OTR Sweet 16: Team Reviews

The 1st session of the OTR Sweet 16 brought together some of the top teams in the Southeast, both sponsored and independent. There were great matchups, breakout prospects, and new names that emerged. This piece focuses on 5 different teams that boasted multiple guys who produced at a good rate during the weekend; they are Team Thad, E1T1, Nightrydas, Tennessee Bobcats, and 16U Team Curry.

Team Thad

Thad brought a ton of energy to each of the games they played in, and it resulted in them going 4-0 on Friday & Saturday. Their entire team brings it and they were rewarded as numerous Thad players picked up offers shortly after the tournament.

Memphis signee Amarr Knox was a headache for defenses the entire weekend. He has blazing speed with the ball and was able to get past just about anyone assigned to guard him. Even when he goes to finish against big men, Knox finds ways to put the ball in the basket with fearless determination and impressive ability to adjust in traffic while staying focused on his target. His work as a slasher was most notable, but Knox also showed he can keep the defense honest with his perimeter shot as well.

Chandler Jackson also takes on ball-handling opportunities for Thad and brings a nice complement to Knox in the backcourt. He’s around 6’4” and has a strong, wide body that allows him to control pace and navigate things offensively.

In the frontcourt are Solomon Washington, Malik Dia, and Kimani Hamilton. Washington brought the same tenacious approach to the Sweet 16 that I saw from him last summer. His explosive hops make him a forceful finisher and helps on the defensive end. He gives a lot of effort in the paint and I thought he energized the team.

Both Dia and Hamilton have some perimeter ability to them at 6’8”. Dia can connect on a variety of jumpers but also has the frame to be productive inside both offensively and defensively. Hamilton has good length & mobility paired with some ball-handling ability and above the rim athleticism. He’s a matchup problem for most wings.

Perhaps the biggest breakout performer of the event outside of Noah Clowney, Justin Morgan absolutely lit it up in Thad’s statement victory against the Nightrydas. He connected on 7 3’s in the game and has now been offered by Houston, Memphis, TCU, Furman, and Tennessee Tech following the weekend. At close to 6’6”, Morgan can already shoot over a lot of perimeter defenders, but he also has one of the quickest releases I’ve seen as he prepares well before the catch and doesn’t dip the ball once it’s in his hands. The thing that really raises his value is how he competes on defense; Morgan is pretty strong, moves his feet, and was effective in guarding some quick, talented smaller guards. He should keep ascending.

E1T1

I’ve really enjoyed watching E1T1 on consecutive weekends; they put together a 4-0 performance with a win over a 3SBB team and 2 victories over UAA teams, which included them avenging their buzzer-beater loss to B-Maze Elite at the Tip-Off Classic.

We’ll start in the backcourt with Emanuel Sharp and Brice Sensabaugh, two big-bodied scorers who are difficult matches on the perimeter. Sharp can fill it up with the best of him as he has no conscious from beyond the arc but is also a good ball-handler who can penetrate, looks for contact, and is a really good finisher. Sensabaugh is a little taller, a little bigger, but moves with it pretty well and has a nice inside-out game as well.

Bruce Thornton and AJ Brown are two other perimeter pieces for E1T1. We’re all familiar with Thornton here in Georgia; he’s important to this group as a floor general who can keep everyone happy and brings lots of winning traits on both sides of the ball. Brown is a multi-positional wing that gives them another competent shot-maker who is efficient and low maintenance. His recruitment has been picking up quickly.

I love what Ben Middlebrooks brings to their team as a forward who mixes old-school and new-school play. He’s tough, physical, and active, but also is a reliable floor-stretcher who good on pick & pop opportunities as well as trail 3’s at the top of the key. You won’t see him taking many plays off or backing down from anyone. Middlebrooks just committed to Clemson today and will be reclassifying to 2021. Dillon Mitchell was out in the Team Curry game I watched but was great at the Tip-Off Classic and keeps showing why he’s a breakout candidate the next few months.

Nightrydas

The Nightrydas proved to be one of the more entertaining teams in the event and they have a nice balance of talent at different positions that should lead them to success in the EYBL.

Malik Reneau and Jett Howard are already considered top prospects in 2022, they solidified that last weekend and probably helped themselves some too. Reneau checks a lot of boxes; he is a big, powerful forward who can create problems for defenses both on the interior and the perimeter. He has a soft lefty touch, is able to handle or shoot, but also has the body, skill, and leaping ability to be effective down low. Howard has great positional size on the wing at 6’6″ and pairs that with range on his shot. It doesn’t take long for him to heat up from 3 and he uses that to set up other parts of his offensive game.

Jazian Gortman has electric moments in the open court, I liked how he got others involved while still scoring like we know he can. Tre Donaldson is as competitive and intense as you’ll see; he sets the tone for their team defensively and doesn’t mind filling any role. Fabio Basili puts up points in a hurry, giving a good shooting target on the outside and showing his quickness going to the basket.

Guys like Justin Abson, Kendall Campbell, Sam Walters, and Barry Dunning all had their moments throughout the weekend as well. All 4 have good size and should be solid role pieces for this team by remaining active.

Tennessee Bobcats

I was glad to see the Bobcats on the schedule for the Sweet 16, seemingly every year they have a deep roster with prospects for various levels who steadily rise as the spring & summer go along. It looks like this year will be no different; they picked up tight wins over AOT and the Norcross Heat in the 2 games I watched.

The Bobcats prospect who will probably get the most attention over the next couple of months is Grant Strong. At close to 6’5”, he brings tons of value with his ability to occupy either guard spot for a team. He has good fundamentals, vision, and is confident as a scorer. Although capable of connecting on difficult pull-ups over defenders, he’s also active as a cutter and gets himself easy baskets this way.

Alongside him in the backcourt is Micah Simpson, who converted on game-winning layups in both of the aforementioned games I took in. His speed is an asset on both ends of the floor as he racks up steals and makes thing happen for both himself & others off penetration. Simpson is also a football prospect and it makes sense as he plays bigger than his listed height and doesn’t mind physical play.

The Bobcats don’t sport a bunch of true bigs who are taller than their opponents, but with Jayme Peay, Gavin Stevens, and Jack Browder they have a trio of tough prospects who can hold their own against bigger guys. Peay was a reliable finisher for the team and has good length at 6’6” paired with some defensive versatility and good hands. I loved what Stevens and Browder both brought with their grit and activity as versatile 6’4” pieces. Stevens opened the tournament with a complete performance, hurting the defense from the outside, playing physically, and making all the energy plays you like to see. He was absent on Friday night, but Browder filled a similar role to end the weekend as he was a terror on the offensive boards against the Norcross Heat but also provided a nice scoring boost.

Team Curry 16U

The 2023 Curry group has not wasted any time making noise to start the spring, racking up wins over Team Thad, the Atlanta Celtics, Game Elite, Alabama Fusion, and Team Carroll in their first 2 tournaments. They have tons of contributors and it would almost be unfair to talk about one without mentioning the others.

Silas Demary has been leading the charge at PG and has a good running mate in Will Gray. I talked about Demary after seeing him for the first time at the HoopSeen Tip-Off; he continued a similar level of production at the Sweet 16 and had a tremendous outing in a spectacular comeback win over the Atlanta Celtics. Gray is able to play off Demary by spacing for open corner 3’s off drive & kick looks and opportunistic drives. He can also be a pest defensively and has some exciting moments in transition, never hesitating to finish with authority.

In the frontcourt, Elijah Strong & Riley Allenspach both had good weekends, ending the tournament with particularly strong showings to help Curry defeat Team Thad. It seemed like Strong was bruising guys inside every couple of possessions in the 2nd half for big baskets. He’s hard to handle physically but is also capable of handling and shooting on the outside. His ascension is starting to come and should keep gaining steam with these type of performances. Allenspach is a low-maintenance post with good touch, hands, and fundamentals inside. His touch is pretty reliable, he usually keeps things simple inside, and has a shot that should be a real threat in time.

Not to be forgotten, Curry also features Bryce Cash, Trey Horton, & Michael Mora on the wing, who all bring size and can fill different roles on both sides of the ball. Callum Richard and TaKorrie Faison make up the other forward pieces; both of them can play above the rim with ease and can get a lot done when they’re being active and running the floor. Josh Bullock was not in action at the Sweet 16 but will give them another competitive guard.

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