Kevin McPherson: In Arkansas Basketball Stars Shine Bright During Spring Grassroots Season

 

 

If you need more proof that Arkansas has become a hotbed for hoopers, the 2017 spring grassroots basketball season turned into a proving playground for the Arkansas basketball players who took advantage of their opportunities on regional and national — even international – stages.

It began in late March/early April when Real Deal in the Rock kicked things off, then it carried into April and May at events all across the country, and very soon it will steam-roll into July as the last three live recruiting periods of the 2017 grassroots season offer college coaches one more month to evaluate players in person and offer scholarships.

This shift from the spring to the July live periods has been and will continue to be monumental for young ballers as they pour everything they have into proving their chops and moving their development needle. For the love of the game, and for the college coaches who covet the right fit for their programs. It’s like Christmas in July!

But we’re not quite there yet. So, here at the midway point of the 2017 grassroots basketball season, let’s catch our breath for a minute and take a look back at what Arkansas ballers did to turns heads across the country in the spring.

Arkansas Grassroots Player of the Spring

Reggie Perry … 6-9 combo forward, composite national No. 14 / 5-star recruit for Class of 2018, Arkansas Hawksarkansas basketball preps perry 17U / Thomasville (GA), Hogs commit … No player nationally has moved up the prospect charts as quickly or dramatically as Reggie Perry has, and he’s the poster boy for everything that is right with hoops in Arkansas.

Perry is a coach’s son who has moved around the south much of his life, and he spent approximately seven years in Arkansas before relocating three years ago to the Tallahassee (FL) area, which is about 35 miles from his current home in Thomasville, GA.

A long-time member of the Arkansas Hawks grassroots basketball organization, Perry committed to Arkansas in mid-August 2016, fulfilling his dream to become a Razorback just after his national star had risen enough for coaches from Kentucky, Duke, and other blueblood programs to attend some of the Hawks’ games in the July 2016 live recruiting periods.

But even with his college choice made, Perry’s business was unfinished, and he came into the 2017 spring period hungry to get better with a lot still to prove. So far, so good. Again, Perry is arguably the biggest mover in the Class of 2018 in terms of recruiting rankings.

Last week, 247Sports moved Perry from No. 54 (a 4-star) in its national rankings all the way up to No. 12, a 5-star. A week before that, Scout.com bumped Perry roughly 20 spots in its national rankings, up to No. 14, also a 5-star. Last month, Rivals.com moved Perry up a couple of spots to No. 23 in its rankings, which also meant 5-star status. ESPN, which today updated its Class of 2018 from a Top 60 to a Top 100, moved Perry up to No. 17, a 5-star (up from No. 24, a 4-star).

As of now, Perry is the composite national No. 14 prospect, a 5-star, when looking at an aggregate of the four major national-recruiting services mentioned above. Each service moved Perry from a 4-star recruit to a 5-star player, and his composite national ranking climbed roughly 20 spots to the current No. 14 ranking. And though those improved rankings are more befitting the kind of talent and player that Perry is, I still don’t think it’s enough.

Anywhere I could scribble it or proclaim it publicly, I’ve been saying for more than a year that Perry was a 5-star player who belonged in the Top 10 for the Class of 2018. But in the past few weeks, Perry’s dominance at a couple of big-time camps has convinced me he’s worthy of a Top 5ish ranking, something we may see by the end of the 2017 grassroots season. His AAU coach and chairman of the Arkansas Hawks, Bill Ingram, agrees.

“Based on what he’s done, he could be anywhere from top 3 to 7,” Ingram said. “By the end of the summer, he may end up there.”

A Top 25 national ranking puts Perry in McDonald’s All American game territory — which is really the pinnacle of achievement for high school hoopers across the country. Perry has stated that making the McDonald’s all-star game is one of his goals, and he appears to be well on his way to adding it to a very impressive resume. So far this spring …

* At Real Deal in late March/early April, Perry dominated national top 15 / 5-star E.J. Montgomery of the Atlanta Celtics, holding him to 5 points while helping force the bouncy and talented 6-10 big man into committing 5 turnovers. Perry would put up 55 points and 32 rebounds combined in the Real Deal semifinals and championship game (includes a beast-mode 20-20 performance — 25 points and 21 rebounds — in the Real Deal title game).

* In April, Perry averaged 17.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks in the ultra-competitive Adidas Gauntlet series, ranking 17th in scoring, 12th in rebounds, and 7th in blocked shots on that circuit while helping the Arkansas Hawks 17U qualify for the Adidas Gauntlet Finale, to be played July 12-15 in Spartanburg, S.C.

* In May, Perry continued to be the best player on the court during events in Memphis and Atlanta, putting on a show inside and out at both ends of the floor to lead the Hawks to an 8-1 record for the month.

* At the prestigious Pangos All American Camp in the Los Angeles area (June 2-4), Perry averaged 19.0 points (including 5 dunks per game) and 10.8 rebounds while shooting 64.7% from the field. He was named MVP of the Pangos AA Top 25 “Cream of the Crop” game. One national analyst named Perry the 3rd-best player at Pangos (which invited 115 5-star and 4-star players from the 2018 and 2019 classes, plus 6 more of the best from the 2020 class). Another analyst placed Perry on his All Pangos 1st team.

* At the 15th annual Adidas EuroCamp held in Italy (June 9-11), Perry once again shined, this time at an event that is meant to showcase emerging foreign players for the upcoming NBA draft. Adidas brought 21 of the top 2018 players from the U.S. — including 11 5-star players who at the time were ranked ahead of Perry – and split them into two teams competing against the older European teams. Perry ended the event second in scoring (15.0 points), first in rebounds (8.5), and sixth in steals (2.5) — a very impressive feat considering all the 5-star talent brought over from the U.S., as well as the collective maturity and skill advantages that the Europeans had. Perry was arguably the best player at the event.

So, what makes Perry so special? Well, it’s not one thing.

At 6-9-plus with an NBA-ready build, Perry can play inside and out. He’s long, strong, tough, agile, skilled, and athletic (although not a big leaper). He has plus-handles, plus court-awareness, and plus-ball-skill for a big, allowing him to create his own shot and score with counter moves at all three levels, or facilitate with point-guard-esque feel and vision. Not all versatile bigs with the skill set to stretch the floor like to mix it up inside, but Perry can be a bull in the paint and finish with either hand.

He can defend inside, too, against 4s and 5s, but also go outside and take the ball away from guards or wall them off on drives with his size and agility. His anticipation and court IQ are advanced, so even though he lacks explosiveness in his hops, he’s still able to leave his area to get rebounds and block shots. And once he gobbles up the ball defensively, he’s very effective at turning and pushing the ball up the court while surveying the floor like a point guard, able to facilitate or finish with a decisive throwdown or slick lay-in.

Simply stated, Perry’s got more in his bag than most.

I’m old-school when it comes to making comparisons, and while he is not an athletic or size replica of guys like Chris Webber and Lamar Odom, Perry has similar value to those two relative to the versatile impact he brings as a power forward who can create shots like a shooting guard or wing, handle and facilitate like a point guard (both in transition and in the half-court), and even hold things down inside like a center. It’s almost unfair to label ballers like these with a specific position, because their impact and versatility can be seen and felt all over the court.

If you like the recent recruiting classes that Mike Anderson has assembled at Arkansas, just imagine Perry as the ultimate centerpiece – THE star-power glue-guy you can put on the floor with multiple personnel combinations who will be a matchup nightmare for other teams. One night he might go out and get you 25 points and 15 rebounds while being mostly a force inside, the next night he might come close to a triple-double as he makes everybody around him better.

Before I get into more of the ballers and teams who deserve recognition in this mid-season/spring Arkansas grassroots basketball report, here is my Q&A with Reggie Perry from a couple of days ago …

Q: You’ve climbed the national recruiting charts, arguably more than anybody during the spring … how does that feel and how did it happen?

A: It feels good. Feels like people are finally noticing my capabilities. The only way I could do that was to trust and believe in God, and just continue to work every single day. Every day, I’m doing something to get better.

Q: In just about a span of a week, you played against some top-shelf competition at Pangos AA Camp and Adidas EuroCamp, and proved yourself to be one of the best if not the best player at both camps. What was your confidence level and how do you believe you stacked up against the best of the best?

A: Before big games or big tournaments or camps, I’m always nervous or have butterflies, but as soon as the ball goes up all of that is gone and I’m just completely locked in. And, I’ve always had self-confidence. I feel like I’m the best no matter who I’m playing against.

Q: With three July live periods just ahead, what do you think you and the Hawks can accomplish, and what are your personal goals after the summer?

A: I feel like we can make a big dent in the (Adidas) Gauntlet and surprise a couple of teams. My personal goals are becoming top 5 in the country, definitely becoming a McDonald’s All American, and winning a state championship.

Q: Tell me what Arkansas Razorback fans have to look forward to when Reggie Perry runs out of that tunnel for the first time wearing a Hog uni?

A: A passionate, winning player.

Arkansas Basketball Grassroots Top 10 Spring Ballers (regardless of class)

tie 1. Isaiah Joe, 6-4 shooting guard / wing, national 4-star recruit for Class of 2018 according to ESPN,  Arkansas Hawks 17U / Fort Smith Northside, Hogs commit … I’m very surprised that the recent updates from the national recruiting services didn’t reward “Zay” with a boost to his rankings given what he has done so far this spring. Here’s a guy who is arguably the best shooter in the country, regardless of class, but is also a very good all-around player, including one of the best backcourt defenders you’ll see.

For starters, Joe’s 16.0 points per game during the tough, and talent-loaded, Adidas Gauntlet series put him in the top 25-30 scorers on that circuit. He shot 50% from 3-point range (30-of-60), and SynergySports Analytics notified the Hawks’ organization that he was the top-rated shooter on the Adidas circuit. And if you only got to see Joe play once this spring, you’d recognize immediately that he is so much more than a shooter. He’s a smart, skilled, unselfish baller who plays the game the right way, from whistle to whistle and horn to horn. I got to see him virtually every week throughout April and May, both at games and at practices, and he is without a doubt one of the best backcourt defenders I’ve seen in the country. On-ball D, steals, deflections, taking charges, contesting shots — you add it up, and he’s one of the best there is.

He, too, got an invite to the Pangos All American Camp in early June, and his performance there really speaks volumes to the kind of competitor he is. Struggling with an injured toe, Joe’s 3-point shot was not falling, yet he didn’t force it and did other things to help his camp team go 4-0 in games. Defense, rebounding, handling/assisting — he just made plays — and it was good enough to earn him a selection to the Pangos AA Top 50 all-star game. In an event with 121 of the best players in the country, that was a nice affirmation of his growth and development as a player on the national scene. Joe scored 12 points (including 2-of-4 from 3, plus a dunk) to go along with 3 assists and 2 steals in the Top 50 all-star game. One national analyst rated Joe among the Top 30 players who attended Pangos AA Camp.

Having evaluated Joe, as well as most of the top 100 players in person, live-streamed games, and/or highlights, I feel confident saying Joe is a no-doubt top 100 player in his class, and arguably top 75.

tie 1. Moses Moody, 6-5 shooting guard / wing, national No. 28 recruit for Class of 2020 according to Coast2CoastPreps, Team Superstar South 15U / Little Rock Parkview … Moses Moody may very well be rated a national top 25, 5-star prospect once the major national-recruiting services release their rankings for the 2020 class. And he’ll get there similarly to Perry’s route — by being a difference-maker on the AAU circuit and performing at a high level at a prestigious national camp (also the Pangos All-American Camp). Moody is the leading scorer (with multiple double-doubles) for nationally ranked Team Superstar South 15U, a team loaded with next-level ballers.At 6-5, he’s silky smooth with a 6-10 wingspan and just oozes talent and ability. He reminds me of Arkansas great Scotty Thurman in how he gets into his 3-point and mid-range shooting, whether catch-and-shoot or off-the-bounce. Moody is a sneaky-good athlete with an array of ball-skills that allow him to create shots, and with his arm-length he has developed an old-school scoop-and-hoop move to the basket. His length and that sneaky athleticism also make him a strong rebounder from the guard position, and helps him get steals, block shots, and disrupt passing lanes with deflections. He’s also a fierce competitor who dives on the floor and scrambles to win 50/50 balls, so never let this smooth operator fool you into thinking he won’t get after you.

During TSS’s run to the finals of the 15U division at the Adidas Memorial Day Classic in Atlanta, I took to Twitter to suggest Moody is Top 20 in his class. A few days later at Pangos AA Camp, he made his own statement with his play to suggest the same. Made up of 121 elite campers mostly representing the 2018 and 2019 classes, Moody was the youngest camper (he turned 15 a couple of days before Pangos camp) and was one of only six players invited from the Class of 2020.

Just prior to his trip to L.A. for Pangos, Moody told me, “I’ve just got to go out there and show all I can show.”

He certainly showed a lot, playing so well that he was selected to the Pangos AA Top 50 all-star game, and was one of only two 2020 players to do so. One national analyst ranked Moody among the Top 25 campers at Pangos, while another ranked him the 30th best prospect there, ahead of Kyrie Walker, who is generally regarded as one of the top 3 players in the 2020 class. If Reggie Perry made the most national waves in the spring, Moody wasn’t far behind him. He’s drawing recruiting interest from Arkansas, UCLA, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Virginia, and many other high-major programs already, and he plans to take an unofficial visit to Fayetteville in August.

3. Chris Moore, 6-5 combo forward, national No. 13 recruit for Class of 2020 according to Coast2CoastPreps, Wings Elite 15U / West Memphis  Moore, who averaged a double-double at West Memphis last season as a high school freshman, recorded 30 double-doubles this spring for the nationally ranked Wings Elite 15U squad (30-3) while playing on the renowned Nike EYBL circuit.

To be able to go out and consistently get double-doubles like that not only speaks to Moore’s talent and ability, but his drive and will to take over games. To appreciate Moore’s impact, the Wings were cruising along, 24-0, when Moore (who had 24 double-doubles to that point) suffered a hip injury that sidelined him for awhile. As a result, the Wings went 6-3 to close out the spring.

“He’s been unbelievable for us,” said Wings Elite 15U coach Antonio Buchanan. “He plays hard, and knows how to play.”

Moore’s interior impact is reminiscent of former Wing and Hog Corliss Williamson, who was dominant for an under-sized big. And like Big Nasty, Moore is very effective in transition as a finisher, aided by his high motor running end-to-end. In the halfcourt, Moore uses his strong frame to create space for himself which leads to lots of lay-ins, stick-backs, and rebounds. He can also put the ball on the floor and get to the bucket from the wing.

Last year, Moore was one of the top performers at both the Fab Freshman and CP3 Rising Stars camps, and this spring he elevated his game once again, earning a spot in the Top 20 all-star game at the Super Soph camp in Georgia. Moore was one of the first from the 2020 class to earn a Division 1 offer as a freshman in the middle of the high school season when Tubby Smith and Memphis came calling. And this spring, he added offers from TCU, SMU, Southern Miss, and Abilene Christian. Arkansas is known to be highly interested as well.

4. Gerald Doakes, 6-2 shooting guard, national No. 82 for Class of 2020 according to Coast2CoastPreps, Wings Elite 15U / Jacksonville Lighthouse  Doakes is a quick, explosive scoring machine who averages around 20 points a game for the Wings, and his multiple 30-point outings this spring turned some heads nationally among college coaches.

Texas A&M was the first high-major school to offer, with TCU, SMU, Southern Miss, and Abilene Christian also offering. Arkansas is highly interested.

Doakes is a get it at all 3 levels scorer. Tough to defend because he is not only quick, but has an array of dribble-drive moves to get into his shot, and then he can elevate over you to get a cleaner look. And he’s bouncy at the cup, able to hammer home dunks. He’s a volume shooter-scorer who can rattle off 10-12 points in a burst. His quickness also benefits him defensively, as he racked up multiple-steal games throughout the spring.

Doakes, like Moore, was one of the top performers at both the Fab Freshman and CP3 Rising Stars camps last year, and this spring he earned a spot in the Top 20 all-star game at the Super Soph camp in Georgia.

5. Justice Hill, 5-11 point guard, national No. 96 / 4-star recruit for Class of 2019 according to Future150.com, Arkansas Hawks 17U / Little Rock Christian Academy, Hogs commit … ”Juice” is becoming the best point-guard prospect out of Arkansas in a long time. His maturation and understanding of how to lead a team has been evident since Real Deal in the Rock tipped off, but as April turned the page to May, you could see Hill’s refinement of the nuances of the position evolving, especially his pro-activeness in attacking defenses in ways that elevates his teammates.

Ultimately, that’s what you want from a true point guard: Run the team, lead the team, make the team better. Hill is checking those boxes in new and improved ways every time he steps on the floor.

Combining explosive athleticism, burst, and strength with plus-handles, plus-court-awareness/vision, and feel, Hill uses those tools to constantly put pressure on teams, both offensively and defensively. On offense, Hill has a variety of clever, well-timed stop-and-go and hesitate-and-go moves to freeze defenders long enough to get by them, plus he’s one of the best at bursting through a trap or splitting a double-team to get a numbers advantage. From there he has the ability to finish on his own or dish for an easy lay-in or open 3-pointer. But, he’s starting to move defenders where he wants them using more subtle tactics (like leading them with his eyes, body language, and a dribble or two toward one direction, similar to how a quarterback moves a safety with his eyes, body language, and a pump-fake in one direction). Sometimes, it’s those little things that go a long way in running a team. This kind of understanding of ball movement, flow, spacing, and strengths of your teammates are critical in the effectiveness of a true facilitator-first point guard, and Hill continues to refine those aspects of his game.

Another step he took in the second-half of the spring was taking (and making) shots to keep defenses honest. Hill was one of the top playmakers on the Adidas Gauntlet series in April — his 3.5 assists was 10th best on the circuit — but he was reluctant to shoot when teams sagged to prevent his drives and penetration (he took only 11 3-point attempts in 8 games). However, in May, Hill was a lot more aggressive with his own offense, taking the long-ball when it was there, pulling up for mid-range shots when the help defenders stuck with their man, or getting all the way to the cup where Juice has no problem finishing above the rim. In basketball, even the purest of point guards must score the ball in a variety of ways to keep defenses honest, which helps open things up for teammates. Hill has made adjustments that reflect his understanding of that part of the game.

6. Mylik Wilson, 6-3 shooting guard, Class of 2019, Wings Elite 16U / Rayville (LA)  Wings 16U coach Charles Baker was not happy with his team’s ball-handling and decision-making early on in the spring, but he knew he had some weapons if his team could get past turning the ball over so frequently.

“If we could take care of the ball, we’ve got guys who can do some things,” Baker told me during an early-April practice after his team had gotten off to a bumpy start. “That guy (Baker was pointing toward Mylik Wilson) is a big-time shooter and scorer, but we’ve got to teach him and the others how to execute this offense the right way before we’re going to see what they can really do.”

It didn’t take them long to straighten those problems out, and Wilson emerged as the go-to scorer on a team that worked its way into the 16U national rankings (currently No. 20 according to PrepHoops.com). Wilson went crazy from 3-point land in the Nike EYBL event in Indianapolis, scoring 40 points in one game on 11-of-13 shooting from 3. He backed that up with multiple 20-plus-point games on the loaded EYBL circuit, and for his efforts Wilson was invited to the prestigious Nike Elite 100 Camp in late June.

When I watch Wilson, I’m reminded of old-school ballers who were not worried about making poster-dunks and flashy plays, but instead they just go out and beat you with deep and mid-range shots from multiple spots in the halfcourt. That’s what Wilson does. His catch-and-shoot mechanics are a thing of beauty.

Wilson has begun attracting recruiting interest from a few Division 1 programs. Arkansas, Louisiana Tech, and Northwestern State (LA) all reached out to Wilson last week.

7. Ethan Henderson, 6-8 power forward, national No. 53 / 4-star recruit for Class of 2018 according to 247Sports, Arkansas Hawks 17U / Little Rock Parkview, Hogs commit  ”Big Bang” is sometimes an enigma when it comes to production and playing with a high motor, but his athletic gifts (length and elite bounce), defensive versatility, double-double capabilities, and showing up against the best when it matters most are undeniable, earning him a rightful spot on this list. After a quiet junior season at Parkview, Henderson exploded onto the 2017 grassroots scene, recording four double-doubles in the Hawks’ first six games at Real Deal, and against a very talented Marcus Smart YGC36 team in the Real Deal title game, he was a warrior at both ends of the court.

Then, in the first Adidas Gauntlet session in Fort Worth (TX), Henderson struggled with an injured toe and stayed in foul trouble, and you could tell he was not playing his best basketball in sporadic minutes as the Hawks stumbled to a 1-3 start in Gauntlet play. Henderson’s motor tends to not run high when he gets into foul trouble as he seems tentative trying to avoid more fouls and making mistakes. He’s still learning how to play through that kind of adversity without compromising his effort and aggressiveness, but you could see him turn a corner beginning with the second Adidas Gauntlet session in Atlanta in late April, when the Hawks flipped the script to go 3-1 during that session.

In the Hawks’ 4 wins in the Gauntlet series, Henderson averaged 10-plus points and 7-plus rebounds, but he also played with a more consistent high-motor, creating havoc on defense with his ability to guard out on floor, as well as using his length and athleticism to get deflections and block/alter shots. As the Hawks moved through May, you could also see that Henderson had put in extra work to improve his offensive skill as both his mid-range shot (mechanics and footwork) and his post skill (footwork and a pet up-and-under spin move) were emerging as consistent pieces to his game. During his 15-point, 13-rebound effort going head-to-head with highly regarded and highly recruited 2018 big man Javian Fleming (of nationally ranked Team Thad) at the Memphis in May Invitational, Henderson looked like the best player on a court jam-packed with high-major ballers on both teams.

With Henderson’s improved play as a catalyst, the Hawks turned a 6-4 start into an 11-2 run in their last 13 games. Like his Hawks’ teammates — Perry and Joe — Henderson was invited to the Pangos All American Camp, where he played well enough to earn a selection to the Pangos Top 50 all-star game. Henderson led his team in scoring in that game — 14 points on 7-of-7 field goals (including 5 dunks) — and one national recruiting analyst ranked Henderson the 44th best player out of the 121 elite prospects who took part in the Pangos AA Camp.

8. Grehlon Easter, 6-2 combo guard, Class of 2018, Wings Elite 17U / Little Rock Mills … Easter came out firing in the 17U Wings’ first game at Real Deal — a thriller against Adidas Gauntlet team South Carolina Supreme and arguably the best baller in the country, Zion Williamson. Easter went for 20 in that game, and led a furious comeback as the Wings erased a huge early deficit and had their chances to win before falling just short in the end.

Fast-forward through April and May, and Easter continued to be a volume scorer and top performer for a 17U Wings Elite team that won 3 of the 6 national events they played in. Easter pumped in 30 points, including making the game-winner, as his team capped off a spotless run at one event. He’s averaging 19.5 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists for the 17U Wings Elite, who are not playing on the Nike EYBL circuit this year.

“Grehlon’s had a great spring, and we’re looking for a big year (2017-18 high school season) out of him,” said Wings Elite 17U coach Ray Cooper, who is also Easter’s coach at Little Rock Mills.

Easter competes with a ton of confidence — he’s an alpha-scorer – and you can see that bubble up as toughness, because he not only shoots and scores from 3 and the mid-range, but he’ll drive fearlessly to the hoop with the ability to dunk in traffic. One of the best players in Arkansas at driving and seeking contact, which gets him to the free throw line a lot.

Easter, who will be one of the top high school seniors in Arkansas in 2017-18, received an offer from Arkansas-Fort Smith on Monday, and more offers are sure to follow.

9. Khalen “KK” Robinson, 5-11 point guard, Class of 2020, Arkansas Hawks 16U and 17U / Episcopal Collegiate School  If you’ve noticed a theme that the Class of 2020 is going to be a special group in Arkansas, please also take note that of all the ballers who make up what MIGHT end up being the best class ever in Arkansas, none is more well-rounded, competitive, or prepared to beat you than “KK” Robinson. He makes a compelling case for the best all-around player in this class.

Robinson, who was MVP in the 3A state title game after leading ECS over Tuckerman, is not only the lone in-state ’20 hooper playing up (16U Hawks) on one of the three major shoe circuits this spring/summer, but over Memorial Day weekend he moved up to help the 17U Hawks go 5-0 in Atlanta, showing well against some c/o ’17, ’18, and ’19 guards. Robinson is THE best on-ball defender in the state. His long arms, toughness, physicality, lateral foot movement, and timing are a lethal combo as he is constantly taking lunch money from away from the opposition’s point guard and turning it into buckets at the other end. He also blocks more shots from the point-guard position than any hooper I can remember.

He is one of the top two scorers for the Hawks’ 16U squad, a group that has turned into one of the best teams on the 16U Adidas circuit while playing a tough schedule in DFW, Atlanta (twice), and Memphis. And he is so clutch, constantly making the right play in tight situations, whether it’s a dagger from 3, a drive and finish at the rack, a dish to a teammate, or getting a stop on defense. All the while, his facial expression never changes — he’s the guy you want on your team, because he goes about his business of winning without ever letting you see him sweat or caving in to pressure.

Arkansas and Indiana have already expressed a high-level of interest in Robinson, and the list of high-majors who covet his services will continue to grow.

tie 10. Connor Vanover, 7-3 stretch-5, national Top 180 / 3-star recruit for the Class of 2018 according to 247Sports, Pro Skills (TX) 17U / Baptist Prep … Connor got off to a slow start on the Nike EYBL 17U circuit as he battled through pneumonia during the first session, but he returned for the second session and went to work with 31 points and 11 rebounds in the final two games when he received extended work.

Vanover averaged 9.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in just 10.5 minutes per outing through 14 games on the EYBL — that’s incredible per-minute production – and at one point in mid-May his 3-point shooting was at 50%, and his overall field goal-shooting was 56%.

Vanover’s shooting skill and court IQ are his strengths. His added strength has translated to success at both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. It’s had a positive impact on his shooting efficiency, especially finishing through contact, and it’s improved his ability to bang on the boards.

Vanover has reported offers from Arkansas, Alabama, Memphis, SMU, and Ole Miss, with Notre Dame, Gonzaga, Missouri, Purdue, Tulsa, and Rice (among others) showing interest.

tie 10. Jerry Illya, 6-5 SF / wing, Class of 2020, Team Superstar South 15U  Ok, I’m going to connect the dots here so please keep up: Illya is a native Nigerian who resides in Texas, plays high school hoops in New York, and plays his grassroots basketball on a team coached by and made up mostly of Arkansans that is actually a branch of the Team Superstar organization based in California. Got it?!

The point is, Illya has Arkansas ties as a member of Team Superstar South 15U, and thus makes this list. Illya is lightning quick with explosive hops. Reminds me of former Hog Ali Thompson in the way he looks to dunk and destroy the rim in the process. Illya is comfortable playing around the basket, offering a variety of moves that combined with his athletic gifts make him a big-time finisher and a tough matchup. He runs the floor like a formula-one driver runs the Indy 500 — so fast he’s a blur!

Like Moody, Illya was one of the six 2020 ballers invited to Pangos AA Camp, and he showed well there. Illya reportedly already holds an offer from Texas Tech, with Arkansas, Georgetown, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Memphis all showing interest.

Arkansas Grassroots Best of the Rest Spring Ballers

Class of 2018: This class is a deep one in Arkansas, so several names worthy of mention … Shakur Daniel, 6-3 PG, Pro Skills (TX) on Nike EYBL circuit, SW Christian Academy (Shak was limited in the spring with a hamstring injury, and is joining the Wings Elite 17U in July; he’s getting interest from multiple high-major schools, one to keep an eye on in July) … Caleb Stokes, 6-8 PF, Arkansas Hawks 17U on Adidas Gauntlet circuit, LR Parkview (Stokes holds offers from Little Rock and South Florida, with Arkansas, TCU, Alabama, and other showing interest; Caleb had a solid spring off the bench for the Hawks, and put in plenty of workout time to get better in between games and practices) … Deshang “D.J.” Weaver, 6-7 combo forward, Arkansas Hawks 17U on Adidas Gauntlet circuit, Cypress Falls, TX (DJ had a huge May, getting more minutes and high-impact production as he continued to work his way back from a serious knee injury that kept him off the court for almost 18 months. Rated the No. 52 prospect / a 4-star by 247Sports, Weaver has a Hog offer and said the Hogs were his leader back in May, and he has a combo of offers and interest from Texas, TCU, Baylor, and Houston) … Kalin Bennett, 6-10 PF/C, Arkansas Hawks 16U on Adidas Gauntlet circuit, Little Rock Christian Academy (Bennett fought through injuries as a junior at LRCA, but he really started to flourish playing for the Hawks as the spring moved along, playing a physical brand at both ends of the floor as a true back-to-the-basket big man; Bennett is committed to the Little Rock Trojans) … Patrick Greene, 6-2 SG, Wings Elite 17U, LR Mills (Greene is a big-time shooter from 3, and he averaged 14 points a game in the spring; Greene is drawing interest from Division 1 Georgia Southern) … MiyKah McIntosh (5-11 PG, Wings Elite 17U, SW Christian Academy) … CJ White (6-4 CG, Team Penny 17U / Pro Skills, TX, 17U on Nike EYBL circuit, LR Parkview) … Asa Hutchinson IV (6-6 wing, Wings Elite 17U, Bentonville) … Chol Adup (6-5 forward, Wings Elite 17U, SW Christian Academy) … J.T. Smith (6-0 CG, Arkansas Hawks 17U on Adidas Gauntlet circuit, Riverview) … Rod Terry (6-0 CG, Arkansas All Red 17U, LR Parkview).

Class of 2019: This class hasn’t gotten as much ink as others in the state, but it’s another good one with several ballers who had a big spring … Shawn Fudge, 6-3 wing, Arkansas Hawks 16U on Adidas Gauntlet circuit, North Little Rock (Fudge was the Hawks’ leading scorer, and he’s one of the most versatile scorers in the state with a lot of ball skill; he’s heard from both Arkansas and Little Rock) … Collin Moore, 6-4 wing, Wings Elite 16U on Nike EYBL circuit, North Little Rock (Moore has been a key in the 16U Wings’ emergence in the national rankings. Has excellent length and athleticism, and is maybe the team’s most versatile player; Arkansas and Little Rock have contacted him already) … Isaac McBride, 6-1 CG, Team Penny 16U on Nike EYBL circuit, Baptist Prep (McBride, the MVP of the 4A state title game last season, is one of the top players in this class, and in addition to his offer from the Little Rock Trojans, McBride has drawn interest from a host of high- and mid-major schools) … Michael Shanks, 6-6 forward, Wings Elite 16U on Nike EYBL circuit, Bentonville (Shanks has been very productive for the Wings, he’s long, athletic, and tough; he’s drawing recruiting interest from Little Rock, Oral Roberts, and UCA) … Airion Simmons, 6-5 forward, Arkansas Hawks 16U on Adidas Gauntlet circuit, LR Parkview (Simmons has been a bull for the Hawks by scoring and rebounding with a toughness; he’s got a high court IQ, too; Simmons was contacted last week by UA-Fort Smith) … Tylor Perry, 5-10 PG, Mokan Elite 17U on Nike EYBL circuit, Springdale Har-Ber (Perry is playing up and playing well, and he recently picked up an offer from Arkansas Tech) … Branton “Bee” McCrary, 5-10 PG, Arkansas Hawks 16U on Adidas Gauntlet circuit, LR Mills (McCrary is quick, athletic, has nice ball skill, and is a tough defender; and he had a solid spring scoring and collecting steals for the Hawks) … JaMarcus Wilson, 6-5 forward, Wings Elite 16U on Nike EYBL circuit, Rayville, LA (Wilson has been a pleasant interior force for the Wings, one of their most productive, impact players this spring) … Allen Flanigan, 6-3 CG, Arkansas Hawks 16U on Adidas Gauntlet, LR Parkview (Flanigan just keeps growing, both as a player and physically; he’s long with good ball skill that has made him a stat-sheet stuffer this spring for the Hawks) … Jay Campbell, 6-3 CG, Arkansas Hawks 16U on Adidas Gauntlet, LR McClellan (Campbell is one of the best athletes in this class, and all spring his slashing to the basket and defensive toughness have helped the Hawks win games) … Jarius Sharp, 6-4 forward, Arkansas Hawks 16U on Adidas Gauntlet circuit, Camden Fairview (Sharp is an athletic, hard-nosed slasher who loves to mix things up inside; has a knack for tracking rebounds and loose balls, willing to do the dirty work in traffic to get buckets).

Class of 2020: As mentioned earlier, this class has a chance to be the best ever in Arkansas. In addition to the 5 ballers from 2020 who made the Top 10 (regardless of class) for the spring, here are several more who are already getting Division 1 looks and offers who played well this spring … Devonte ”Devo” Davis, 6-2 PG, Wings Elite 15U on Nike EYBL circuit, Jacksonville Lighthouse (Davis is a facilitator who can score, long arms with good athleticism, and is fun to watch operate in the open court; big reason the Wings are 30-3 after the spring sessions; Davis has already picked up offers from SMU, Southern Miss, and Abilene Christian, with interest from Arkansas among others) … Treylon Payne, 6-1 combo guard, Team Superstar South 15U, Episcopal Collegiate School (Payne is athletic, fast, quick, and his motor never stops; menacing defender with a knack for getting steals; one of the keys to TSS’s national ranking) … Jonathan Aku, 6-9 PF/C, Team Superstar South 15U (Like Jerry Illya, Aku is a native Nigerian residing in Texas but playing HS in New York; he’s a physical, capable force in the paint, and is already drawing recruiting interest from Arkansas, Georgetown, and others) … Caleb London, 6-4 wing, Wings Elite 15U on Nike EYBL circuit, Memphis, TN (London is a slasher and a tough defender with good size; he picked up his first offer from SMU in May, with more sure to come) … Detrick Reeves, 6-3 wing, Team Superstar South 15U, Marion (Reeves is athletic, long, and can go out and get you buckets; he broke his foot late in the spring, but he was one of the impact players in Arkansas prior to injury) … Austin Garrett (6-4 wing, Wings Elite 15U on Nike EYBL, Springdale Har-Ber) … Ryan Gordon (6-3 CG, Team Superstar South 15U, LR Parkview) … Donald Ghostone (6-6 wing, Team Superstar South 15U, Texas via LR) … Chris Harris (5-10 PG, Team Superstar South 15U, Dumas).

Class of 2021: This group will continue to carry the torch for the state as a hotbed for hoops, here are a few of the top players who will enter 9th grade in August … Terran Williams, 6-4 wing, Joe Johnson Elite 14U, Marianna (long, bouncy, skilled, attacks the hoop determined to score; attended the ScoutsFocus Elite80 Camp last week; has high-major stuff already) … Madison Peaster, 6-1 CG, Joe Johnson Elite 14U, LR Mills (very gifted player, athletic and skilled, has high-major stuff already) … Jaylen Ricks, 6-3 PG, Arkansas Hawks 14U, Sylvan Hills (Ricks has excellent length, good athleticism, nice feel and court-awareness as a facilitator, already showing D1 promise) … Jaylin Williams, 6-6 PF, Arkansas Hawks 14U, Fort Smith (Williams is tall and still growing; still developing skill, but he’s effective scoring from 12-feet and in, and he does a good job using his size to rebound, defend, block shots) … Ryan Maxwell, 6-5 forward, Joe Johnson Elite, Jacksonville Lighthouse (long and loves to battle in the paint, crashes the glass and finishes well around the bucket) … Jordan Maxwell, 6-3 wing, Joe Johnson Elite 14U, Jacksonville Lighthouse (athletic and strong, good basketball player) … Tracy SteeleJr., 6-1 CG, Wings Elite 14U, North Little Rock (Steele is quick with plus-ball-skill for his age, can knock down the triple and has a nice dribble-drive game to get into the paint) … Jayden Williams, 6-5 PF/C, Wings Elite 14U, Conway (Williams is a solid interior force who moves well for a big man, and he loves to get physical around the basket) …Bryce Bohanon, 5-11 CG, Wings Elite 14U, Conway (Bohanon is a strong on-ball defender and a nice open-court player and slasher; built like a safety, he’s both quick and fast).

Arkansas Grassroots Team of the Spring

Wings Elite 15U, ranked No. 5 by IndiHoops.com and No. 10 by PrepHoops.com, 30-3 record … the Wings got off to a 24-0 start and climbed to No. 1 in the national 15U rankings before an injury to 2020 baller Chris Moore contributed to a 6-3 finish in the spring. Still, the Wings won 4 events — Real Deal in the Rock, The Warm-Up, the Nike EYBL second session in Indianapolis, and the Nike King James tourney — prior to suffering their first loss.

With a trio of Arkansans leading the way — Moore, Gerald Doakes, and Devonte Davis – the Wings qualified for the Nike Peach Jam in July, the premiere event on the Nike EYBL circuit.

“We, not me,” is how Wings 15U coach Antonio Buchanan explained his team’s successful run from March through May. “It’s about everyone as a team, not about individuals. From top to bottom, our success relies on everyone doing this together.”

Honorable Mention … Arkansas Hawks 17U after a less-than-stellar 6-4 start, the Hawks won 11 of their last 13 games to get to 17-6 at the close of spring; they made the finals of the Real Deal in the Rock, the semis of Memphis in May and the Adidas Memorial Day Classic in Atlanta, and went 4-4 in the tough Adidas Gauntlet to qualify for the Adidas Gauntlet Finale in July … Team Superstar South 15U has lost only 3 games while winning two regional events and reaching the finals of the Adidas MDC in Atlanta, and the team is ranked No. 9 by PrepHoops.com and No. 18 by IndiHoops.com in 15U … Wings Elite 16U played very well at several Nike EYBL events, reaching the finals and semis at some while also qualifying for the Nike Peach Jam in July; the team is currently ranked No. 20 according to PrepHoops.com… Arkansas Hawks 16U got off to a slow start at the first Adidas Gauntlet session in Fort Worth, but they took off a couple of weeks later at the second session in Atlanta before reaching the title games at Memphis in May and the Adidas MDC event in Atlanta; the 16U hawks also qualified for the Adidas Gauntlet Finale in July … Joe Johnson Elite 14U finished the spring ranked No. 23 according to IndiHoops.com, very talented team.

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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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  • Man, how are the Hogs going to get all these dudes!! Lol, so much talent. That 2020 class has national title written all over it if we can get 4-5 of those kids.