I made another trip to the Midwest last weekend, this time for the Bill Hensley Run N’ Slam in Fort Wayne. The majority of the top teams from the region were in attendance, resulting in a competitive, exciting atmosphere all weekend long. Here I highlight some of the less-heralded 2022 prospects that I saw at the event who made the most of their time and had people talking.
6’6” W Jack Karasinski (Grand Rapids Storm)
Karasinski was probably my favorite player to watch in the event. He started off with a 27-point game against EG10 on Friday night and also went for 25 in a matchup with Mac Irvin Fire. A versatile, energetic 6’6” wing, Karasinski keeps defenses guessing and leaves with an empty tank every game. On Friday, he quickly hit 3 3’s to start the game, before showing off his athleticism for the entirety of the 2nd half. Karasinskis is a powerful leaper off of 2 feet, which he uses to fly through the air & swat shots or get up easily for dunks. He’s fearless and physical as a finisher, sacrifices his body with charges, and has a consistent shot that he connects on in a variety of ways. What I love most about him is the competitive edge he plays with; Karasinski wants to take it to anyone he faces and constantly makes plays that give his team a boost. There was just nonstop aggression and production from him during the weekend. He surprisingly hadn’t gotten any offers since last fall coming into the event, but Wofford pulled the trigger yesterday and more schools look to be close to doing the same.
6’7” F Javan Simmons & 6’7” F Josh Whiteside (Nova Village Reese)
I love watching big, skilled forwards and Nova Village happens to have 2 of them on the same team. While Simmons and Whiteside aren’t the tallest around, they have a toughness to them and skill that is effective against taller opponents. Simmons is a physical specimen with a rock-solid frame that he uses often and effectively. He is intentional with his work in the post, getting a low, wide base and utilizing spin moves and drop-steps to get himself right at the basket. He’s good at using his body to dislodge defenders and create separation when finishing, and can also face-up from 10-12 feet. He’s a very intense player who is always looking to for physical play and gives a lot of effort on defense & on the glass.
Whiteside is a little bigger and wider than Simmons, he has a nice mixture of finesse and power to his game. He will bang inside and showed the ability to handle & pass effectively. Even at his size, he can grab & go off rebounds and make decisions on the move. Whiteside is capable of hitting jumpers or slashing from around 12-15 feet and showed good touch when extending on lefty hooks. He’s patient inside and has a good right hand as well. Defensively, he is really hard to move and doesn’t allow offensive players to get good position to finish.
6’1” PG Tayshawn Comer (Indy Heat)
Indy Heat had the 8 AM game on Sunday against Team Teague, but that didn’t stop them from playing at a high level and with lots of energy. Comer was a big reason why. With a heavily-recruited PG opposite of him, Comer was locked in from the jump and made a big impact early. It had been a while since I last watched him live, but he looked improved as a 3-point shooter, hitting 3 3’s in the 1st half as Indy Heat jumped out to a big lead. Comer has a stocky upper frame and some speed with the ball, which allowed to find success around the basket when the defense adjusted to stop his outside shooting. He’s a sound decision-maker off of penetration and used his strength effectively on defense. Comer’s game might not be the flashiest, but he’s just solid and low-maintenance. Purdue-Fort Wayne offered a few weeks ago and a handful of other programs are starting to pay attention.
6’6” SG Kam Craft (Meanstreets)
After making a ton of noise in Louisville a few weeks ago, Craft did not take his foot off the gas in Fort Wayne. Seemingly every game he was putting on a show with his shooting and scoring ability as Meanstreets took home the 17U championship. It’s already attractive to be a 6’6” shooter, but Craft is much more than a guy who will just stand around and spot up. He gets his own shot with some flair off the bounce and the ability to get into pull-ups very quickly & then square up even when at odd angles. Against Team Teague, Craft showed he can finish through contact better than you may expect and will sneak up on you athletically. His recruitment is starting to take off this spring; that will continue and you should see him in national rankings very soon.
5’9” PG Derrick James (Nova Village Reese)
Also part of the same Nova Village team as Simmons & White, James runs the show for this group and has the skill & an approach that helps to negate his lack of size. All 3 times I’ve watched him this spring, he has been ultra-aggressive and played with a chip on his shoulder. I was really impressed with James’ ability to get defenders off-balance, find his spots, and connect on shots off the dribble. He’s comfortable on a wide range of pull-ups and floaters, and has solid 3-point range. You won’t see many possessions that James isn’t trying to create opportunities for his team with the ball in his hands; he has a quick, crafty handle and is a reliable decision-maker off pick & roll opportunities with good vision and pace. His quickness and a sturdy body help him on the defensive end in containing ball-handlers and forcing turnovers. I’m always an advocate of smaller guards that have proven themselves against legitimate competition, and James seems to be doing just that. Concord was the first program to extend an offer to him on Sunday night.
6’7” F Caedmon Bontrager (Team Teague)
Facing the eventual 17U Champions on Saturday, Bontrager was not tentative in looking to make an impact against the bigs of Meanstreets. In the 2nd half, the defense keyed in on Leland Walker and Bontrager took advantage with consistent finishing to help keep the game close. He was explosive from the dunker spot of off drop-offs, converting on multiple contact dunks among the highly-touted forwards on the other side. Bontrager gets off the floor with power and quickness and doesn’t have second thoughts when challenging shot-blockers. He can also be a really good rebounder when committed and seems to have a good bit of untapped potential in other areas as well. When he’s putting his athletic tools to use and playing with a high motor, he can be a huge help on both sides of the ball.