Every year, there is that one player who explodes onto the scene in the MIAA boys basketball tournament and puts many a college scout on notice.
Last year, it was 6-foot-8 Jake Layman leading King Philip to its most successful season in history and a surprise appearance in the Division 2 South final, before signing with Maryland last November and leading the Warriors to a 17-3 campaign this year. Before him, it was Pat Connaughton, averaging nearly a 20-20 in the 2010 playoffs for St. John's Prep before signing with Notre Dame in two sports and delivering the Eagles their first state title last March. And before him, it was Central Catholic's 6-foot-11 stud Carson Desrosiers, a nightly triple-double threat with three-point range who led the Raiders to two state titles in three seasons before moving on to Wake Forest.
Who is the next Jake Layman, Pat Connaughton or Carson Desrosiers? Below are 11 underclassmen that could fit the bill and why. As always, the names of opposing coaches questioned for comment are withheld. ESPN analyst and New England Recruiting Report founder Adam Finkelstein also weighs in with additional comments.
NOTE: We had Central Catholic's Tyler Nelson and New Mission's Nate Anderson on this list last year, with high praise, and so for that reason we're excluding them this time around.
JALEN ADAMS, MELROSE
6-1, Soph. G
Why he matters: One of several players on this list to first build hype after a good run with nationally-recognized AAU powerhouse Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC), Adams is considered the total package by some. With his combination of court vision and athleticism, Adams is a nightly threat averaging 20.7 points per game. The Boston native navigated the Red Raiders through a tough Middlesex League field, winning the the Small division and earning a No. 2 seed in Division 2 North at 18-2.
What opposing coaches are saying: “He’s competitive, I think his strength is his court vision. He’s explosive, he can get to rim, and I think one of his other big strengths is that he can defend at a high level...I think Jalen is the most talented point guard in the state of Massachusetts. He’s got a bright future in front of him. He has unbelievable spring in his step and gets off the floor quick. He can shoot the three, he can get by you quickly, he’ll dunk in traffic, and when he wants be a great defender there isn’t anyone that can get by him...He’s just like Shabazz Napier was as a sophomore at Charlestown. That’s honestly who I’d compare him to...When he wants to, he can defend –- he is a five-tool player. Out of all of them, he’s a five-tool kid because he’s quick, he can score, he can shoot off the bounce, and he hits his free throws.”
ESPN’s Adam Finkelstein: "Adams has a variety of tools that can't be taught. First he has all the physical tools being long, quick, and athletic. Secondly, he's got an instinctive knack for making plays with the ball in his hands. Put the two together, the type of plays he's able to make help his game to translate well to the next level. He still needs to shoot the ball more consistently and potentially learn to be more of a point guard given his size."
BRUCE BROWN, WAKEFIELD
6-3, Fr. F
Why he matters: The Warriors' return to prominence has been one of the nicer stories in D2 North. And while there are some talented upperclassmen taking the lead role, Brown's presence (13.6 points per game) has been just as integral -- odd that we're saying that about a freshman, right? Brown is already drawing considerable hype following some play with the BABC, and he's drawn comparisons to other BABC swingmen like Charlestown's Tyrese Hoxter of Tilton (N.H.) super soph Wayne Selden. An explosive rebounder with great hops, Brown could be the X-factor in D2 North.
Opposing coaches: “The first thing that sticks out is his ability to defend. The second thing I like about him is his ability -– again, like Jalen [Adams] -– to get all the way to the rim. He has a chance to play at a high level of Division 1 if you were to ask me right now...Bruce Brown might be like Tyrese Hoxter 2.0 -– for real. They’re the same player. He struggle with his jump shot, OK, but he really attacks the open floor, and he wants to win. The difference between him and Tyrese is his IQ, but he could be Tyrese right now in a year...He’s a super athlete, he dunks everything. He is a man among boys, but he also is super competitive. That is one competitive [expletive] kid. He hates to lose.”
Finkelstein: "He's just a youngster as a freshman, but you love his physical upside. Given a few years to continue to develop and polish his skill set, and this guy has all the requisite tools to develop into a very good prospect. He plays above the rim at a young age, has the type of frame that appears poised to evolve into a great body, and plenty of burst both with his first step as well as his leaping ability."
AARON CALIXTE, STOUGHTON
5-11, Jr. G
Why he matters: Already a household name in the minds of many, this could be Calixte's defining month in MIAA basketball. He's considered the state's top point guard by some, and hasn't done anything to disprove that, going off for 20 to 25 points on a nightly basis after garnering hype over the offseason with the New England Playaz AAU program. One of several players on this list with football prowess, his athleticism makes him a matchup problem on the offensive end. Combined with tenacious two-way guard Marcus Middleton, the Black Knights might have the best backcourt in the state. Calixte currently averages 18.6 points per game, and holds offers from Towson and Quinnipiac.
Opposing coaches: “As a passer I think he’s phenomenal, I think that’s his best skill. Really good players just score, great players make other people around them better, and that’s truly his gift. When he goes out there and sees essentially two people guard him at all times –- one face-guarding, and another stationary for help –- instead of forcing a score, he has the uncanny knack to find the open man...Aaron’s that kind of kid. He’s the kind of kid that, if I were a kid, I’d like to play with. He plays extremely hard...I’ve been watching him since sixth grade. Solid, solid, solid, strong and understands the game. More than anything else, I think he’s got great character.”
Finkelstein: "Calixte really started to show signs last summer of being able to take his game to that next level. Most guards create their offense going north to south in the open floor, but Calixte is the rare player who can break his man down from a standstill in the quarter court. He's got a quick first step and a super strong core in order to absorb contact all the way to the rim. He's another though who must shoot it better and learn the nuances of the point guard position."
NICK CAMBIO, CENTRAL CATHOLIC
6-5, Soph. F
Why he matters: He's not even the most prolific forward for the 20-1 Raiders -- that would full unto juniors Joel Berroa and Doug Gemmell. But coaches rave about Cambio's upside, with a game befitting a typical stretch-four forward at the college level. He can dust it up inside, but also has three-point range, as dangerous on the pick-and-roll as pick-and-pop. Lately, he's been saving his best performances for the most clutch moments -- see his winning play in the Raiders' 58-57 thriller over St. John's Prep, slipping behind the defense on a backdoor play and laying home a beautiful dish from Berroa.
Opposing coaches: “Nick is very talented. He has a great basketball body. Good length, and a good rebounder who can play inside and out. He plays the perimeter very well, and defensively he presses well. Great stroke, very good player...He’s a prototype face-up four guy, he can stretch out a lot of things. He’s very active and he’s got a high skill level too. You don’t see that in kid that young very often...Big, active, skilled, there’s not a whole lot not to like about his game. He’s kind of unique in the fact that he plays both inside and out, especially at this level for his age. You don’t see that a lot. The system he’s in has him playing mostly inside, but I know he can shoot and do a lot of different things. He’s definitely a unique type of player.”
Finkelstein: "He's a big forward with a smooth perimeter skill set, and that's a prototype you're finding more and more in the college game these days. Ten years ago every college program was playing with three perimeter players, but now both forwards play on the perimeter with four guys around a single post. That makes guys like Cambio all the more coveted at that level, especially if he's able to add a couple inches to his frame."
ISSHIAH COLEMAN, NEW MISSION
6-5, Jr. F
Why he matters: Nicknamed "Plastic Man" by his own head coach, Coleman is the spark plug in the paint for a green but talented Titans squad. The defending D2 champs have had their ups and downs this season, but one of the most consistent performers has been Coleman. A menacing shot-swatter with a 38-inch vertical leap, Coleman is known for his high energy and seemingly endless bounce in his step, swaying momentum with a block or dunk. This season, he is averaging 15 rebounds and eight blocks.
Opposing coaches: “Solid, solid player. 6-foot-5, has a 38-inch vertical, definite high-D2 player I think due to, you know, I don’t think he’s going to cap off at 6-7, 6-8 or anything. But come on, he is a monster down there. Just a monster...He is a human pogo stick. I saw a block where he jumped over a kid. His athleticism is just stupid. His vertical is absolutely ridiculous.”
Finkelstein: "Again, Coleman has the requisite physical tools you look for in a prospect for the next level. He's long and cut with easy bounce. His dexterity around the rim is also impressive as he's a guy who can dunk the basketball with both hands in the course of a play. He's got signs of skill that show through his bursts of athleticism, and he'll need to continue to develop that area of his game for the next level."
DARIEN FERNANDEZ, WAREHAM
5-7, Jr. G
Why he matters: From his halfcourt buzzer-beater that made SportsCenter's Top Plays, to his near-quadruple-double against Old Rochester last month, the junior waterbug point guard has been in fifth gear all season. With a stocky running back's frame built low to the ground (think Ray Rice or Maurice Jones-Drew), Fernandez is as physical as they come on both ends of the floor, charging through the lane fearlessly or harrassing players around the floor down at the other end. He's the biggest reason why the Vikings are the state's last remaining unbeaten, averaging 25 points a game to go along with nine assists and eight rebounds. He is also drawing low Division 1 interest in both football and basketball.
Opposing coaches: “Love that kid, love him. I would love to see him and Aaron [Calixte] play against each other. He has a lot of the same traits as player. I don’t know if he’s quite the passer Aaron is, but I know defensively he’s better than Aaron is. He really gets after it on the ball...Against Cardinal Spellman, he dominated. It’s four categories with him –- points, rebounds, assists, steals –- and he plays really hard...That’s a nightmare matchup for us. He gave us a whole bunch of problems. He’s quick, he’s tough, he’s got a will, he’s got intestinal fortitude. But Darien, do me a favor: You are a football player. Enjoy this basketball, but take that scholarship for football, will you?”
Finkelstein: "His ability to create offense for both himself and his teammates makes him one of the most dependable playmaking guards in all of the MIAA. He's a little undersized but he knows how to utilize his physical tools to his advantage -- he's like a bulldog guard who plays lower to the ground than the competition and is able to get under defenders with his great core strength."
TYRESE HOXTER, CHARLESTOWN
6-3, Jr. G/F
Why he matters: In just two seasons with the Charlestown varsity, Hoxter has scored 760 points. And that's with playing second fiddle last season to All-Stater Akosa Maduegbunam, who is finishing at Winchendon and is expected to sign with Penn State. The hype with Hoxter started last summer after some nice runs with the BABC, and he's more than lived up to the billing. He's averaging 20.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists for the 16-4 Townies, and has established himself as one of the state's top pure scorers. The Townies have had their ups and downs, but Hoxter has been the constant driving the engine.
Opposing coaches: “Come on, come on, get me on record with this one, please. Listen, let me tell you something, I saw him when he was a sixth-grader at Edwards Middle School. I told everybody in the city, [he’s a] bona fide Division 1 basketball player. Best player there is right now. There’s not a better public high school player in the state. Forget about it, he’s the best player running around. Mid to high-major player in my mind...He’s better than Akosa Maduegbunam was last year. Akosa’s got more of a jump shot, but this kid’s cerebral, he’s very intelligent, he’s got the whole nine. He doesn’t look athletic, but he’s athletic as hell and if he ever stood straight up he’d be 6-foot-5...Out of everybody, he’s the one player that could make a bad team good team instantly, besides Jake Layman. If you put him on a team like, say for instance, Arlington, they wouldn’t be a .500 team -– they’d win the Middlesex League. You play zone against him, and he’ll get you before it even sets up. Man, he’ll dribble up the left side of the court and go right the whole time.”
Finkelstein: "He's another guy who really started to prove himself against a high level of competition during the last AAU season and appears poised to make an even bigger name for himself this spring and summer. As an athletic southpaw, he creates all kinds of mismatches, and is equally dangerous on the defensive end where his length and quickness make him a tremendous asset in run-and-jump situations."
MALIK JAMES, BRIGHTON
6-1, Soph. G
Why he matters: Hugh Coleman's turnaround with the Bengals' program has been one of the nicest stories of the season, and James is one of several playmaking guards spearheading the movement. His creativity has coaches around the Boston City League raving, and his averages (15 points, 10 assists, five rebounds) back up the assertion. He's been hampered by an ankle injury since the Acton-Boxborough loss two weeks ago, so we'll see how he does going forward.
Opposing coaches: “Rajon Rondo of the BPS, that’s all he is. Rajon Rondo of the City League, that’s it. Flat out player. Low-D1 player...He’s pretty explosive, that kid. Good spring in his step, and he plays the game above the rim. He can go inside-out, too –- he is not afraid to mix it up inside.”
Finkelstein: "What I like about James is that while he has shown he can be the scorer and playmaker that his team needs to win games at the high school level, he shows some flashes of having the feel for the game and basketball intellect that it will take to play the point guard position at the next level, in terms of his court vision and being able to play the pick and roll."
JAMEILEN JONES, BC HIGH
6-3, Jr. G
Why he matters: The Eagles are one of the most dangerous teams headed into the D1 South tournament, and one of the biggest reasons is Jones' scoring ability and game IQ. An athletic off-guard who is aggressive without ever looking rattled, he is one of the Catholic Conference's most difficult players to mark. While the Eagles keep the scoring low, it's Jones making many of the team's clutch shots from the field. Defensively, he's a cornerstone of head coach Bill Loughnane's vaunted 1-3-1 scheme, and is a big reason why the Eagles are allowing under 48 points per game.
Opposing coaches: “Very athletic, very athletic. I know there’s rumblings about him transferring to prep school, but he’s a smart kid and I know he can get an Ivy League spot coming directly out of BC High. I think the Ivy League would be perfect for him...He’s very good. He’s another one of those spring-in-his-step guys. He’s off the ground twice before most kids even get off the ground once. He has good range from outside, he’s extremely athletic getting to the rim, and he’s way above rim when he plays...I think Jameilen Jones is the best one-on-one defender out of everybody left. Easily, too.”
Finkelstein: "Jones is another player who separates himself from the competition by virtue of his physical tools. He's a big wing by MIAA standards, with a devastating combination of power and explosiveness, that is supplemented by a good motor and unselfish floor game. Not unlike others on this list, he has a tendency to get stuck in first gear and will need to expand his half-court skill set before arriving at the next level."
COLIN RICHEY, WHITINSVILLE CHRISTIAN
6-2, Jr. G
Why he matters: In the Crusaders Division 3 state championship campaign last season, they were able to rely on a slew of long upperclassmen, led by 6-foot-9 All-State center Hans Miersma. This season, with all those kids graduated, it has been Richey's team to guide. Whitinsville is a much shorter team by its own standards, but there hasn't been much drop-off. He leads the Crusaders in scoring at 18.4 points per game, and has them penned as a favorite in D3 once again.
Opposing coaches: “He’s great, kind of a throwback-type player, with a little bit of city ball in him as well. He reminds me of Jimmy Chitwood from the movie ‘Hooisers’, he shoots the heck out of it. But he’s also got a little bit of ‘The Professor’ from the And-1 Mixtape Tour in him –- know what I mean? Great handle. He’s a great player, I enjoy watching him...Every team wishes they had a kid like him. He’s not scared. He wants to get 30 points, but at the same time he wants to make sure he’s the guy that makes the team win -– that’s not selfish, in my opinion...When they lose, he looks like he’s ready to go back into the gym and start taking jump shots immediately. He wants to be good so bad, that it makes rest of his team look good.”
Finkelstein: “The high school game is dominated by guards, most of whom make their impact with their ability to score the ball. Richey can do the same, but what separates him from others is the fact that he's a pure point guard, and that's going to make him especially valuable long-term. He comes with all the intangibles a coach looks for in their floor leader, and has also seen his body evolve quite a bit in the last year.”
KAMARI ROBINSON, SPRINGFIELD CENTRAL
6-5, Jr. F
Why he matters: Another player who first got noticed with the BABC, Robinson hasn't been the brightest star for the newly-anointed No. 1 Golden Eagles -- that would be senior Tyrell Springer -- but his importance goes without saying. With a game similar to that of Brockton senior center Sayvonn Houston, and a threat for a nightly double-double Robinson is a physical player underneath, bringing enough attention inside to facilitate spacing and open looks for the Eagles' talented stable of wing players.
Opposing coaches: “I had the opportunity to watch him when he played for Leo Papile [with BABC]. Very tough, very tough. I think his upside is tremendous, just huge...If he was playing out here [Boston area] he’d be compared to some of the top players in the state. For him, out of all the Central kids he’s probably the biggest game-changer. Playing with an elite scorer like Tyrell Springer helps too…You see a lot of man-to-man in Western Mass., and because of Springer he doesn’t get double-teamed as much so he can go off on people. He’s unassuming sort of, but he kills people...I feel like Springfield kids have that competitiveness to them, that fire, you know? But because of who he plays with, he’s the glue of that team.”
Finkelstein: “He's an explosive athlete -- quick off his feet, able to play high above the rim, rise up for pull-ups, and even muscle through contact with a chiseled frame. Combine that with his good size for the wing positions and he's got all the physical tools college coaches look for and require for the next level. He's still got to learn to slow down at times and continue to polish his skill set, but the base is there to be a strong prospect for the next level."
Others to watch
Drew Belcher, Soph. F, Reading
Joel Berroa, Jr. F, Central Catholic
Jaylen Blakely, Jr. G, Brockton
Sam Bohmiller, Jr. G, Franklin
Greg Bridges, Fr. G, New Mission
Jimmy Campbell, Fr. G, Hamilton-Wenham
Stephen Carangelo, Jr. G, Lynnfield
Derek Collins, Jr. G, North Andover
Marcos Echevarria, Fr. G, St. John’s Prep
Daivon Edwards, Jr. G, Brighton
Michael Hershman, Soph. G, Mansfield
Brendan Hill, Fr. F, Mansfield
Connor McLeod, Jr. G, Needham
Marcus Middleton, Jr. G, Stoughton
Tommy Mobley, Fr. G, Newton North
Dakim Murray, Jr. F, Madison Park
Isaiah Nelsen, Jr. F, North Andover
Max Nesbit, Jr. G, Manchester-Essex
Mick Snowden, Soph. G, Fitchburg
Tyree Weston, Fr. F, New Bedford
Taris Wilson, Soph. G, Charlestown