New York Ballers Make A Splash on Grassroots Scene

The summer of 2021 has been one for the ages for many players, after not having been able to compete in the summer of 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down the players’ ability to compete for scholarships in front of college coaches.

Fast-forward to the present day, there are two players that made their presence felt on both the asphalt scene and on their respective AAU circuits. The two players in question are Maurice Odum and Zakai Ziegler, two point guards that have had the tri-state area buzzing.

Both have some big similarities, as they’re both from the New York area (Odum is from East Harlem and Ziegler is from Brentwood, Long Island), they both went to high school in the state of New Jersey (Odum went to Union City for his first three years of high school and Ziegler recently graduated from Immaculate Conception in Montclair this past June) and both had big summers on the AAU circuit.

Odum goes up for a layup at Hoops Showdown on July 31st. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

Odum, a 6-foot-1 point guard, was a tough player that was the top scorer at Union City and was a 1,000-point scorer (1,127 points) in his three seasons there. Last season, during a shortened schedule, he put on a great performance, averaging 23.6 points in five games for the Soaring Eagles, and finished the season as a first-team All-HCIAL selection.

Ziegler, a 5-10 point guard, is a great facilitator, but also manages to get baskets himself. In 15 games last season, he averaged 20.2 points per game for the Lions, and was the Super Essex Conference Player of the Year and was an All-State Second Team selection. In his three seasons at Immaculate Conception, he finished with 1,012 points.

Ziegler at the Hoops Showdown on July 31st. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

This summer was a revelation for both players, as they set out to accomplish something that they missed out on last year, playing in front of coaches. Both of them left nothing to chance. 

Odum was a force on the Riverside Church 17U squad that steamrolled throughout the Under Armour Association circuit and made it all the way to the UAA Finals championship game at the Pacers Athletic Center in Westfield, Illinois, before falling to the Illinois Wolves. But his torrid play drew attention from coaches and he currently holds offers from Fordham, LIU and St. Peter’s, with more to come soon.

Ziegler played for the New Heights Lightning (a program formed with a combination of players from both New Heights and the New York Lightning) on the Nike EYBL circuit in North Augusta, South Carolina, as he led the Lightning to the quarterfinals and had a big game with 23 points and 10 assists against the eventual champion, Team Final. As a result of leading the Lightning to a 4-1 record and some big games against Expressions Elite, Team CP3, Team Final and Brad Beal Elite, he was awarded, “Best Performance,” by The Circuit and was selected to the All-Breakout Team.

Odum brings the ball up for The Nation at Hoops Showdown on July 31st. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

Since his play on the EYBL circuit, he has obtained offers from Manhattan, Wichita State, NJIT, New Mexico State, Minnesota, Southern Illinois, Fordham, Boston College, UNC-Charlotte and Tennessee.

On the asphalt scene, both have made waves, playing in tournaments such as Dyckman, the Entertainers 155 Tournament, the Watson Classic and the Hoops Showdown, a one-day event which took place on July 31st, in which Ziegler led Road to Riches/B5 Elite to the championship over The Nation, a team that Odum plays for in various tournaments around the city.

This fall, both will be on the prep school scene, as Odum will be spending his senior season at West Oaks Academy in Orlando, Florida, where he will be playing a national schedule for one of the best prep school programs in the South. Ziegler will be doing a postgraduate year at Our Saviour Lutheran High School in The Bronx, where he will be a part of a loaded squad that includes his teammates from the Lightning in Max Preps Player of the Year Jaquan Sanders, Silas Sunday, Christian Jones and Ibine Ayo Sadiku, and will be playing a big-time schedule, which includes games in The Grind Session.

Ziegler attempts to break through the defense at Hoops Showdown. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

One thing is for certain, before this summer, most only knew of them in the tri-state area, but now, due to their play on the grassroots circuit, both will be seeing and hearing from college coaches at their games. They are two New Yorkers headed for bright futures in the game of basketball. Where they will commit to and where they will fit, remains to be seen. But whichever coaching staff gets them to come to their respective schools, will each be getting a hard-nosed player with a lot of smarts on the court.

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