Big Razorback Recruiting Scoops; Jonesboro Coach Honored

 

 

With the “Hog 5″ already in the fold for Arkansas coach Mike Anderson and his Razorbacks’ basketball program, local fans were treated to six of their games over the weekend at Real Deal in the Rock, marking the first time that all five of the Arkansas Hawks’ 17U starters had played together since committing to Arkansas last year.

Looking to repeat as champions of Real Deal (they won 13U, 14U, 15U, and 16U in previous years), the Hawks’ four juniors – Reggie Perry, Ethan Henderson, Desi Sills, and Isaiah Joe – plus sophomore Justice Hill ran through the tourney to get to 5-0 before falling just short, 73-72, to a very good YGC36 squad (Team Marcus Smart) in the Real Deal 17U championship game on Sunday at P.A.R.K. in Little Rock.

The Hawks (5-1) are ranked 8th nationally in 17U, according to PrepHoops’s first Top 10 of 2017, rankings that include teams from the Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour national grassroots basketball circuits.

Second place might not have been the finish that the Hog 5 wanted for themselves or their fans at Real Deal, but all five had outstanding showings in the event, which illustrated their growth and development as players as well as signaled that the Hogs have another stellar recruiting class on the way in just over a year.

Perry, the 6-9 junior rated by ESPN as the No. 25 prospect in the country for the Class of 2018, won MVP honors at Real Deal despite the loss in the finals. He had a 20-20 outburst in the title game — 25 points and 21 rebounds — as well as a 30-point, 11-rebound effort against Urban DFW Elite in the semifinals.

“In my opinion, we played real good and gave 110%,” Perry said of the Hawks’ title game performance against YGC36, a game in which they fell behind 19-6 before storming back to take a couple of late one-point leads before falling by one point in the end. “We’ve got little things to work on to win those types of games. Like making free throws, we could’ve won by at least 12 if we had hit free throws. That’s something we have to work on, plus staying in shape and just getting better.”

Perry was dominant the entire event, including putting up an 18-point, 8-rebound, 5-block, 4-steal stat line against E.J. Montgomery, a 6-10 power forward / center with the Atlanta Celtics 17U who is ranked a national top 15 / 5-star prospect in the Class of 2018. Perry limited Montgomery to 5 points and 7 rebounds while helping rattle him into 5 turnovers.

While Perry is not an explosive leaper, he is muscled up on that 6-9ish frame with long arms and agility, which combined with his versatility, ball skills, and big-impact production make him a candidate to earn national 5-star status very soon. He is a man-child in the paint, able to score, rebound, and block shots around the basket. But he’s also very skilled and gifted playing outside and facing the basket. He can shoot the 3, he’s solid in his face-up mid-range game, can beat defenders off the dribble and get to the rack or facilitate for others, and he had several length of the floor passes to that were on the money to teammates breaking for the basket.

While Perry shined, so did all of the Hawks-to-Hogs in the Real Deal …

Ethan Henderson, 6-8 power forward, ranked composite national No. 79 / a 4-star in the Class of 2018 … Ethan had a strong July last summer with the Hawks and playing in the prestigious Adidas Global Nations event, and after a weird year at Parkview, he was aggressive, physical, productive, effective, and played above the rim dunking everything all weekend while making plays that look like a perfect fit for what Arkansas does defensively. He can guard multiple positions, including switching to pick up guards out on the floor. He had 4 double-doubles in 6 games this weekend, and he was especially “tough” and “locked in” for the game against that very good YGC36 squad made up of 5 high-major starters.

Desi Sills, 6-1 combo guard, ranked composite national No. 117 / a 4-star in the Class of 2018: Desi is strong, quick, and determined as a slasher. And, as stated previously, he has that “dog” in him similar to former Hog great Corey Beck. Like Beck, who stood only 6-2, Sills plays bigger than his size, and often challenges bigger guards on drives and rim-runs with great success. He is a solid shooter from 3 as well, and just has a knack for the making the right plays when needed. A lockdown defender, Sills is also a clutch performer. He showed that time and again last summer with the Hawks and during his just-completed high school season with the undefeated state champs from Jonesboro. And in the Real Deal he once again delivered against a worthy opponent in the finals, bulling his way with strong drives and buckets at the rim against bigger, physical, athletic guards. He finished with 17 points, second-most to Perry’s 25 for the Hawks.

Isaiah Joe, 6-4 shooting guard, ranked composite national No. 146 / a 4-star according to ESPN, Scout.com, and Lindy’s Sports … I wrote it as part of my All Arkansas 1st-team bio on Joe last week – and I said it again on Drive Time Sports on Friday night – that he is not just a big-league shooter with big-league range, but he’s also a complete basketball player on offense AND a plus-defender. And he showed it all weekend long: On fire from deep all weekend, scoring in the mid-range and at the basket, facilitating for others, rebounding, walling off drives and penetration on defense, getting deflections and steals (BOTH in the press and in the half-court D), taking charges, and challenging shooters at all 3 levels effectively. And Joe also showed he can knock down shots off the bounce (not just catch-and-shoot) from both 3-land and in the mid-range. AND, he’s smart and unselfish … just makes good basketball decisions and plays within the team concept consistently. Great weekend for a rising star.

Justice Hill, 5-11 PG, ranked national Top 100 / a 4-star by Future150.com in the Class of 2019 … as I’ve said many times, Justice is the best pure point-guard talent in Arkansas in several years, and in my All Arkansas selections where I had him 1st team, I said he had the best court awareness and vision of any guard in the state with the athleticism and handles to complement those gifts. He was outstanding all weekend, showing off his explosiveness and finishing above the rim, but more importantly he was in control and running the show at the point, finding teammates with well-time and well-placed passes for finishing opportunities. Hill had a total of 29 assists through the first three games.

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Zion Williamson put on a show for two games: In this space a week ago, we pointed out that 2018 5-star combo forward Zion Williamson would be coming to Little Rock for Real Deal as the top player in the country regardless of class, as an internet sensation because of his otherworldly dunks, and as the jersey-namesake-choice of rapper Drake.

So, Zion came, he saw, and he played two games, during which he put the overflow crowd in a frenzy every time he touched the ball. He dunked and dazzled in his first game to the tune of 47 points in South Carolina Supreme 17U’s win against the Arkansas Wings Elite 17U squad, then on a sore knee the following day he had an impressive, albeit quiet for him, 27 points in another SC Supreme 17U win. He decided to rest his knee and sit out game 3, which his team lost and thus did not qualify for the tourney quarterfinals on Sunday.

Regardless of the early exit, Zion did not disappoint for the fans who flocked to see him, hoping for a matchup against the Hog 5 / Hawks 17U team on Sunday that never materialized.

“It’s always good to be back in AAU, playing against the top competition in every game,” Zion Williamson said just after his 47-point eruption. “It’s a good feeling to know the fans are coming out and supporting us, but I’m not playing for the crowd, I’m playing to help my team win.”

Asked about playing at Real Deal in Little Rock, Zion said: “Lovin’ it, much crowd support. Love the environment.”

Williamson, 6-7 from Spartanburg, S.C., received a visit and scholarship offer from Kentucky coach John Calipari just a couple of days before the Real Deal, and he is also being recruited heavily by Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, and South Carolina.

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Speaking of Justice Hill, any chance he’ll re-classify? There has been a lot of speculation on whether or not Justice “Juice” Hill will re-classify to 2018 with his Hawks’ teammates so that he can join them as true freshman at Arkansas for the 2018-19 season, including a published report over the weekend quoting his Dad and former Arkansas football assistant coach Dr. Fitz Hill on the matter. I talk to his Dad often, and here’s what I know: Going back to the mid-point of the high-school season, Dr. Hill indicated to me the possibility of Juice being a mid-term transfer in January 2019 (which is the mid-point of the 2018-19 academic/athletic year), and he said at the time Juice would practice but not play, meaning 2019-20 would be his freshman season as a redshirt.

Dr. Hill repeated that to me over the weekend as the course of action the Hill’s were ”prone” to do if Justice were to reclassify, although he did not rule out the possibility of Justice playing the entire 2018-19 season. They want to be in position to re-classify (hence the summer classes that Justice is going to take), but it would be contingent on his maturity, development, and other factors. That’s a smart approach: Be prepared with the flexibility of several good options.

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2017 Razorback recruiting updates and tidbits: As most know, Arkansas has one more scholarship to give to round out its 2017 class that already includes Arkansans Dan Gafford, Khalil Garland, and Darious Hall.

With the spring signing period set to begin next week (April 12 through May 17), here’s the latest for the 2017 class, and you’ll notice a recent trend toward point guards …

Michael Weathers, 6-2 freshman point guard at Miami (OH) who is transferring, would be part of the 2017 class and required to redshirt. We (@ARHoopScoop, that is) were the first to report on Wednesday that Weathers has a “high level of interest” in the Hogs, according to him, and that one of the attractions is that Arkansas is “close to home.”

On Thursday, Weathers picked up offers from Miami (FL), Xavier, and Nevada. Weathers said the Hogs were in his “top 5,” and he also said he believes the Hogs are making him “their number one priority.”

Weathers, whose 6-5 twin brother Marcus is also transferring from Miami, told me he’s been talking to Arkansas assistant coach T.J. Cleveland for a few days, and he said he spoke with Head Hog Mike Anderson on the phone earlier in the evening on Wednesday.

Weathers averaged 16.7 points, 4.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.9 steals this year to lead Miami (OH) as a true freshman.  He said he is also considering transfer possibilities with Xavier, Miami (FL), Boise State, Oklahoma State, and Nevada.

Weathers, who confirmed he is not a package deal with his twin brother Marcus in terms of transferring to the same school, said he’s not “decided yet” when he’ll take an official visit to Fayetteville, but that “we’re going to set up a visit” at some point. He’s reportedly set up visits with other schools throughout the month of April.

Weathers led Pawnee Mission North high school (in Overland Park, KS) to its first state title in 2015-16.

Shakwon Barrett, 6-3 senior point guard at Tech Academy and Grassroots Elite Canada, is drawing serious recruiting interest from the Hogs, and he said he plans an April 17-19 visit to Fayetteville. Barrett is a long-time friend of ’17 Hog recruit Gabe Osabuohien, the 6-7 combo forward at Southwest Christian Academy (LIttle Rock) by way of Toronto.

Barrett had glowing things to say about the Hogs, and about the possibility of taking his Arkansas visit at the same time as Osabuohien.

“I really like Arkansas,” Barrett said. “(Hogs) style of basketball is similar to what me and Gabe are both accustom to playing with our AAU team. Also feel a very good vibe from the (UA) coaches and believe they really have confidence in me.

“Taking a visit with Gabe would be a cool opportunity. I’ve played with him for many years now, so it would probably make both of us feel more comfortable thinking about our future moving forward.”

Osabuohien, who along with SCA teammate Mladen Armus has been evaluated by Hog coaches at least 6 times in the past year, was complimentary of his friend, Shakwon Barrett.

“Best friends, played with him from grade 5 until last year , Osabuohien said before being asked if he would be able to visit the Hogs at the same time as Barrett. “Possibly.”

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Amauri Hardy, 6-2 point guard from Farmington, MI, and a composite national Top 250 prospect for the Class of 2017, has de-committed from Oklahoma State on the heels of the recent head-coaching change in Stillwater, OK. Hardy has already been contacted by Arkansas, Washington, UNLV, Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, and Seton Hall, and he said he’s interested in the Hogs.

“I have interest being that Arkansas has a very good basketball program with a nice coaching staff,” Hardy told me.

Rated a 4-star recruit by ESPN, Hardy said he was contacted this week by Arkansas assistant coach Scotty Thurman. In addition to Oklahoma State, Hardy had offers from Georgia and Georgia Tech, among others. According to reports, he plans to take official visits soon and sign in mid-May.

Hardy averaged 29 points, 6 rebounds, 6 steals, and 4 assists for North Farmington (MI) high school in 2016-17.

Chris Darrington, 6-1 point guard at Vincennes University in Indiana and the national No. 13 junior-college prospect for 2017 according to Jucorecruiting.com, is on the Hogs’ radar with assistant coach Scotty Thurman as his lead recruiter.

Thurman was at the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament in Hutchinson, KS, a couple of weeks ago, and he got to see Darrington play.

Darrington, who averaged 20.7 points, 4.6 assists, and 3.1 rebounds this season, told me there’s “no (Hog) offer and no planned visit” at this time, but he does like the Hogs’ history with juco players.

“I like the success they have had with juco players,” Darrington said. “I think that’s important, to go to a place with a history of juco guys being successful on the next level.”

Darrington, who has reported offers to Tennessee, Colorado, Seton Hall, UNLV, Nebraska, and Western Kentucky among others, is also drawing interest from the likes of Arkansas, Virginia, and Mississippi State.

“At this point, I don’t have a list of top schools,” Darrington said.

Zhaire Smith, the 6-5 swingman out of Garland, TX, recently said he will take his last two official visits to Texas Tech (April 7-9) and Georgia Tech (April 14-16). He recently took an OV to Texas, and also took an unofficial visit to Arkansas a month ago when he was offered a scholarship. He said he is still “considering” the Hogs.

Mladen Armus, a 6-9 power forward / center from Serbia, and Gabe Osabuohien, a 6-7 combo forward from Toronto — both seniors this year at Southwest Christian Academy — were visited last week by Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson and associate head coach Melvin Watkins, marking at least the 6th time that Arkansas coaches have looked in on the two Lions’ frontcourt players in the past year. Osabuohien told me at Real Deal that he plans to visit Fayetteville soon, and on the recent news that his childhood friend and AAU teammate Shakwon Barrett is expecting to take an April 17-19 visit to Fayetteville, we may see Osabuohien taking his Hogs visit at the same time.

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 2018 recruiting updates and tidbits: If point guard seems to be the trend in the Hogs’ recent 2017 recruiting efforts, then you’ll see more of that plus the pursuit of big guards and small forwards — a.k.a swingman types — for the remaining 2 spots in 2018. At least that’s what it looks like from this vantage point as of now, because with 4 spots already taken (Reggie Perry, Ethan Henderson, Desi Sills, and Isaiah Joe), needs and availability will shift should 2019 Justice Hill reclassify to 2018 with his Hawks-to-Hogs teammates …

Mark Freeman, 5-10 junior point guard at Memphis Southwind high school, has been in constant contact — “twice a week” — with Arkansas assistant coach T.J. Cleveland. We were the first to report in this space last week that Freeman was on the Hogs’ recruiting radar, and this week he talked more about it.

“I like how (the Hogs’) pace is, they let their guards play,” Freeman said. “(Coach Cleveland) likes that I play hard at both ends, and he likes my scoring ability and my heart.”

Freeman plays grassroots basketball for M33M of the Adidas Uprising circuit, and his team made it to the “Elite 8″ at Real Deal in the Rock. Freeman, who said he is working on improving his outside shot, scored 20 points in M33M’s final game in Little Rock.

Freeman does not hold a Hog offer, but he does plan to visit Fayetteville “whenever I’m free this summer.”

Freeman was 1 of only 15 selections to the Tennessee all-state team for AAA — the state’s largest classification — as named by the Tennessee Sport Writers Association

Shakur Daniel, 6-3 point guard, Southwest Christian Academy. In addition to his SCA teammates — seniors Mladen Armus and Gabe Osabuohien – Daniel is drawing recruiting interest from the Hogs, and he told me he may visit Fayetteville soon with Osabuohien.

Daniel, who earned All Conference honors in the competitive Texas Christian Athletic League, is playing his spring/summer grassroots basketball on the prestigious Nike EYBL circuit with ProSkills of Texas. Joining him on ProSkills is Connor Vanover, the 7-3 stretch-5 junior at Baptist Prep in Little Rock.

Daniel is a steady, facilitator-first point guard who SCA head coach Charles Baker raves about because of his ability to lead the team in up-tempo, fast-break situations or in multiple half-court sets. Daniel can score, too, and is especially effective with his mid-range jumper.

Deshang “DJ” Weaver, 6-7 combo forward, Cypress Falls, TX, national Top 150ish 4-star who holds a Hog offer … Weaver, who joined the Arkansas Hawks 17U team this year, had a promising 6-game run with the Hawks at Real Deal, especially the final 3 games as his minutes and production went up. In one of those games, Weaver recorded a triple-double (10 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks).

Weaver has said if things go well with the Hawks, he might be inclined to commit at some point and go with the Hog 5 to Fayetteville. He’s also being recruited by Texas, TCU, Houston, Baylor, and others.

Very impressed with Weaver’s ability to play inside and out, and he’s a better shooter than I expected — didn’t materialize a lot in this tourney — but he’s got a nice-looking shot, and you can actually hear the sound of the ball “zing” off his fingertips in practice. Skilled with high basketball IQ, Weaver is still playing monitored minutes as he recovers from a severe knee injury suffered almost 2 years ago that kept him out for the entire 2015-16 season and half of the ’16-’17 season. It still affects his mobility.

Weaver wants to be productive with the Hawks, but feels right now he is more of a “momentum player off the bench as I continue to work on improving my conditioning.”

Josh Leblanc, 6-5 small forward with a 6-10 wingspan, junior from Madison Prep Academy in Baton Rouge, LA, composite national No. 109 / a 4-star prospect in the Class of 2018, has been hearing from Arkansas assistant coach Scotty Thurman.

Leblanc played with Louisiana Elite 17U at Real Deal over the weekend, and he is an impressive player. He said he is “definitely” interested in the Hogs, and that he likes it that Arkansas is a “transition team who defends.”

Although Leblanc said he talks to Thurman “every week” and that he is a “fit for (the Hogs’) playing style”, he’s not made plans to visit Fayetteville at this time.

“(Arkansas) is a good school,” Leblanc said. “But I’m not sure when I’m going on a visit yet.”

Leblanc won the dunk contest at the 2017 Bass Pro Tournament of Champions (Springfield, MO).

Kaden Archie, 6-5 combo guard, junior from Midlothian, TX, has also been hearing from Arkansas assistant coach Scotty Thurman.

Archie, a slasher with scoring and facilitator skills, was impressive playing for Urban DFW Elite, who lost to the Arkansas Hawks in the 17U semifinals at Real Deal.

Archie had a lot to say about his recruitment, and he told me he’s hoping for an offer from the Hogs.

“I’ve been in touch with Arkansas since they’ve been able to talk to sophomores last year,” he said. “ It’s been a minute since me and coach (Thurman) have talked to each other, but hopefully this summer during the live period I’ll see him … and we’ll start back up talking a little bit more and hopefully I can hold an offer from the University of Arkansas.

“I haven’t really discussed visits with anyone yet. I’m still working on my list of schools I want to visit, but hopefully as we continue to develop our relationship I would love to visit the (Fayetteville) campus.”

Archie said his game is a fit with the Hogs.

“My game is fast-paced and I think I excel in transition,” he said. “And they (Hogs) play that type of pace. I can knock down perimeter jumpers and I’m a hard, athletic slasher as well who likes to get his teammates involved.

“Hopefully this summer I can open more eyes and continue to grow and develop as a player as well as a person off the court.”

More names to keep an eye on for 2018, some familiar and some maybe not … Rodgerick Brown, 6-6 junior small forward from Cordova, TN, a 4-star with a Hog offer and strong interest from Tennessee, Memphis, and Penn State, and he says the Hogs are still the leaders for his services; T.J. Moss, a 6-3 junior shooting guard from Memphis East, a 4-star with a Hog offer; Keyshawn Embery, a 6-3 combo guard from Midwest City, OK, a 4-star with Hog interest; Alex Lomax, a 5-11 junior point guard from Memphis East, a 4-star with Hog interest; Ryan Boyce, a 6-5 wing / swingman from Houston HS in Germantown, TN, a 4-star with Hog interest; Greg Williams, a 6-3 combo guard from Louisiana, a 4-star with Hog interest; and Feron Hunt, a 6-7 forward from DeSoto, TX, and Urban DFW Elite, also receiving Hog interest.

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Jonesboro’s Wes Swift receives national honor: Hurricane head coach Wes Swift was named Wednesday as MaxPreps’ 2016-17 National High School Coach of the Year after leading Jonesboro to a perfect 32-0 record, the 6A Arkansas state title, and a final national No. 5 ranking in MaxPreps’ Top 25. Swift was also my @ARHoopScoop 2016-17 Arkansas High School Coach of the Year.

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 4th annual Mike Conley, Jr. All Star Classic: The boys’ and girls’ all-star games, pitting the Top 10 seniors from Arkansas against the Top 10 seniors from Tennessee, will be held Saturday, April 8, at Memphis (TN) University High School.

The girls’ game tips off at 6 p.m. CT, and the boys’ game gets underway at 7:30 CT.

Team Arkansas boys selections announced throughout the past few months were: Daniel Gafford, Khalil Garland, Darious Hall, Javon Franklin, Kris Bankston, Exavian Christon, Czar Perry, Marquis Eaton, Avery Benson, and Gabe Osabuohien.

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Kevin McPherson is a former sportswriter and editor at both the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat, as well as a former contributor to newspapers in Northwest Arkansas — covering Arkansas Razorbacks basketball, high school football and basketball, and basketball recruiting. He’s entering his 13th year as a mortgage banker with Bank of England, but he still covers Razorback basketball and recruiting as well as high school sports. You can join him live every Monday and Thursday at 1:30 CST on The Hog Call, KREB 1190 The Fan in Northwest Arkansas by clicking here: http://1190thefan.com/listen-live/ You can also follow him live on Twitter @ARHoopScoop.

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