By Joe Henricksen
While the Peach Jam on the EYBL circuit is the class of summer events and brings together the most talent of any event nationally, the NY2LA Summer Jam just north of Milwaukee was loaded last weekend in all age groups.
With more than two dozen Illinois teams competing in a terrific five days of high-level basketball, a pair stood out from the rest when the Summer jam concluded on Sunday. The Illinois Wolves 17s won seven games before falling to Sports U in the title game of the Platinum Division, while Chicago Lockdown captured the 15-and-under title in impressive fashion.
The Wolves 17s thrive on three characteristics: depth, balance and terrific guard play. In the playoff games alone, junior Keita Bates-Diop of Normal U-High, who played up an age group in the title game, Waubonsie Valley's Jared Brownridge, Pekin's Nate Taphorn and York's David Cohn all took turns as the leading scorers.
Sports U, which is out of New Jersey and features talent from the likes of Bob Hurley's legendary St. Anthony program, took care of the Wolves in the 17-and-under final. In a big semifinal matchup with the Houston Defenders, which boasts the brother tandem of Andrew and Aaron Harrison -- both ranked among the top five players in the nation in the Class of 2013 -- the Wolves picked up 61-56 win behind Brownridge's game-high 17 points.
Brownridge, a 6-1 sharpshooter, scored 24 in a win over D.C. Assault in pool play and then scored a game-high 13 and 17 points in quarterfinal and semifinal victories. He's easily one of the top two or three shooters in the state, which is why he's such a coveted mid-major prospect.
In three pool play wins, Pekin's Nate Taphorn, the versatile 6-7 forward and Northwestern recruit, was the most consistent performer. He played with ease and confidence in knocking down shots and looking to create a little more for himself and teammates. St. Joseph big man A.J. Patty was active throughout the weekend, while Bartlett's Lance Whitaker played a key role with his defensive play.
What more can you say about the Lockdown team the Hoops Report raved about last spring and has quietly put together one heck of an AAU season? Yes, other AAU teams and programs from Illinois receive a whole lot of hype with big-named prospects, but Lockdown was dominant in the Summer Jam.
When it comes to AAU basketball, Lockdown is far from the norm. As is the case every time the Hoops Report takes in a Lockdown game, this group plays together and is about as fundamentally sound as any AAU team you'll watch.
The catalyst remains St. Viator point guard Mark Falotico, who singlehandedly took over the quarterfinal matchup with Net Gain, another solid Illinois 15-and-under team with talent from Central Illinois. With Falotico, Hinsdale Central's 6-7 Matt Rafferty and Lyons Township guard Harrison Niego leading the way, Lockdown beat the Houston Defenders in the title game 53-43. Lockdown's average victory margin throughout the weekend was 18 points.
Illinois Attack did not play in the Platinum Bracket but did make a run in the Gold Bracket Playoffs, beating the Peoria Irish in the semis before settling for a co-championship. Attack opponent Southern Select had to leave the tournament early before playing in the Gold Bracket title game. Leading the way for the Illinois Attack 17s were Oswego guard Miles Simelton, Neuqua Valley guard Jabari Sandifer and West Aurora's improving 6-7 Josh McAuley.
When it comes to prep basketball and recruiting, there is no month like July when it comes to news -- both fact and fiction. With websites, twitter, reporters and endless recruiting services and gurus (the number grows daily), it's a talent to syphon through the garbage.
Several great case in points over the weekend ...
A "congratulations" goes out to a college assistant coach for securing a commitment from a player that was recently reported that day. "We did? Who?"
When asked about offering "Player A" a scholarship that was out there electronically, a high-major head coach tells the Hoops Report, "I'm not sure I've ever seen that kid play?"
When reports surface that a particular program offered a certain player, the response from an assistant coach of that program: "We like him, but we've never talked to the kid, his coaches or his parents."
And from another head coach of a mid-major program: "I just read on a website where we were involved with two or three seniors in your state [Illinois] that we've never contacted directly."
You know when you have that summer mosquito bite on one of your toes or maybe on one of your ankles? It can absolutely drive you crazy itching it through your sock or you can't get to it through your shoe? It may rank up there as one of the top five Hoops Report annoyances -- right there with July tweets and recruiting news.
When it comes to running events, it really doesn't get any better than NY2LA's events in Mequon, Wis., particularly the Summer Jam this past weekend. In addition to a loaded field, the facility is ideal with gym space, seating, parking and accessibility, especially for Chicago area based club programs. Plus, NY2LA events are always organized.
The Hoops Report will have a breakdown of some individual performances from Milwaukee in an upcoming blog.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport