Florida is a premier destination for high school basketball tournaments over the two-week Christmas break. We saw a great number of high-level players from out of state at the events we attended. Here are just a few that caught our attention.
Terry Copeland, NJ Bergen Catholic: The 6’7 sophomore was very impressive at the Kreul Classic in Coral Springs. With an already advanced physique, Copeland dominates below the rim. He has good post moves and a soft shooting touch to fifteen feet. He is an active rebounder at both ends and while he may not have the highest vertical, Copeland gets to the ball quickly and opponents are not ripping it away from his grasp. Copeland sets solid screens and is a decent passer both out on the perimeter and in the post. For a young guy his size, he moves well on the court.
Nick Smith, AR North Little Rock: The 6’3 senior was impressive with the vast array of scoring tools he brought to the City of Palms Classic. His perimeter shot always looked like it was going in and he finished creatively in a crowd at the basket. With good ball-skills and court vision, he also proved he can run the point. Active and quick at the defensive end, Smith got a lot of easy baskets converting steals into scores while in Fort Myers.
Bruce Thornton, GA Milton: For a while, it looked like the 6’2 senior would beat IMG all by himself in the third-place game at the City of Palms. A lethal combination of strength, speed, and quickness, Thornton was just as likely to bury a three-pointer in the face of a defender off the dribble as he was to blow by them and score at the rim. Playing with both intensity and IQ, Thornton was a man on a mission and his Milton teammates know to get him the ball and give him space. He also led his team in rebounding during the event. If he and fellow Ohio State signee Brice Sensabaugh play in Columbus like they have so far this season, their respective stays in Columbus won’t be lone.
Christian Watson, DC St. John’s: The team went 0-3 at the City of Palms but Watson was a bright spot. The 6’8 senior showcased an ability to play on the perimeter as well as in the paint. He has a reliable jumper and some basic scoring tools inside. Watson’s ball-handling skills are solid at this stage and he proved to be an effective slasher to the basket both in transition and against a set defense. Defensively, he’s rangy, covers a lot of ground quickly, and is disruptive in the passing lanes.
Dalen Davis, Chicago Whitney Young: The 6’2 senior came across as one of those tough inner-city guards that just knows how to play and does whatever his coaches need on the floor. We caught his final game at the City of Palms and Davis impressed with his outside shooting ability, going 4-8 from deep in that contest. He also connected on numerous shots inside the arc, was tough on the defensive end, and found ways to contribute that don’t appear in the stat sheet.
Judah Mintz, VA Oak Hill Academy: A scorer’s scorer, the 6’3 senior not only scored a bunch of points at the CoP but did so very efficiently. While effective at knocking down the open jumper, Mintz excels at attacking the basket and either scoring, getting to the foul line, or both. His change of direction/speed dribble moves are high-caliber and rare is the defender that can stay in front of him. If Oak Hill had won the event, he certainly would have been on the very short list of MVP candidates. Mintz is also valuable as a rebounder and takes no prisoners on the defensive end of the floor.
Chris Livingston, VA Oak Hill Academy: A top five/ten recruit heading to Kentucky, Livingston has a combination of size and skills that suggest he won’t stay long in Lexington. The embodiment of what coaches look for in a “three-and-D” wing, Livingston can score in a variety of ways, stretch the defense with his perimeter shot or collapse it on the drive and make good decisions with the basketball. Both strong and athletic, he can defend either forward spot. Livingston is also a guy that can grab defensive rebounds and push the ball up the floor in transition on his own.
Evan Ipsaro, KY Covington Catholic: The 5’10 junior dropped 38 points on the first day of The Battle at The Villages and had the crowd hanging on his every move. He scored from all four levels (behind the arc, from mid-range, at the rim, and converted free throws) while also making deft passes to cutters and post players for assists. Ipsaro may not look quick or athletic, but he had no problem taking opponents off the dribble or keeping up with them on the defensive end.
Noah Van Bibber, NC Concord Academy: The 6’5 junior just about couldn’t miss in the team’s opening game against Orlando Christian Prep at The Battle. Whether off the catch or pulling up against a contesting defender, Van Bibber’s three-point prowess was a marvel. Just when you thought that was all he could do, he would blow past an over-aggressive defender and score at the basket. He rebounds decently and is an adequate defender but his calling card and meal ticket to the next level is his perimeter shot.
Meleek Thomas, PA Lincoln Park: The 6’5 freshman(!) was not only impressive with his play but also his composure and competitive spirit. Running the point like a four-year senior starter, Thomas handled extended defensive pressure, got the ball ahead for easy scores, and kept his teammates happy. He also found time to drop 32 points, mostly at the rim but he did finish three of four from behind the arc. Thomas’ length and lateral quickness allow to effectively defend smaller and quicker point guards. The next three years should be very interesting for him.
A.J. Barnes, GA Eagles’ Landing: The 6’6 senior seemingly had a hand in every play in the team’s win in the second round of The Kingdom of the Sun Classic in Ocala. If Barnes wasn’t scoring, he was assisting. If he wasn’t forcing a turnover, he was grabbing the rebound. Athletic and strong, he finished numerous plays above the rim. He seemed to be one of those guys that you tell to go out and play and he does, with incredible results. Supposedly, he is light on college offers. There are going to be a lot of coaches that will curse themselves for not recruiting him when they had the chance.