteps and has enough dribbling ability to functionally attack a closeout. Vavers has an awesome understanding of his gravity and knows that players will sell out on him, and he’s willing to bury them with a pump fake. When driving the lane, he’s willing to take contact, and he keeps his eyes up for his teammates. He projects to be a great complimentary player at the college level. I couldn’t find anything on Division One offers for him coming into the weekend, but there’s no way it stays that way going forward.
Austin Abrams is a hard-nosed combo guard. If I had to sum up his game with one word, it would be: “aggressive.” He’s a determined driver with a handful of strong dribble moves and good craft around the basket. Abrams is a nightmare for ballhandlers at the point of attack. He generated an astonishing amount of second chance opportunities, given that he’s only 6’3”. Right now, the only Division-One offer I see for him is from UMBC, but I’d imagine more will flow in after he was such an integral part of this run for Team Thrill. He’s a guy you can go to war with out there.
West Coast Elite-NorCal
Few players did more to help their stock this past week than Jacob McFarland. The 6’9” big is a pogo stick leaper with excellent mobility. He flies up and down the floor. While he can make highlight plays as a shot blocker, he also did a nice job of remaining patient at times when he was matched up against Derik Queen, forcing him to pick up the ball and get stuck in bad predicaments. His offensive game is pretty straightforward for now, with a shot diet primarily consisting of lobs and put-backs. As we’ve seen before, though, that simplicity can go a long way when paired with impressive physical tools. Lok at Jericho Simms, for example. A mid-major assistant lamented to me that they think their chances at him sailed this weekend, and recent offers from Georgia and Washington State seem to indicate that high-majors are onto him. Ryan Beasley is a small guard listed at 5’11”. Despite his frame, he’s not afraid to meet defenders at the rim and deal with contact. He’s an assertive scorer with a soft floater who can hit shots off movement and without balance. He has a plethora of mid-major offers and just received his first high-major offer from Washington State. Courtney Anderson is a 6’5” wing with long-range shooting ability, a nice floater, and he keeps his eyes up. He doesn’t leap off the page yet, but he knows his role and plays within himself. He should be a great addition to a high-major or strong mid-major team, and there’s a lot of potential here as he expands his on-the-ball repertoire.
Lead guard Elmarko Jackson likely commanded more attention than anyone else at the event. The 6’4” prospect looked more like an NBA player from a physical standpoint than anyone else I saw. He’s an above-the-rim finisher with shifty hips who can weave through the defense when he goes downhill. He keeps his eyes up and knows how to look off his passes to maximize openings for his teammates. Though he’s a great on-ball creator, he was comfortable playing without it, too, and doesn’t come across as selfish or high-maintenance. He’s not totally there as a shooter yet, but he’s comfortable pulling up when defenders give him too much space or go under screens. He guards the ball well thanks to his lightning-fast reaction speed and quick hands, but he floated a bit off-ball. Right now, Jackson is the best prospect of this entire group. If he can continue to progress as a shooter, he could be a fantastic NBA player. His teammate Thomas Haugh really caught my eye, too. He has all the makings of a great modern frontcourt player. At 6’10”, he’s big and strong, physical, an awesome passer on the perimeter, he has shooting touch, and he’s creative. In transition, he avoided a swipe at the ball by whipping the ball behind his back before elevating for a big dunk. When he was switched onto smaller players, he did a solid job of using his length and staying balanced. The Florida commit barely scratched the Top 200 for 247Sports, but I’ve got my eye on him as a potential pro. His feel, physical gifts, skill, and size are a rare combination.
Stephon Castle is the biggest name here, ranked 26th by 247Sports. The 6’6” combo guard is a UConn commit who oozes every trait you associate with modern UConn hoops. He can get up to finish, he’s strong driving to the cup, he finishes through contact, passes well for his size, and he projects to be a multi-positional defender at the next level. The jumper will be his biggest swing skill, as it’s currently a bit hitchy and inconsistent. Braden Pierce will continue to draw eyes at IMG Academy. The 7-footer knows how to wall up and protect the rim without fouling in drop coverage. He’s a solid passer for his size who is comfortable orchestrating from the top of the key, and he’s willing to feast on mismatches down low. Right now, most of his offers are from mid-majors, but some high-major interest exists. 6’2” guard Eren Banks is an electric shooter who can nail pull-ups and knock down jumpers off the catch. He also had a big dunk in traffic vs. Canada Elite that I didn’t expect to see out of him. He’s committed to Georgia Southern. Jordan Burks stood out to me as much as any member of their team. He’s definitely raw, but there is a lot to like about his game. He’s an outrageous run-and-jump athlete at 6’9” with long arms. Burks is a fearless finisher who relishes the opportunity to dunk the ball in both transition and the half-court. He also knocked down a few threes, including one off the dribble. When he’s forced to take a lay-up, his touch is soft. He can dribble a little bit, but I don’t want him isolating. The ball can stick with him a little bit. If he can string together the connective tissue needed to be a modern wing on offense, his ceiling is sky high. Players with his size, athleticism, and shooting touch are gold in the modern NBA. None of his habits are deal breakers for me at this stage, and if he gets in the right system, he could become a tremendous player. His most notable offers are from Virginia Tech, Illinois, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Missouri, and Texas Tech. In my opinion, Texas Tech would be the perfect program for him to grow.
I didn’t get to see as much of this group as I would have liked. 6’4” point guard Vesean Allette did an admirable job of spearheading their offense. He’s shifty in traffic, has good vision, can elevate at the bucket, and he plays hard. He can really fill it up at multiple levels, but he doesn’t get too carried away trying to force shots. Defensively, he was active and skilled. He didn’t appear to be a wild athlete, but he’s definitely skilled and intelligent. Recent offers include Rutgers, Boston College, VCU, DePaul, and Washington State. Efeosa Oliogu also played on their 17U team despite being a 2025 graduate. He’s 6’6” with a buttery jumper. Athletically, he has some bounce to him, and he moves well enough to cover a few positions. He’s absolutely a name to monitor going forward, as there’s almost no chance he doesn’t end up as a high-major player.
Chris Johnson (ranked 32nd in his class by 247Sports) is the Defenders’ leading man. The 6’5” combo guard’s jumper is still a work in progress, but I love his confidence and assertiveness, taking a good amount of pull-ups. When he’s set and takes his time off the catch, his shot looks good. He has wiggle and did a great job of creating space in isolation. He knows how to use his eyes to divert the attention of defenders and gets to his spots consistently. His transition defense was a big bright spot as well, as he always hustles back and is a potent leaper who contests at the rim well. Even more encouraging were the words Defenders’ coach Larry Sowells had on him, stating, “Chris is a highly talented basketball player that has all the tools on the offensive end and is a very underrated defensive player. He competes hard and has a strong passion for the game.” He has offers from the likes of UConn, Texas, Alabama, Houston, LSU, Creighton, and Tennessee. Jamari McDowell is another 6’5” combo guard with a well-rounded skillset. His game doesn’t jump off the page, but he does a lot of things well and doesn’t force any issues or make many mistakes. He’s drawn a lot of high-major interest and should work well as a modern connector piece. Coach Sowells touched on this versatility to me, noting that the Defenders focus on skill development and being a complete player rather than pigeonholing them based on size. He added, “We look for guys that compete on both ends of the floor and don’t care what position they are labeled.” Smurf Millender really popped for me. The 6’0” South Alabama commit does everything you’d want in a point guard— he dices through the lane, he’s fast, he has great coordination, he sees the floor well, and he plays with an infectious energy. When they were struggling against B.Maze, Millender was a positive force keeping everyone in the game. He’s a fearless attacker and menacing defender, rarely giving up ground on the ball and darting into passing lanes for steals. Coach Sowells feels the same way, calling him “the engine for this group.” I wouldn’t be shocked if we look up in a few years, and he’s way further along than people anticipate right now. 5’10” Chattanooga commit Brody Robinson did a good job of initiating offense. He’s a solid shooter, particularly off the catch, and he throws a nice lob pass. 6’2” guard Jaylen Benard has some low-major interest. He can sling the ball with one hand, makes good passing reads, has a strong frame that allows him to guard up the line-up, and his shot looks pretty off the catch. Benard was singled out by Coach Sowells when I asked which players he felt are being overlooked. “He guards 1-4 and does whatever is needed; the dirty work, or [he] can go out and get thirty.”
Georgia Tech commit Blue Cain looked great for B.Maze Elite. The 6’4” guard prospect does a great job of snaking through the defense to get to his spots. He’s an unselfish creator who can hit teammates but also has the body control to contort for tough finishes at the basket. His shot requires defenses to respect him, and his ball handling and pace cover for his lack of elite burst as a driver. Defensively, I don’t love him on the ball, but he’s always in tune while playing off of it. His best path toward a pro career will be continuing to develop as a passer and combo guard in the coming years, as he doesn’t have great positional size at the two. Still, his feel and shooting ability make him worth monitoring.
Though I didn’t get to see as much of them as I would have liked, Silas Demary stood out to me from this group. The 6’4” guard keeps a tight handle in traffic, finishes at the basket, and has a superb mid-range pull-up game. He’s drawn offers from programs like USC, Tennessee, Arizona State, Georgia, and NC State. Given his athleticism, ball-handling, and passing, he could be a draft name to watch down the road if he can consistently expand out his range to the three-point line.
Any time you get an offer from schools like Syracuse, Louisville, and Duke, people pay attention. That’s the case for 6’10” big man JP Estrella, a former guard who flew up recruiting rankings (62nd for 247Sports) after a recent growth spurt. You can see the guard in him still, as he has a quick trigger from distance and moves exceptionally well without the ball. In a game against KC Run, there was a play where he ran around a screen and then tucked himself away from the defender in a way that is uncanny for a player his size. He’s pick-and-pop ready. Estrella will still pound smaller players down low, and he can get up to finish above the rim. His fluidity gives me encouragement that he’ll be able to stay on the floor defensively against better competition. He’s a unique offensive big man who is already talented by still growing into his new body by the day. I believe his teammate Joe Nugent may start to get some more love, too. The 6’6” wing has good size, a gorgeous shooting stroke from long range, and a solid build. In their KC Run game, he had a clutch and-1 bucket late to put the game away. Right now, his offers are all from small division-one programs on the east coast, but I could see some bigger schools sniffing around soon.
Carey Booth was the center of attention for many coaches watching KC Run. Booth is 6’11” with vertical explosiveness, lateral quickness, and a developing shot profile. He has a polished game in the mid-post, especially on the right side of the floor. Booth does the little things you like to see from a young big— he keeps the ball high after rebounds, he talks on defense, and he runs the floor hard. You don’t want to leave him alone at the three-point line, but he’s not deadly from there yet. Defensively, he’s active and engaged, but I was hoping we’d see a bit more from him around the rim on that end. A high-major coach noted to me that they are bullish on him because of his activity level on defense and his intelligence, and they buy his shooting long-term. He’s still not a finished product, but a lot of what could make him a truly special talent is well within his reach. Booth isn’t their only high-major prospect, though: Parker Friedrichsen is a nasty scorer. The 6’4” guard has some junk off the bounce and can jump. His biggest selling point is that he looks to be a specialist-level shooter at the Division-One level. He can knock down triples off movement at a high clip, and he’s unbothered by hands in his face. He has offers from high-majors such as Oklahoma State, Missouri, and Northwestern to go with strong mid-majors like Davidson, San Francisco, and Xavier. Yijiong “Joe” Zhang of Sunrise Christian stood out to me. I haven’t found anything in the way of offers for him, but the 6’10” Sunrise Christian player has a beautiful shot for a player his size, and he understands defensive positioning. 6’1” guard Grant Stubblefield won me over in a big way. You’ve probably heard the phrase “tougher than a two dollar steak” before. Stubblefield is tougher than a two dollar steak that you left on the grill unattended for an hour. He’s THAT tough. He’s a determined driver who gets into the paint at will and eats up contact. Paint touches are gold, and Stubblefield creates them constantly. Defensively, he has the same mentality. He’s a pest on the ball. His strength and quickness make him tough to get past. Stubblefield seems like a player you’d want to play with. I was genuinely stunned when I went to his Twitter and saw that his recruitment was still wide open. I’m not going to name names (because that would be rude), but I saw a lot of guards with D1 offers this weekend who weren’t as good as Grant Stubblefield. Hopefully, the world will make that right for him.
Virginia commit Blake Buchanan sits on the fringes of 247Sports’ Top 100 for the 2023 class, and it’s easy to see why. The 6’10” big man is quick enough off the floor with good leaping ability and knows how to use his length on defense. He’s a solid passer who sees cutters well when he’s doubled, and he owns a high-release jumper that will be difficult to block on the perimeter. His defensive acumen will make him a great fit at Virginia, and if he expands his range, it’s easy to envision some Jay Huff comparisons down the road. Another Hooptown prospect to keep an eye on is Tennessee Rainwater. The 6’5” wing is an aggressive attacker with a great intensity level. He’s always cutting and moving, he keeps his head up on drives, and he’s an attentive defender. He recently received a D1 offer from Utah Tech.
A handful of mid-major coaches were all over DC Premier’s Luke Smith. The 6’9” 4-man has beautiful shooting touch and footwork, and he knocked down a Dirk-style fadeaway against Hooptown. He plays tough defense on the ball in the post, and he has some nice passing to him, too. Navy, Army, UMass-Lowell, Radford, and Bryant have already made offers. Gibraltar Coleman impressed me as well. The 6’6” forward had a strong frame and more than held his own against Blake Buchanan on the glass. He knocked down a couple of threes and is known for his shooting accuracy. His shot is mesmerizing, as the ball barely rotates on the way to the basket, but it goes in at a high clip. He has offers from USC Upstate and American University.
PrepHoops The Circuit, “The Last Dance”
My weekend didn’t end there. On Sunday, I made my way over to M14 Hoops in Aurora for a bit of PrepHoops “The Last Dance” event. Though the names may not have been as splashy, I saw some great talent and a few under-the-radar names to watch.
The first game was a battle between INB and Chicago Lockdown 2023. I picked this game because of Myles Colvin, a Top-100 rated Purdue commit. You can take one look at him and go, “Yeah, that’s a high major player.” He’s ready for the Big Ten from a physicality standpoint. He can shoot it, but he also has a mature, poised attacking game. His handle is rock solid, and he never gets sped up. He uses pace, timing, footwork, and strength to get to his spots. Purely in stylistic terms, he plays in a manner akin to recent Oklahoma City Thunder pick Jalen Williams. Colvin also got up for a big dunk off a lob in transition. There’s a lot to like about the 6’5” guard/wing. Chicago Lockdown 2023 had quite a player, too—6’9” big man Matthew Moore. I absolutely loved his performance here. He’s a mobile big man with an unrelenting motor. He screens hard, always battles for position, and is constantly communicating on the defensive end. When he was switched onto Colvin, he held his own. His stroke looked great on free throws, and while most of his jumper didn’t fall, he did knock down a three. He’s comfortable putting it on the floor to attack. Moore has all the makings of a modern big man, and his multi-year trajectory could become very interesting if the shot becomes a consistent element of his offensive game.
Up next was D1 Indiana UA Rise 2023 vs. Hoops 4 Health 2023. I was primarily interested in seeing Hoops 4 Health’s Jeremiah Fears, a 2025 prospect with high-major offers who ended up not playing. Still, Xavier Sulaiman is a local name who has built some buzz lately. He’s a willing shooter with a blinding first step who can finish above the rim. He’s a shifty driver with a full bag of moves and counters to generate space for himself. Spins, twists, pivots— he’s got them. At 6’3”, the key to unlocking his potential will be distributing more consistently and utilizing his creation ability to set up teammates more frequently. D1 Indiana’s Grgur Brcic immediately jumped out from a physicality standpoint. The 6’10” big who previously played for Croatia’s U18 team has a hulking frame for a player his age. He’s strong inside, a great screener, a devastating finisher, and he can really jump. Brcic is completely unbothered by contact and makes for an awesome lob target. He’ll destroy smaller players in the post, and he reads the back line for cutting opportunities. There isn’t a ton of hype around him yet, but he’s undoubtedly a D1 big man, in my opinion. I also took notice of Kamari Jones, who currently has a D2 offer from University of Illinois-Springfield. The 6’4” combo guard is a slick ballhandler who scored at all three levels, played tough defense, and made some solid passing reads.
The schedule ended up getting shifted around, so I missed out on seeing a game I hoped to attend in the afternoon. As a result, I checked out Sizzle - Simmons 17U vs. Full Package Select 2023. I don’t believe any of the players have D1 offers yet, but the quality of play was still strong. Full Package was loaded up with shooters. 6’1” guard Adrian Jones had a beautiful jumper off movement along with a nice array of sidesteps to set up his shot. The 6’4” Bobby Gray made a big impression on me, too. He has interest from JuCo programs, but I’d be surprised if more don’t come around for him in time. He’s a good athlete who knows how to play the game. He cuts at the right times, looks for open teammates when he has the ball, and has a pure, quick release from distance. Defensively, he’s active with good length and leaping ability. For Sizzle, 2024 graduate Zavier Hayes stood out. The 6’2” guard can do it all— shoot, score through contact, and make clever passing reads. He stood out to me as the most likely to attract Division One attention, given his age and skill level.
It’s been a long couple of days. I’m tired, but I’m filled with joy. I love the game of basketball so much. Getting the opportunity to talk to college coaches and watch these young players perform was a blast. It gave me new insights into the sport and a greater appreciation for the work that goes into it at all levels. From tournament organizers, to grassroots coaches, to parents organizing their trips, to the players having to balance a level of scrutiny that I could never fathom at their age…all of it is truly amazing. Basketball is an incredible sport, and this past weekend, it brought people from all around North America to my area. It allowed me to watch, learn, and gain perspective. I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity to cover these events. After seeing these players up close, I can assure you the future of the game we love is in great hands.