We took in the Hoop Exchange Spring Player Showdown on Saturday at the Orlando Sports Complex. A two-day event, Saturday was reserved for members of the 2022 and 2023 Classes. There was a lot of talent in the gym and a great day of basketball from start to finish. We’ll cover the 2022 class in our first series of reports then move on to the Class of 2023.
C.J. Hawkins, Tampa Berkeley Prep: From the opening round of four-on-four warmups to the final game of the day, the 6’6 sophomore was the player with the most energy, fire, and passion in the gym. He hunted rebounds and both ends, grabbed them with aggression, pushed the defensive rebound up the floor, and finished offensive rebounds on either side of the basket. Hawkins’ perimeter skills seem to have improved quite a bit as his ability to handle the ball in traffic, find open cutters for buckets, and knocking down open jump shots were consistently productive. He’s got a solid frame and doesn’t mind playing physically at either end of the floor.
Tre Donaldson, Tallahassee Florida High: The 6’2 sophomore is a precocious talent. An exciting and crafty ball-handler, Donaldson has no problem getting to the basket. Once there, he is quite adept at scoring in traffic or finding open teammates for easy scores. Donaldson looks to push to offensive pace at every opportunity and usually makes good decisions with the ball when going at top speed. He makes his perimeter jumpers at a reasonable rate and Saturday it was clear that he was working on mastering a mid-range step-back jumper (translation: took several, made few). Defensively he can cause problems when the mood strikes. He has fast hands and feet, as well as a nose for the ball when playing the passing lanes.
Riley Kugel, Orlando Central Florida Christian Academy: The 6’5 sophomore is coming off a tremendous season as a point guard for a Class 2A regional finalist. He has excellent court vision, great basketball IQ, and makes plays quickly and efficiently. Kugel has a quick first step when attacking the rim, and while he is looking to move the defense so a teammate can have a better shot, he has proven that he can convert in traffic and finish with contact. A good shooter when open, Kugel continues to improve on his ability to make mid-range jumpers over smaller defenders as well as connecting on floaters in the lane. His size and length make him a multi-position defender.
Isaiah Hernandez, Poinciana: When we saw the 6’9 sophomore about a month ago playing for his high school team, he didn’t start and at times looked a bit out of control. On Saturday he was very effective in the wide-open, up-and-down tempo of the games. Strong and bouncy, Hernandez was quick off the floor for rebounds and got his fair share of putbacks on the offensive end. He was quick to sprint ahead of the defense in transition and get easy baskets. Hernandez surprised by knocking down a trailing three on the break but for the most part his perimeter offense is a work in process. Still, he did demonstrate a couple of times that he could put the ball on the floor for a dribble or two and score over the defense.
Romelo Delgado, Coral Gables: The 6’2 sophomore doesn’t blow opponents or onlookers away with flashy play or ridiculous athleticism. Instead, Delgado is a savvy player with great court sense and an innate ability for making the right play at the right time. Despite his outside shot not going down on Saturday, the lefty has good form and fundamentals on that shot. He is a solid ball-handler vs. pressure and generally makes the right reads on the perimeter, moving the basketball quickly to open teammates. We were impressed with Delgado’s intelligence in balancing the floor on offense and defensive positioning in an event where the vast majority of players stand and watch if they don’t have the ball. While he may never be the #1 offensive option for a team, Delgado brings the winning intangibles and chemistry that college coaches know they need to have to win games.
Prince Ebwea, Impact Basketball Academy: The first thing one notices about the 6’4 sophomore is his build. With wide shoulders and a strong frame, its no wonder that Ebwea excels in playing a physical brand of basketball at both ends of the floor. He fearlessly attacks the basket, finishes thru contact in traffic, and has the leaping ability to catch and throw down lobs well above the rim. Ebwea is a strong, straight line driver that isn’t about to be knocked off of his path by the defense. He made the only jumper we saw him take, so there is a minor question as to how deep and consistent his perimeter shooting range is. Because of his strength, he routinely out-battles bigger players for rebounds.
Jared Berry, Orlando Lake Highland Prep: The 5’9 sophomore is not and likely will never approach the success of his older brother Joel, but Jared proved Saturday he is a solid ball-player that deserves a shot at playing at the next level. Saturday, he impressed with his ability to get into the lane and either score at the basket or connect on floaters over the defense. A solid shooter with range to the arc, Berry made several in the game we watched. An active defender, he makes opponents work hard to initiate any offense and does a good job of playing the passing lanes off the ball.
Jimel Lane, Coral Gables: It took the 6’6 sophomore the better part of a half to get in the flow, but once he did he was very productive. His length and leap certainly help his cause, but Lane has become a dangerous shooter out on the perimeter. He is also an active rebounder with the ability to grab the ball and immediately push it up the floor. If a teammate is ahead of the defense, Lane is quick to give up the basketball. If not, Lane has the ball skills to slither thru the defense and finish with authority at the rim. The more lane develops his offensive arsenal, the higher his ceiling will become.
Ernest Udeh, Orlando Dr. Phillips: The 6’9 sophomore is a work-in-progress when it comes to scoring in the post, but he finds ways to impact the game in other ways. He is a staunch rim defender and shot blocker. With his long arms and quick leap, Udeh quickly has opponents thinks twice about challenging him at the rim. He pursues rebounds out of his area and is quick off the floor for second and third attempts at grabbing missed shots. He is also quick enough to switch out on ball screens. Offensively, he scores best right now on lobs, put-backs, and drop offs from penetrating teammates. Udeh is also fast enough up the floor to beat his opponent in transition and score easy baskets.
Jah Nze, Oviedo Hagerty: The 6’4 sophomore is strong and wired to score. He has deep range on his perimeter shot but doesn’t rely on it as his sole offensive weapon. Nze will use his strong frame to overpower defenders and get to the basket. Once there, he uses that same strength to muscle the ball thru outstretched arms and score. Nze is a good athlete and surprised with a trio of straight-up blocks on shooters in the game we watched. He may never lead a team in assists or charges taken, but he is a decent passer and defender when we have seen him in more organized settings.
Manok Lual, Jacksonville Wolfson: The 6’7 sophomore was one of the bigger surprises on Saturday. Though quite thin, he battled effectively for rebounds. Lual showed he could knock down perimeter shots, convert lobs at the rim, and beat defenders down the floor in transition. There is certainly some work to be done in terms on ball-handling and on-ball defense, but Lual plays hard and looks to be a player whose best basketball may not come until he gets to the next level with a stronger body.