Every year, players elevate their profile due to their play during the spring and summer. Several players that we saw the past few months have made that jump to the point. It will be interesting to find out if they are as good as they showed and have the ability to continue at that level or if we just caught them on a good day.
We watched Jaxson Strates, a 6’8 rising senior out of Lake Highland Prep in Orlando, have his share of ups and downs the last couple of seasons. During the July “live” period, we got to see Strates play with Q6 and he seemed like a completely new prospect. Playing with newfound confidence, Strates was an emphatic rebounder and didn’t hesitate to attempt to dunk the defense thru the rim along with the ball. His stamina and coordination seem to have improved and he runs the court much better than we’ve seen in the past. Skill-wise, Strates is scoring better inside and his ability to make shots facing the basket gets better each time out. He’s become a priority for high-end academic programs on the D-I level.
Even though I saw Titusville on a couple of occasions last season, it seems like 6’0 rising junior Jordan Smith came out of nowhere with his stellar play for the Showtime Ballers 16U team this spring and summer. He has excellent speed and quickness with the basketball in his hands, is crafty in getting by defenders, and generally makes solid shot vs. pass decisions. Smith was no slouch on the defensive end either and with his active hands and lateral quickness made life difficult for opponents. He shoots the ball okay at this point and his consistency should improve as time goes on. Titusville will need Smith to play this season like he did this summer to make up for the loss of Romeo Crouch to graduation.
Things were going well in the spring for Malachi Wideman, a 6’4 wing out of Sarasota Riverview playing with Nike Team Florida. His athleticism was allowing him to make plays in transition and play bigger than his size on the boards. Wideman’s skills were also developing nicely, especially his ball-handling vs. pressure and ability to make open shots on the perimeter. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury during a Memorial Day tournament which kept him out of action during July. Wideman is also a coveted football recruit and so it will interesting to see how his recovery from injury impacts that aspect of his athletic career. He should be fully healed by the time hoop season rolls around but one never knows how an injury will impact a player’s mindset. Hopefully, Wideman will continue to be the same rim attacker that he was before the injury.
Though we only saw him for a half in a blow-out game in the NYBL’s Orlando session, others that saw 6’1 Walter Clayton play for Team Knight during that weekend thought he was one of the top guards in attendance. Like most players at this stage, his jump shot is still in the process of gaining consistency. However, Clayton has shown an advanced ability to dribble and pass the basketball as well as create shots for teammates. Our understanding is that he will be attending Lake Wales, which would provide the team with a solid outside complement to rising sophomore Gervon Dexter inside.