While the majority of talent from the Class of 2009 was concentrated in the Northeast at the Spaulding Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., those in attendance at the Flyin' to the Hoop Invitational in Dayton, Ohio, got a chance to get a sneak peak at some of the elite underclassmen in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 classes.
This tournament has grown into one of the best in the country; it is highly organized, has an outstanding facility that a lot of low Division I teams would be proud of, it has great crowd atmosphere and the event's planners roll out the red carpet with some Midwestern hospitality.
The top-rated player from the 2010 class -- Jared Sullinger (Columbus, Ohio/Northland) -- and one who could be the best in the 2012 class -- Justin Anderson (Richmond, Va./Montrose Christian School) -- were both on hand. The crowds got a chance to see some outstanding matchups in the format; the tournament committee pitted some of the elite programs on the national scene against some of the top programs from the state of Ohio.
One of the most anticipated contests was between Sullinger and fellow class of 2010 big man Jeremy Tyler (San Diego). Both players had their individual moments and the full house got it's money's worth during Northland's 56-39 victory -- Sullinger dominated the final 16 minutes of play.
Jared Sullinger (6-foot-8, 250, PF)
2010, Columbus, Ohio/Northland, committed to Ohio State
Sullinger didn't disappoint in his head to head matchup with Tyler. After getting in early foul trouble and having to sit most of the first half, Sullinger made up for lost time in the second half, going to work in the low post and from the top of the key and leading his team to a decisive victory. He has the game of a 30-year-old; Sullinger knows how to use his body and he punishes his defender with a content barrage of bumps and bangs. He has great hands, catches everything thrown his way and can finish with either hand. He showed his handle late in the game when he ran the point in a spread situation. Sullinger is a star who is not afraid to do the dirty work needed to put his team in position to win. In rebounding situations, it is tough to keep him off the glass with just one guy. When double-teamed, Sullinger makes you pay by delivering the right pass to the open man.
Jeremy Tyler (6-10, 220, C)
2010, San Diego, committed to Louisville
Tyler is a beast; after basically walking off an airplane, he walked into the gym and consistently finished around the basket with two-handed power dunks in traffic. He is an athletic post who has a good motor, runs the floor, gets after it on the backboards and challenges everything in the paint. He made some tough shots in the lane and has a soft touch around the basket. In his matchup with Sullinger, Tyler showed he can bang and handle the physical play down low -- though he did get into some foul trouble in the second half trying to guard Sullinger on the block. He is a gifted basketball player on both ends of the floor and has tremendous upside. With continued strength development, Tyler will become a handful at this level and the next. His stroke from the free throw line is decent, but he needs to be more consistent.
Avery Bradley (6-3, 180, SG)
2009, Tacoma, Wash./Findlay College Prep (Nev.), signed with Texas
Bradley has steadily risen up in the ranks of the top 100 players, mainly because of his defensive prowess. In a day and age in which offense is the focus for many elite players, it is refreshing to see a player take pride in dominating the defensive side of the ball. Bradley uses his superior length, quickness and intelligence to harass the opponent into submission. In most games, if a perimeter player gets hot, they assign the cooler to him and put the player in shut-down mode, and Bradley is more than capable of filling the role of lock-down defender. Defense is only a part of his skill set, he is a threat to go highlight reel any time he has the ball on the break; Bradley made some great plays in transition, finishing with acrobatic moves to the basket that brought the crowd to its feet. He needs to work on his 3-point shooting consistency; opponents will concede the jumper and give him space to defend the drive. He is a great fit for the style of play at Texas and should blossom as a player in his time there.
Justin Anderson (6-5, 185, SF)
2012, Richmond, Va./Montrose Christian School (Md.)
Anderson is a specimen who is physically gifted well past his ninth-grade peers. It is easy to forget that you are watching a high school freshman because of his size, skill level and athleticism. This left-handed freshman with long arms and a tremendous wing span plays bigger than his 6-5 frame. During the tournament, Anderson showed the ability to stick the 3 (he even banked in a buzzer beater versus Centerville), finish in transition and go get his shot and make a midrange pull-up jumper in the half court. He is still learning how to play; Anderson forced a few situations and took a couple of ill-advised shots, but he is learning how to pick his spots better. He competes with a high level of intensity, but needs to learn to control his emotions -- he let the student section get to him a little bit. I love his upside; Anderson has the potential to be a great defender and an outstanding rebounder. His outside shooting is inconsistent, but that will improve in time.
Mouphtaou Yarou (6-9, 240, PF)
2009, Rockville, Md./Montrose Christian School, signed with Villanova
Yarou is an effort guy who is built like a man and imposes his will on his opponent. He's an explosive athlete who is surprisingly skilled and displays a soft touch around the basket when he powers up in a crowd. His hands are strong. On the glass, he seems to be the one who usually comes out of the pile with the ball, keeping the ball high and delivering a good outlet pass to start the break. Yarou's not a great runner, he labors up and down the floor, but his effort compensates and he gets where he needs to be when he needs to be there. He will need to learn how to hedge screens -- Yarou is a target guarding high ball screens. With his big, strong body, Yarou marks his territory and occupies the lane, challenging everything that comes at him. He is a good shot-blocker who has learned when to tall up and when to leave his feet for the block. He has developed into more of an offensive threat from 15 feet and still has some good upside for the college level.
Isaiah Armwood (6-8, 195, P/SF)
2009, Rockville, Md./Montrose Christian School, signed with Villanova
Armwood is physically thin -- old schoolers should think of Stacey Augmon -- but very active around the basket and in transition. He has great length along with quick hops that make him an effective finisher on the break and a good shot-blocker on the defensive end. He is an athlete with good lateral speed that alllows him defend multiple positions. Armwood gets after it on the offensive glass and had a couple of spectacular plays at the rim on putbacks. In both the half court and in transition, Armwood can put the ball on the floor and get it to the basket or dish it to a teammate. He is a difficult matchup for slower, less athletic power forwards when they play him at that spot; he can use his dribble and make a 15-foot jumper. He is improving from behind the arc, but is not enough of a threat to keep teams from backing off of him when he catches it and squares up. Strength training will be a big component of his success in his time at Villanova.
Terrance Ross (6-6, 180, SG)
2010, Portland, Ore./Montrose Christian School
Shooter alert! Ross was very impressive, he consistently drained 3s from everywhere on the court during the event. He is a very good athlete who also was able to make some high-level plays off the dribble. For such a thin frame, he is a surprisingly good finisher at the rim and is not afraid to take a bump on the way to the goal. In transition, Ross is a headache to deal with; he does a good job sprinting the floor to an open wing where he can kill you with the 3 or he can fill a lane and throw one down with authority. His handle is improving and he is able to shot fake and dribble by the defender to make a play for himself or a teammate. With his length and lateral quickness, Ross has the potential to be a very good defender -- as Ross' body fills out and he develops his strength, this area will improve.
J.D. Weatherspoon (6-6, 200, SF)
2010, Columbus, Ohio/Northland, committed to Xavier
Weatherspoon is a high-flyin' act who can electrify the crowd in an instant. He is an outstanding athlete who fills a box score with his multi-dimensional game; the left-hander blocks shots, rebounds on both ends of the floor, finds open teammates, uses his length and quickness for steals and is a productive scorer from 18 feet and in. I love his attitude and intensity -- he teams up with Sullinger to give Northland the best one-two punch in the state; some teams might have a player who can match up with one of them (most choose to double-team Sullinger), but stopping both is almost impossible, forcing most opponents to play zone. He is best in transition where he uses his athleticism to make plays at the rim; if you don't block him out, he is coming over the top looking to jam a putback. He is getting more comfortable on the wing and should develop into an excellent 3-man for Sean Miller and the Musketeers.
Matt Kavanaugh (6-9, 250, C)
2009, Centerville, Ohio, signed with Dayton
Kavanaugh is a workhorse! He keeps coming at his opponent in the low post and uses his body like a battering ram to get good position on the block. Once he catches it where he wants it down low, it's over. Kavanaugh is a high percentage shooter with a nice touch around the basket. In his head to head matchup with Yarou, from Montrose Christian, the big fella went for 30 points on 13-of-20 field goal attempts. He is a skilled post player who has good hands and feet and moves well for his size. He has a good stroke from the free throw line and is a threat to knock down a 15 footer from the elbow. He is a good passer who showed he can pass out of double-teams or start the break with a strong outlet pass. The Flyers did a great job in keeping this local product home; Kavanaugh will give Dayton a consistent inside scorer and a space eater on defense for years to come.
Godwin Okonji (6-8, 225, PF)
2010, Lagos, Nigeria/Findlay College Prep (Nev.)
Okonji is a much-improved, athletic power forward who is starting to develop into a force for the extremely talented Findlay Prep program. The African import is an active, aggressive rebounder and shot-blocker who doesn't mind doing the dirty work in the trenches to get his team the ball. Most of his offense is from point-blank range, but he has a decent touch in the paint and was able to convert some tough angled shots with defenders around him. He is a good interior passer who is able to hit a cutting teammate to the basket. His body is strong and put together; Okonji is able to bang with bigger and heavier players and win his share of the battles. As he continues to develop his skills away from the basket, Okonji will be a tough matchup.
• The crowds were great throughout the tournament with a number of the key matchups drawing sell-outs at the venue, which held more than 4,000 fans.
• One of the biggest matchups would not have materialized if not for the hustle of tournament director Eric Horstman, who found and purchased airline tickets at midnight for the San Diego coaches and players after they had some administrative problems and an unexpected coaching change the day before the tournament.
• PG Cory Joseph (Toronto/Findlay College Prep) showed why he is going to be a highly sought-after prospect. The Canadian transplant has good size along with a solid basketball IQ.
• Findlay's D.J. Richardson (Chicago) (6-3, 180, SG), who signed with Illinois, was outstanding in transition and on the defensive end. He, along with Joseph and Bradley, gives Findlay Prep coach Michael Peck the best 3-guard combination in the country.
• Victor Rudd (6-8, 200, P/SF) (Van Nuys, Calif./Findlay Prep) has really improved in his time at the private school. He is more confident putting the ball on the floor and his focus on the defensive end has elevated his standing.
• Carl Jones (5-10, 155, PG), who will be attending St Joe's, and sophomore Trey Lewis (5-9, 150, PG) give Garfield Heights (Ohio) two outstanding, ultra-quick point guards. The duo makes it very tough to press against Garfield Heights.
Mike LaPlante has spent nearly 20 years coaching college basketball. Most recently, he was the head coach at Jacksonville State University.