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The Top Row: Who Want The Smoke
The Top Row: Who Want The Smoke
Calling Tom Konchalski a pioneer in the grassroots scouting world would still be an understatement - Konchalski’s devotion to scouting every player on the floor was as firm as his handshake. No matter the game, no matter the competition level, Tom took pride in his ability to properly evaluate and find a level of basketball for each player that laced them up. Everyone who’s been around knew that once the ball tipped, you could find Tom in the top row, notepad in hand, attention fully invested on the game at hand. We hope that this small nod to the titan, as well as the work that follows, will honor his guiding principles - to invest fully in the game & to cover every angle of scouting, for every player, for every game. To rise to that lofty standard, we have brought together a group of the brightest minds in this space from all across the country, offering their own unique insights on the prospects, teams and data that you need to know.
Aneesh Namburi (@AneeshNamburi) - Pro Insight + Cerebro
Kellen Buffington (@TheTB5reports) - Owner & Operator, TheTB5 Reports
Aaron Proia (@owe_hoops/@pr0ia) - Scout & Asst Coach
PD Web (@abovethebreak3) - Writer, Cerebro
Spotlight a major performance from Who Want The Smoke
PD: Oh man. It’s hard to narrow down an event this stacked to just a few guys, any short-list leaves a bunch of high level players. If I had to really zoom in, I would say that the story of Who Want The Smoke 2022 was players who are not highly favored in the RSCI stealing the show - with the 3 of the biggest performers being 7’1 Dennis Evans (2023, Inland Empire), 6’5 Kaden Cooper (2023, TSF) & 6’8 Kuol Atak (2024, 3D Empire). Evans is a show-stopping big man prospect, a still growing slender 5 with a reported +7 WS who excels as a funneler in drop coverage. The California native is still figuring out his frame, struggles to catch consistently, has proprioception issues esp with landings & was an absolute force every time down the floor. There are flashes of offensive skill that are entirely unexpected (shooting off staggers, isolation creation) & the defensive microskills are really advanced. Evans made a strong case as the best long term big man prospect in the country, against elite competition, as a currently unranked player with 1 reported offer. Kaden Cooper (RSCI near the 200s) continued his steep skill growth and development leveraging his elite level athleticism all over the floor - I esp liked his decision making against tilted defenses with ball in hand. Speaking of rapid skill development, Kuol Atak (6’8 wing with a big wingspan & graceful feet) has taken multiple steps forward as an offensive force since The Opening Atak shot 49/45/75 on the weekend, & that shooting is on real attempts - 7.3 3PA per game. There was a midpost catch to face up rip thru to a dirk fade that was among my best plays of the weekend.
AN: I wanted to use this section to highlight a few kids that really stood out statistically but I didn’t get a chance to watch too much. In 15U, Kingston Flemings (9.3 C-RAM) is a do it all point guard that can slide off ball and flashed real bounce in transition. He averaged 17.3 points, 5.0 boards, 3.3 assists, and 3.7 steals on 59.1% TS. Nathan Law averaged 29 points per game, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in 16U for BLANK, capped off by a 44-point performance. Cali Rebels 17U big Kyle Evans (7.8 C-RAM) put up 13.5 points and 10.0 boards while shooting 61% from the field.
AP: Seconding the Dennis Evans love from Inland Empire 17u, as he was a unexpected but pleasant surprise for me as I haven’t seen him play before. He showcased a little bit of everything- from regular big man things like two-hand finishes around the rim and effortless blocks in help side- to more jarring visuals like his 7’1 frame gliding off a flare screen to cash out a movement three in the face of a 6’9 defender. He’s not going to worry about being attached at the hip from start to finish, he just knows when he needs to accelerate to get from A to B in a hurry to contest a shot at the rim. Had an impressive blow-by from the corner with an emphatic left hand flush over the defender. The skillset at that size is intriguing as his body and movement skills play catch up with the rest of his game. Definitely a name that will receive a rankings boost here shortly.
What were your takeaways from 17u?
PD: I was extremely excited to see George Hill All Indy in their time in Texas - I had seen the tape from other events & needed these 4 high quality matchups to really firm up my read on their prospects. 6’5 2023 Garwey Dual made the biggest impression on me when seeing him live - he is a hyper shifty guard, with a Kadary Richmond/Tramon Mark type handle predicated on flexibility, hard sells on hang dribbles and big separating strides. Defensively, Dual has quick hands & good instincts in passing lanes, best used in creating havoc to get out in transition. With continued development on his shooting as well as defining which guard position is best for him, expect Dual to become a national name.
6’5 2023 Gehrig Normand left another strong impression: The 3D Empire leading scorer can get hot in a hurry, especially when the jumper is hitting. Normand shot 40.9% (10-24, 88 3PE) from deep on the weekend, with the 3s coming with good versatility across attempts. Normand has a quick, compact form that allows him to shoot with all sorts of momentum, with a range that is comfortably to the volleyball line. When the 3 ball is on, defenders have to close out hard, a challenge made all the more difficult in the well crafted & well spaced 3D Empire offense. Normand isn’t super quick on the first step, more of a stability and power creator who uses angles and 1/2 steps to gain clean advantage, but in this scheme, he is always catching on the move and reading a tilted defense. It’s a great understanding of what makes Normand work best & when defenses turn their head to ball watch - Normand can punish by going up top for alleys.
I saw 6’3 2024 Jared Harris last year at Peach Jam with Houston Hoops, in the aux gym & made a mental note to circle back on him. There wasn’t much effort required to find Harris, of Silsbee HS & Houston Superstars at WWTS - he was the kid absolutely burning the nets down. In the 2 games I saw, Harris averaged 20 ppg on 14-18 shooting (6-9 from 3), ending up as a Gold level performer in C-RAM (12.2) for the event. The progression as a scorer over the last yeat is clear in how easily Harris was getting to spots, with the natural acumen to put the ball in the hole. Similarly progressing is the athleticism, which last year was a flash, is now an ever-present worry for opponents, especially in transition.
Buff: Dedan Thomas Jr., Keith Richard, Jamyron Keller
AN: Despite being generously listed at 6-foot-0, Brock Harding put pressure on defenders of all sizes with his handle, pace, and playmaking. He keeps the ball on a string and is able to create an advantage the minute a defender bites on a set-up. Harding’s manipulation of defenses once he creates that half-step is special, using his eyes to shift defenders and throw passes through some super tight windows. While Harding clearly isn’t hunting his own shot, he gets to his spots with that handle and can finish with craft around the rim or at the elbows if defenses are not helping. PD brought up the Sharife comparisons at the event and just a quick viewing of Harding’s game shows how wild some of the similarities are.
Johnson’s size, physical tools, playmaking, and flashes as a 3 level scorer make him one of the most intriguing pro prospects in the 2023 high school class. As a 6-foot-6 point guard with a tight handle, good burst and willingness to be physical, Johnson is a consistent rim pressure threat in transition, ball screens, and even isolation. His playmaking is among the best for his class with his ability to manipulate the defense to give teammates open shots on the perimeter as well as near the hoop. While this playmaking seems to be his preference, he is more than willing to finish at the hoop using his vertical pop and willingness to take contact. As a scorer he is probably better off working off secondary actions, but Johnson is extremely comfortable from the mid-range and has shown promising touch from 3 on a difficult diet of attempts. JL3 has used Johnson well in tandem with Trenton Walters, who can either spot-up and attack off Johnson’s kickouts or set up his scoring looks by running the initial action with his speed.
The amount of high-level bigs was special. Just to name a few, Dennis Evans, Xavier Booker, JoJo Tugler, and Jadyn Toppin all had games where they impacted just about every aspect of play. For TSF big Arrinten Page, his game against Drive nation 17U was one of those performances. In addition to his 18 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks, Page created a ton of separation for the dynamic guard trio of Isaiah Collier, Kanaan Carlyle, and Marvel Allen while also providing a safety net as a vertical finisher due to his catch radius. Mostly near in the paint defensively, his presence as a quick rotation rim protector and drop coverage big was present in all 3 games.
AP: I’m a big fan of George Hill All Indy forward Xavier Booker despite the consensus being fairly lukewarm. Currently at an RSCI barely inside the top-100, he has an offensive skillset that is incredibly hard to find at 6’10. The lefty can shoot off the catch or the bounce, put the ball on the floor, finishes everything around the rim, and can find the open cutter if they get moving before he starts his dribble. I think the shooting is real, and if he adds weight to his frame and shows more effort on the defensive end- I see a fairly easy path to a 5-star ranking.
What were your takeaways from 16u?
AN: ProSkills is a talented group across the lineup, but Cam Jackson’s presence in the paint really takes them to the next level. Offensively, he is already a physical screen threat that really creates space for his guards, and has soft hands, good touch, and nimble feet around the hoop that leads to a great safety blanket as a roll or post threat. He really carves out space on the glass, almost single handedly allowing his teammates to get 3 players out on the break. The motor just does not stop and will allow him to make an impact as he continues to move up levels of competition.
Kuol Atak’s shooting at 6-8 was impressive to see and a great baseline for someone who clearly has a lot of physical improvement left. 3D coach Shawn Ward does a great job getting him a variety of looks (relocation, slight movement, spot-up, and self-created), and Atak got busy from both the 3 and mid-range. His size and flashes of handle allow him to create whenever defenses run him off the line. He currently prefers to take a pull-up versus getting to the hoop, but that is totally understandable given his current physical profile, something that will improve over the next two years.
PD: I’m gonna have to cut out the depth a little to get to all the names who stood out, or else this piece is not gonna be run, so here is a some-what abbreviated list:
Jayden Mott 6’6 2024 Buddy Buckets - Physically developed 4 with great energy and movement skills, really covers ground and uses length well. Offensively, hyper-efficient, with glimpses of future perimeter growth.
Divine Ugochukwu 6’3 2024 Houston Hoops - A GW from the corner was the highlight for sure, but taking the weekend on the whole, Divine really showcased his jumper - knocking down 10 of 18 attempts from deep.
Brooks Bahr 6’4 2024 TX Impact 4:13 - High level lefty shooter as comfortable shooting OTD as CNS, gets hot and stays hot (6-8 from 3 vs Urban DFW, 53.3 3P% at WWTS)
Ayden Evans 6’8 2024 Power Circle - A forward with a really high ceiling that’s starting to really put it together - skinny with long arms to effect shots around the rim, rim runner who goes up strong consistently & is starting to turn his nice touch into flashes of a perimeter jumper.
Caden Diggs 6’7 2024 New World - Big time athlete, uses long strides to get high level paint touches & finish with violence. Really productive wing who’s shooting development is the swing skill going forward.
Dylan Warlick 6’6 2024 Team Griffin - Face up combo forward who’s rapidly expanding his range while producing around the rim with craft.
Buff: Ayden Evans, Chance Puryear, Cam Jackson
AP: You can find a productive player in any archetype on Houston Hoops 16u team. 6’7 F Darkuan King can put it on the floor and shoots it really well behind the arc, 6’3 G Divine Ugochukwu has an unbelievable wingspan and shot the cover off the rim this weekend, and 5’10 PG Justin Begg showcased elite burst and the ability to make or create good shots for his team in the halfcourt while thriving in the paint in transition. As far as local guys- I think Ty’Ron Bevins continues to make a name for himself as a scoring guard- can handle the rock and hit shots from the perimeter but can also strap up defensively and shows flashes of great playmaking in the halfcourt. I just need to see a more fluid change of speed as a passer or scorer from this ‘24 guard, seems to be locked into one aspect of his game for several possessions in a row and leaves some opportunities on the table as a result. Wing scorer Caden Diggs and Sara Soumare continue to intrigue with some high-level plays, need to see more consistency from both to be able to give a fair evaluation of their games.
What were your takeaways from 15u?
AN: Isiah Harwell was relentless attacking the rim in the half court, often ending those plays with layups or free throw trips. When a player has as much of a physical advantage over the competition like Harwell did, you need to see the level of assertiveness and dominance that he showed offensively, with defenses starting to really shade help in the paint midway through multiple games. His willingness to shoot self-created and off the catch 3’s (10-for-30) made it tough for defenses to sell out against preventing rim touches, giving him the ability to not force things and take what the defense gives him and stay efficient as a scorer.
Buff: Jett MaCasland, Kingston Flemings
AP: A pair of shooters for 3D Empire 15s, Cash Gardner and Jett McCasland stood out for their shot-making ability on the perimeter but also for their willingness to mix it up in the paint and try to finish with craft around bigger defenders. Drive Nation’s Jeremiah Green stood out as a relentless attacker in the paint, constantly put pressure on the defense by getting by his matchup and making the help defender commit before making the right read. Enjoyed watching another duo play in Southern Assault’s 6’3 PG Kayden Edwards and 6’6 F Hudson Greer. Edwards gets to his spots with long strides and elite change of direction, hit shots from the perimeter, finishes well around the basket, moves without the ball- really liked how versatile he was all throughout the contest. Greer wingspan and athleticism combine to make him a good rebounder and finisher in the paint while also allowing him to contest some shots as a help side defender or on closeouts on the perimeter. I think the leaping ability and tools bode well for his upside as a wing as long as the ball-handling catches up.
What was a match-up that stood out to you the most?
AN: The obvious answer has to be Inland Empire vs. George Hill All Indy, a matchup that drew just about every single evaluator in the building. Both Xavier Booker and Dennis Evans flashed their alluring, yet distinct skill sets that give them the argument for a top 3 big in the class. Booker is more of a 4/5 that flashed multiple screen coverages as the nominal 5 in a small ball lineup. He is more comfortable switching out onto guards when involved in actions, and acting as a weak side rim protector when stationed off-ball. Offensively, he can operate as an athletic screen and roll threat, but Booker is a potent pick and pop threat that can also attack downhill if defenses close out hard with his guard-like movement patterns. Evans is more of a classic big with a modern twist, just in a body that is far from a finished product. His timing and instincts as a drop defender was special with how quickly he got off the ground to contest shots as well as positioning to bait ball handlers to take shots around the hoop. He is much more willing to dive to the hoop after setting a screen. Despite his frail frame, he does relish contact and really sets a tone physically around the hoop, but also showed the willingness and ability to step out and knock down 3’s.
PD: Drive Nation vs Southern Assault 15u was maybe my favorite matchup of the weekend - not just for the high level basketball on hand, but because of the environment. The time slot was stacked with HM talent, at every age group, but it’s clear that the people wanted to see this one right here. Both teams are stocked with talent - and I, for one, would love a 7 game series between these equally matched up squads.
What player, players or teams came out of nowhere to catch your eye?
AN: I’m definitely cheating with my answer since I had seen them before, but Urban DFW Elite 17U was among my favorite watches of the tournament. Seeing them play highly competitive games against the likes of Mid Pro and TSF showed that they truly are one of the best teams in Texas regardless of classification and one of the best independents in the country. The team really gets into you defensively and plays a free flow style of offense that will find gaps in defense with their constant movement and attacking. Keith Richard set up his teammates beautifully and showed he could get a bucket when necessary. Aric Demings struggled in terms of efficiency this weekend, but his athletic profile, scoring chops, and playmaking off of advantages makes him an ideal off-guard at the college level. Kade Douglas is a lights out shooter that seems to be making progress to attack defenses on the second level who sell out against his shot. Finally, Jadyn Toppin was all over the court as a small-ball 5, playing multiple ball screen coverages proficiently, making plays in terms of steals and blocks, and finishing everything around the hoop.
What player or players had the biggest rise in your estimation?
PD: Shey Aberwein 6’6 2023 TX Impact 4:13, Malick Diallo 6’9 2024 Utah Prospects & Alejandro Aviles 2025 LivOn
AN: Kaden Cooper blew away my expectations in my first viewing of him since the conclusion of last grassroots season. I had heard about the progression he has made with his jump shot and with the ball in his hands but his performance with Trae Young 17’s this past weekend was among the most impressive out of anyone at the event. The first thing that pops up is his energy on the court. He’s talking constantly (whether that be trash or communicating with his teammates depends on the situation) and he really sets the tone of the team. The usual athletic tools and highlight plays stood out. I almost lost track of the amount of chasedown blocks he had in transition. However, the most impressive thing he showed this weekend was his playmaking flashes on the ball. He threw some DIMES in transition, and made some highly advanced reads of the defense in the halfcourt, primarily out of the dribble weave that Trae Young. If Cooper continues to make those reads with his ability to attack the rim and rapidly improving jump shot, he could turn into one of the best connecting wings/tertiary options in his class.
Who are you most excited to track for the rest of the summer?
PD: Jayden Barrs (ASAK), Nate Law (Team Swift), Makiah Evans (Cali Rebels), Sheridan Sharp (G3) & Kevin Patton Jr (Dream Vision)
AN: Jace Posey (C-RAM 10.0) and Kevin Patton Jr. (9.9 C-RAM) are two uber athletic wings that still need to develop in terms of perimeter skills and creation but show a promising baseline. A 6-foot-4 guard/wing, Posey had a couple of nutty dunks every game and attacked the rim with aggression off the ball, but I was most impressed by his handle and body coordination both in the half-court and transition. This should generate enough space with defenses looking to stop the drive that he can get creative and experiment with some jumpers OTD (off the dribble), which looks good mechanically but isn’t used on high volume.
Patton's size at 6-foot-8 with a +4 wingspan and athletic tools make his perimeter skills a touch less necessary, but he did show a bit more willingness to shoot 3’s off the catch, knocking down 4 of his 10 attempts. He was more of a straight line attacker offensively with a great first step and stride length who can finish with touch or dunk on defenders. Patton was also all over the place defensively, not only showing fluidity as a mover up and down the lineup but also statistically, as his 105 DSI and 76 BMS backed up his tape as a positive rebounder and defensive playmaker at the 4 despite a slight frame.