Saturday, January 25, 2014

Hoophall Classic boasts impressive talent list

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. As expected, the 2014 Hoophall Classic at Springfield College was both an impressive and important event. Before moving on, we need to take a look back at what we learned during our weekend in Springfield.

Race for No. 1 is wide open

Emmanuel Mudiay is in the running to be the No. 1 player in the class of 2014.
For a while now, 6-foot-11 center Jahlil Okafor of Chicago Whitney Young has had a stranglehold on the top spot in the class of 2014. We aren't yet saying that he has lost that top spot, but his competition is more fierce than ever and it is a pretty wide open race between Okafor and the field.

Although he didn't have his best performance at the Hoophall, current No. 2 Emmanuel Mudiay has been outstanding during his senior year and has characteristics that translate well to the highest levels. At 6-foot-4, the product of Dallas Prime Prep has great size for a point guard, he is a high-end athlete and he has a very developed feel for how to manage a game. Because he does things with such ease, there are times that Mudiay appears to be in cruise control and he could afford to be a little more intense. But, the SMU signee is trending upward.

Probably making the biggest impression was Cliff Alexander. Currently ranked No. 4, the Kansas-bound power forward has been putting up video game numbers all season and doing so in intimidating fashion. He's the guy you would most want on your side in a fight and his teammates have rallied around him and all raised their play as Chicago Curie enjoys a great season.

Bottom line, those three and others are all on relatively equal footing as the class of 2014 heads down the homestretch. The workouts at the postseason All-American games could end up going a long way towards deciding who ultimately emerges as the No. 1 player in 2014.

Trending upward

Because there are no weak sister matchups at the Hoophall, pretty much each and every game featured high level competition. After watching the weekend's action, here are some players that are on an upward trend and could be making moves up the rankings of their respective classes:

De'Jounte Murray should see a bump in his national rank.
De'Jounte Murray: The 6-foot-4 shooting guard from Seattle Rainier Beach has loads of potential. Even without a huge game, it was pretty easy to see that he is ranked too low at No. 92 overall in the class of 2015. He can create, should be a good shooter, crashes the glass and puts pressure on teams with his ability to play fast.

Josh Sharma: A seven-footer at Northfield (Mass.) Mt. Hermon, Sharma is another who is ranked too low in the class of 2015. Currently checking in at No. 87, Sharma has size, abundant athleticism and soft touch that extends to the three-point line. He isn't overly physical, yet and can float in and out of games, but his ceiling is high and he seems to be figuring things out.

Isaac Copeland and Jonah Bolden: The 6-foot-9 Copeland and 6-foot-8 Bolden are now teammates at Wolfeboro (N.H.) Brewster Prep even though Bolden began his senior season at Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep. Regardless, both are slender combo forwards that package athleticism, length and skill that translates to the next level. Headed to Georgetown, Copeland is a pure scorer who can play around the rim or facing up. Ticketed for UCLA, Bolden is more of a rebounder, versatile defender and corner jump shooter. Both can finish in transition, have body types that will be able to add muscle while retaining flexibility once they hit college weight rooms.

Kelly Oubre: The 6-foot-7 southpaw has been on an absolute tear since the end of the summer and will be making a move into the national top 10 in the final rankings if he continues at this pace. The only question is how high can the Kansas signee rise? A push for the national top 5, or at least close to it, doesn't look out of the question at this point.

Paul White: Georgetown fans and coaches have to be feeling good about pairing up White with the previously mentioned Copeland. A 6-foot-8 combo forward from Chicago Whitney Young, White has been a bit of a tease in the past. He would intrigue with his inside/out ability, size and capability of running things out of the high post. Then, he would disappear and make a minimal impact. Those disappearing acts seem to be a thing of the past and White has raised his competitive fire and become a much more consistent performer. He will need to get stronger, but he has bounced back quite impressively from a broken arm that ended the summer between his junior and senior season a bit prematurely.

Hoophall is king

There are a number of outstanding events around the country that are able to attract insane amounts of talent. The City of Palms in Ft. Myers, Fla. is always outstanding. The Tarkanian Classic has emerged as a big time winter event and the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions and Marshall County Hoopfest are probably the best supported events in the country. The list goes on and on.

However, when it comes to one-stop shopping for the most big-time talent and a great atmosphere, the organizers of the Hoophall Classic have created an absolute monster. In effect, they have created the one event that no talent evaluator or national service can afford to miss. Great players, great matchups and it all takes place at the alma mater of James Naismith, what's not to like?

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