The showcase version of the annual Tournament Of Champions took place at Wheeler last Saturday with 8 games being played throughout the day. A wide range of teams and talent competed with some close, intense matchups resulting. Here we’ll take a look at the top individual showings from the games I took in at the event.
Trinity Christian-Etowah (56-53 win for Trinity Christian in OT)
I was able to see Sami Pissis prior to the season at an open gym setting where he was extremely impressive and the new French product took advantage of his first opportunity on a big stage last Saturday. He carried the Lions offensively in the 1st half with 18 of their 26 points, hitting 4 3’s in efficient fashion. Pissis can make things happen off the dribble in straight lines also. He is a pretty good passer and has a good package of finishes from 8 feet and in. He had to utilize those attributes when Etowah went to a Box & 1 on him in the 2nd half. When he did get touches after halftime, he didn’t force and was patient. This paid off for him with a game-deciding 3 in overtime to lift TCS over the Eagles. People around the state are becoming familiar with his name and you’ll continue to hear about him as the season progresses.
Also for TCS in their win, Isaac Brito brought his usual high-energy approach to the game and had a solid all-around performance with production on both sides of the ball. He’s having to play big inside for this undersized Trinity team and is well-suited to do so. Fellow senior Jackson Barnes stepped up for the Lions down the stretch with some important outside shots. He was needed as Etowah keyed in on Pissis and was not bashful at all. Barnes could get some college attention if he keeps it up.
Etowah ended up putting 3 guys in double figures for the game after struggling to score in the 1st quarter. Brock Rechsteiner found his stroke from the right wing and got to the FT line to lead them with 14, Jonah Hamilton hit 3 3’s and looked good attacking closeouts, Josh Hughes did the dirty work inside with physical and active play on both ends. Brandon Rechsteiner put up 9 points and rebounded at a high rate for a guy his size, grabbing 10 boards. His play at PG will be important for them going forward. Etowah was without Mason Etter in this game; I’ll see the Eagles again on Saturday against Forsyth Central.
Cumberland Christian-Victory Christian (78-66 win for Victory Christian)
Although without Addison Archer, Victory Christian came down to the TOC from Charlotte with some nice prospects and left with a win. Now at VCCS, Lewis Duarte was even better than when I had seen him previously. He’s a really explosive 2-foot leaper with great all-around athletic ability and he uses it to his full advantage. Aside from powerful finishes, Duarte blocks shots with force and can be a pest defending on the ball. When he grabs a defensive rebound and gets out in the open court, Duarte is hard to stop and is always looking to attack. It’s easy to see why he’s being recruited by a plethora of programs.
Leading VCCS in scoring was Tajuan Simpkins. He was a constant factor around the basket, always seeming to be in the right place inside. He can slash and create for himself by getting to his left hand, moves without the ball, and will get offensive rebounds. Simpkins has a wide range of finishes that he uses and leaping ability that helps him at the rim as well. His motor was good on both sides of the ball as he played sound defense on a variety of guys throughout the game. He ended with 24 points while his brother, Takai Simpkins, put up 12.
Cumberland is a very young team with a bright future. They fight and have quality pieces at different positions. Jelani Hamilton is a promising wing who has good physical attributes and skill, he led them with 13 points in the game while fellow 2023 prospects Gora Niang and Christian Bacon were in double figures as well. Niang did some good work on the block and has added some polish to his post game since last season, Bacon is a heady PG who plays bigger than his height and uses his quickness both offensively and defensively.
The 2022 duo of Elijah Wiseman and Aaron Brooks also had good outings for Cumberland, combining for 21 points and 5 made 3’s in the game. This team will be able to open some eyes and compete with other solid groups with these 5 guys and Jermaine Smoak leading the charge.
Pace-Arlington Christian (77-48 win for Pace)
There wasn’t a ton to take away from this one as Pace was too much to handle for Arlington Christian, even with the Knights only having 8 guys suit up. They were able to cruise to victory and got a well-balanced performance from their main guys.
I did like how senior PG Madison Durr played for Pace in this matchup. He was extremely active on defense and used his size & length to force a handful of mistakes by ball-handlers, turning into some above the rim plays for himself on the other end. Durr was more aggressive and effective as a scorer than usual but also got others involved and played a complete game running & leading the offense. He’s one of the best available guards in Georgia following the early signing period.
Another one to keep an eye on is 2024 W LJ Moore. Just a freshman, he lacks no confidence at all and has some good tools. At around 6’4-5”, he shows flashes of what could be a legitimate scoring package in a few years. He’ll hit occasional 3’s, looks for shots off the dribble, and can finish. His development will be worth tracking.
Pebblebrook-Kell (64-59 win for Pebblebrook)
Pebblebrook has a ton of weapons at their disposal and usually gets solid contributions from each of those guys. While there was some truth to that on Saturday, it was Georgia State signee Danny Stubbs who stole the show. He went for 25 points on 5 3’s, including an exceptional 3rd quarter in which the Falcons turned a 5-point halftime deficit into a 6-point lead going into the 4th. When Stubbs is aggressive, he can reel off some great scoring stretches and did that in this one. He’s a really good shooter off the dribble from 3 and has soft runners & floaters to use in the lane. Even in a hectic, fast-paced game, he was calm and under control.
With Scoot Henderson out, Kell was in need of a scoring boost from somewhere. Dylan Cambridge answered the bell and almost went for 20 & 10 in the game. His versatility was on display both offensively and defensively. He’s able to guard inside or outside as an athletic 6’3” prospect who embraces the physical side of things and plays very hard. Cambridge was really good on the glass, finished through contact, and ignited a lot of transition opportunities. He wasn’t much of a factor in their Hoopsgiving win over Lake Norman, so hopefully this performance gives him some confidence and he becomes a consistent piece for them going forward.
Sandy Creek-Wheeler (62-61 win for Wheeler)
Wheeler put up a great fight throughout the 2nd half of this matchup after a rough 1st half in which they scored 16 points total and only 2 in the 2nd quarter. Each of the guys in the Wildcats’ core had their moments during the 2nd half comeback with Kaleb Washington, Ja’Heim Hudson, Max Harris, and Isaiah Collier all scoring double-digit points. Washington and Hudson are the two signees on the team; Washington (Dayton) led them with 17 points and got really aggressive after halftime while Hudson didn’t back down from his battle with Jabari Smith, fouling him out late and then putting home the game-winning dunk with around 5 seconds left.
Harris has been good for Wheeler in both of their early season games that I’ve watched against McEachern and Sandy Creek, averaging 16.5 PPG in those 2 wins. I’ve written about it before, but he has developed into a very consistent producer and his production isn’t against slouches. Harris is a strong 6’4” who always seems to find ways to be effective finishing and getting to the FT line.
Before fouling out, Auburn signee Jabari Smith had a stellar two-way performance. Nothing could get by him inside in the 1st half as he swatted away shot after shot and had guys thinking twice about trying to finish around him in the 2nd half. Pairing that with his exceptional offensive ability is why so many people hold him in such high regard.
I thought the Patriots got a nice showing from 2023 G Vic Newsom in this one as well. He has a strong build for a sophomore and is wired to score. Newsom utilizes smooth change of pace and is a creative scorer off the bounce who plays with a combination of poise and confidence. Getting consistent offense outside of Smith and Myles Rice will be important for Sandy Creek as the year progresses.