Observations From the Hustle and Heart Classic Featuring Reports on Naas Cunningham, Bryson Tiller, Sim Wilcher and More
The NBA Draft Dude traveled to Roselle, NJ to check in on the Overtime Elite's Naas Cunningham and Bryson Tiller, as well as, NJ standouts Sim Wilcher and Tahaad Pettiford, and more.
ROSELLE, NJ - The Hustle and Heart Classic went down last weekend as two of the newly branded Overtime Elite squads went head-to-head with two groups of the top high school recruits from the New York/New Jersey area.
If you are on grassroots basketball social media at all, the event was a who’s who of future NBA talent, headlined by Naas Cunningham, the #3 ranked prospect in the ESPN Top 60 for the class of 2024.
Game One brought us a faceoff between the YNG Dreamers of the OTE and the Northeast Basketball Club. Many prospects drew my attention, but the standout of the game was the aforementioned Naas Cunningham. The first thing I noticed as I stood on the baseline during warm-ups was how tall and lengthy Cunningham actually was. Listed at 6’7” with a reported 6’11” wingspan, Cunningham represents the modern NBA scoring wing. The New Jersey native exited the game early in the second half after rolling his ankle while drawing a foul attacking the rim; however, he still had ample time to show why he is so highly rated early on in his career. Cunningham’s effortless scoring package, buttery smooth jumper, and fluid movement patterns were on full display as the versatile wing knocked down tough jumpers and repeatedly got to the hoop, mixing up his attacks.
Cunningham’s teammate, Stanford commit Kanaan Carlyle, is a 6’2” sniper with a strong build and an infectious personality. Carlyle struggled with his shot in the first half but caught fire in the second half knocking down multiple tough off-the-bounce threes that swung the game. Carlyle did a great job dictating the pace and showed creative passing flashes as he leveraged his shot to get into the teeth of the defense. Carlyle can get a bit too frisky at times while slinging passes to his teammates, leading to some sloppy turnovers, so I’ll be looking to see if the 18-year-old guard shows strides in his decision-making this season, but the creativity and vision as a passer are both there. On the other side of the ball, Carlyle showed good potential as a point-of-attack defender, hounding ball handlers and forcing some tough looks for his matchup. A non-basketball anecdote I’d like to highlight about Carlyle is how great he was interacting with fans. Carlyle took pictures with every kid that asked for one and even rebounded for them as they got up shots between games. Very cool to see.
The final YNG Dreamerz player that stood out was Bryson Warren. The 6’3” guard played with good pace and carried himself on the floor like a pro. Warren is a smooth mover with a good frame and is one of the best shooters on the YNG Dreamerz. Warren has textbook form, knocking down some impressive threes from distance. Warren is a seamless fit on almost any roster due to his ability to stretch the floor and serve as a complimentary knockdown shooter.
Lining up across from the YNG Dreamerz was the Northeast Basketball Club, led by the backcourt duo of Tahaad Pettiford and Elijah Gertrude.
Pettiford absolutely stole the show, displaying all the skills you want out of your lead guard. Pettiford was getting buckets from all over the floor, knocking down some of the toughest shots of either game. Whether it was a clean look off the catch or a self-created look off-the-bounce with a hand in his face, the shifty lefty sniper was making it rain. Pettiford is equipped with a tight handle and the wiggle to get to wherever he wants on the court, seemingly at will. The Hudson Catholic product was finishing at the rim with both hands off smooth Euro Steps and crafty up-and-unders, evading defenders with spectacular body control for nifty finishes at the rim. Pettiford’s vision was also on full display, as he made some advanced reads all over the floor. The most impressive of those reads was a beautiful weakside live dribble hit to the corner with his off-hand off a baseline drive. The rub on Pettiford is that he is a smaller guard, an archetype that we’ve seen the NBA drift away from recently as the league moves toward guys that can guard multiple spots. Listed at 6’1” but probably closer to 5’11”, Pettiford has an uphill battle due to his height, but he has good length, and as a coach at the event put it, “he plays like he’s the biggest guy on the floor.” Pettiford has offers from Auburn and Kansas, as well as a slew of other schools; I expect that list to grow as the year continues.
Alongside Pettiford in the Northeast Basketball Club backcourt was Virginia commit Elijah Gertrude. With some of the most impressive bounce on any of the four teams, Gertrude attacks the rim with reckless abandon, always ready to put anyone who stands in his way on a poster. On one of the nastiest highlight plays of the night, Gertrude caught a two-handed oop from Pettiford that looked like he reached the top of the square. The 6’3” guard from Jersey City will need to improve his jumper to consistently open up driving lanes at the next level, but the future Cavalier is a dynamic athlete with a tight handle, a great frame, and some intriguing long-term upside.
Game two brought spectators a showdown between the Overtime Elite’s Cold Hearts and the Tri-State All-Stars.
The Cold Hearts are loaded with talent, including Bryce Griggs, Trey Parker, and Tyler Smith; however, I’d be doing a disservice to our readers if I didn’t start with Bryson Tiller.
The #5 ranked prospect on the ESPN Top 25 for 2025, Tiller is every bit of the 6’9” and 215 pounds of his listed measurements. The 16-year-old from Atlanta, Georgia, looks like he could handle the physicality of the next level yesterday and already has the mouth-watering tools of a prototypical modern NBA star wing. On multiple occasions, Tiller did something on the floor that made me let out an audible “WOAH.” Tiller’s huge upside comes not only from his frame and his athleticism but also from his skill. Tiller isn’t the offensive iso creator of a guy like Cunningham, but he has no problems getting to his spots. The Cold Hearts forward loves to operate out of the mid-post, where he can back you down to the block or use his slick footwork in combination with his physicality to bump you off his spot and smoothly turn and shoot over you. Tiller will need to extend his range in the long term, but he’s got good form and a lot of time to do it. On the other end, Tiller has the strength and fluidity to guard multiple positions and a knack for grabbing rebounds. On one of the most impressive plays of the night, Tiller finished off the defensive possession with a board and took the ball coast to coast for a vicious dunk. Start buying your Tiller stock now.
Some other notables from the Cold Hearts that I’d be inclined to follow along with this season are Trey Parker and Tyler Smith.
Parker, listed at just 6’1”, is one of the sickest athletes you’ll find on a basketball court. Parker wowed the crowd during warm-ups with a litany of dunks that saw his head at the rim and left the crowd’s jaws on the floor. Parker’s speed and bounce translated seamlessly to the up-and-down nature of the game, as the pace allowed him to show off his gifts, taking flight and throwing down a ferocious in-game dunk that brought the house down. While Parker’s physical tools are tantalizing, it’s the improvement in the ancillary basketball skills that I’ll be monitoring throughout the OTE season.
Tyler Smith, at 6’10”, has the look of a modern stretch big. Smith (the only dude with a name on the back of his jersey) has a solid frame, good length, and a smooth lefty stroke with a high release that should make him a consistent floor spacer playing off of a setup man like Bryce Griggs. Smith is a great open-court athlete that runs the floor like a gazelle and can finish above the rim. If Smith is to pop at the next level, he’ll need to prove that he can be a more consistent and aggressive defender and a more impactful rim protector.
Perhaps the guy I was most impressed with from the Cold Hearts side was Head Coach Ryan Gomes. Gomes, the former Boston Celtics forward, brought an infectious energy that permeated through his squad. Gomes was constantly talking to his guys during game action and calling out what was happening on the floor. It’s hard to stay disciplined in these types of up-and-down games but the Cold Hearts played solid fundamental half-court defense that was a reflection of how well they’ve been coached. Feeding off of Gomes, the team was consistently communicating and rotating to the right spots on the floor. In a developmental setting like the Overtime Elite, it’s so important to have a teacher of the game as invested as Gomes looked to be.
The dude to watch on the Tri-State All-Stars squad was future UNC Tar Heel point guard Simeon Wilcher. The 6’4” Wilcher has all the makings of a three-level scorer at the next level. With a beautiful outside shot and a shifty advanced handle, Wilcher can generate space for outside jumpers off the bounce or carve up the defense and get into the paint. Once he gets into the lane, he has the craft to finish at the hoop or move the defense out of position and make plays for his teammates. Whether in transition or the halfcourt, Wilcher was able to get to wherever he wanted on the floor all night and has the kind of alpha leadership qualities of a big-time point guard at the next level. With Caleb Love being a good bet to leave for the NBA after his junior season, Wilcher should fit in seamlessly into the Tar Heels backcourt as the lead guard.
The weekend run in New Jersey was loaded with intriguing young talent to monitor throughout the 2023 NBA Draft cycle and beyond. On the Overtime Elite front, it won’t be long until I get my next up-close look as I head to Atlanta next week for their pro-day. I’m anxious to not only watch the Cold Hearts and YNG Dreamerz workout up close again but also to get my first in-person look at the Thompson Twins, both of which may end up as Top 10 picks this year.
Bundle up, folks—the 2022-23 hoops cycle is starting to heat up.