Hoops In CT: Gems In The Nutmeg State

By David Cordova

The Northeast has a whole lot of big cities filled with big-time basketball action, such as New York City, Philadelphia, Newark and Boston. However, there’s one state in between those places that has plenty of gems as well, but can easily get overlooked.

It’s the state of Connecticut, a place that is mainly known in terms of basketball for the University of Connecticut and both their men’s & women’s programs, which are powerhouses on the national level. And there are also some big-time prep school programs in the Nutmeg State, such as Putnam Science Academy, St Thomas More School and South Kent School, to name a few.

Avery Brown and Deven Austin shake hands and the Elite 20 Showcase game at Wilby High School on August 6th. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

However, there are some great talents in the state from cities such as Bloomfield, New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport, Stamford and Westbury that often get very little mention. There are plenty of AAU programs in the state, but there are two that rise above many, such as the New Haven Heat, an independent program & NE6 Hoops, which plays in the Under Armour Association. As is the case, many of the state’s best go on to play with powerhouse programs in New York (i.e. New York Rens, PSA Cardinals, New Heights Lightning, Riverside Church) or in Boston (i.e. Expressions Elite, Mass Rivals, BABC). 

Earlier this month, Dave’s Joint was fortunate to see two major events in the state of Connecticut that showcased talent in and outside of the Nutmeg State.

Be A Baller, Not A Bully Top 20 Showcase

On August 6th, the Be A Baller, Not A Bully Top 20 Showcase took place at Wilby High School in Waterbury, Connecticut, and took place after a basketball camp organized by overseas pro Ta’Quan Zimmerman, who is a native of Waterbury. In that gym, there were plenty of green banners in the gym, which showed that there was a lot of history. In the gym was the retired No. 4 jersey of former Providence College great and longtime NBA pro Ryan Gomes, who is a 2001 graduate of Wilby.

The game started at 3:30 PM, as there were plenty of big-time talent in the gym, such as Duke commit Kyle Filipowski and his twin brother, Matthew Filipowski (Wilbraham & Monson Academy), Davidson commit Reed Bailey (Brewster Academy), Notre Dame commit Dominick “Dom” Campbell (Phillips Exeter Academy), Avery Brown (Putnam Science Academy), Deven Austin (Wilbraham & Monson Academy), Will Lobor (Tabor Academy), Darryl Simmons (Putnam Science Academy) and Isaiah Hill (We Believe Academy).

Rainer Torres of The Patrick School in New Jersey attempts to throw down an insane dunk at the rim. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

In this game, many of the players involved showcased their moves and wowed the crowd of young spectators with dunks and jumpers. This event definitely showcased plenty of Division I talent. On this date, it would be Hill, a native of Scotch Plains, New Jersey, that went home with the hardware. 

But the local guys such as Brown (Beacon Falls) and Austin (Vernon) are two of the state’s gems that are shining bright as of late and show no signs of slowing down in terms of getting attention. At the present time, Brown holds offers from high-major schools such as Arizona State, Kansas State, Virginia Tech, Nebraska, Indiana, Missouri and St. John’s, while Austin currently is being recruited by Brown, but should have even more offers once his high school season starts.

Avery Brown launches a shot from long range. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

Filipowski, a New York native, has been blowing up nationally this past spring and summer, and is currently rated as the No. 10 prospect in the Class of 2022 by ESPN. His post play and versatility speak volumes and he will be a great addition for Duke in the near future.

Splash Day

The following day, on August 7th, the inaugural Splash Day took place at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut. As many know, the XL Center is the part-time home of both the UConn Huskies men’s and women’s basketball programs, respectively. Just like the Be A Baller, Not a Bully All-Star Game, the event showcased some of Connecticut’s best, but also players from other states. However, the difference is that there were three games in the event, such as the post-grad game (graduating seniors who will be going to prep school in the fall), the Up-Next game (a game with underclassmen) and the Elite Game (the game with the high-level talent).

Organized by filmmaker Rain Hayles, the founder of Splash Productions, a mixtape company that has brought plenty of attention to the state of Connecticut, it was a no-brainer for the game to be played at a hallowed sacred ground in the state capital, one in which many players would aspire to play in, whether it’s for or against UConn.

Tyson Wheeler, Jr. kicks it out to teammate at Splash Day on August 7th. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

In the post-grad game, players such as Quron Zene, Jr. (IMG Academy), Jaiden Gilzene (Covenant College Prep), CJ Wilson (Woodstock Academy), Demir Kandic (Covenant College Prep), Lutke Latina (St. Thomas More School) and Mikey Blackman (Innovation School), all showed out and let the general public know that they are still gems that definitely deserve to be noticed by college coaches. 

The Up Next game showed many of the up and coming players in the Nutmeg State, many of whom play for NE6 Hoops, a program in the Under Armour Association. The players who showed out the most in that game were Tayeshawn Pemberton (St. George’s School), Tyson Wheeler, Jr. (St. Bernard’s School), Pedro Perry (New London High School), Alex Barber (Paolo Friere Charter School), Allyn Wright (East Catholic High School), Rhandyn Bair (Kingswood-Oxford School), Jaysean Williams (Bloomfield High School) and Kingston Walker (Loomis Chaffee School). 

Jaysean Williams shoots a free throw at the line. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

Many of the players mentioned above have the potential to make major moves within the next couple of years, including Barber, who at the forward position, is a very dominant player and loves to play above the rim. Williams is a blur of a point guard at 5-foot-5 and is very poised and mature for a player entering high school. In the case of Pemberton, you have a two-sport star that is a pure athlete, as he is always ready to use his quickness and athleticism at all times.

In the finale, the Elite Game, there was no shortage of talent on hand, as they had the Putnam Science duo of Brown and Simmons, but also the Brewster Academy trio of Reid Ducharme, Jeremiah “J.J.” Jenkins and Taylor Bol Bowen. There were also some other special talents from other areas in the Northeast were Youssouf Singare (Upper Room Christian School), Elijah Wilborn (Winchendon School), Tahaad Pettiford (Hudson Catholic High School), Peter Carey (Northfield Mount Hermon School), Gavin Griffiths (Kingswood-Oxford School), Troy McKoy, Jr. (Massanutten Military Academy) and Badara Diakite (Northwest Catholic High School). 

Badara Diakite throws down a nasty dunk over a defender at the rim. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

The finale was nothing short of spectacular as the best in the Northeast tore it down on a court in which some of them may be playing on in the next two or three years. 

One of the constant attractions of this game was Diakite, who is a manchild that is entering his freshman year of high school, and is going to be a dominant force moving forward. His ability to block shots and make highlight-reel dunks was phenomenal, as he held his own against players that were two or three years older than him.

In the guard department, Jenkins and Pettiford (a native of Jersey City, New Jersey), both sophomores, are two names that should blow up in terms of recruiting very soon, as both are guards that can score in bunches. Ducharme (a native of Boston) and Griffiths are two other players that can make an impact on a game through their scoring ability.

Jeremiah Jenkins brings the ball up the court. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

Bol Bowen, a native of Vermont, is a thoroughbred of a player that can do major things on both ends of the court, including blocking shots with his wingspan. So much so, that towards the end of the gane, he went up for a dunk and finished the game with his arm over the rim, similar to what Vince Carter did in the 2000 NBA All-Star Weekend dunk contest in Oakland, California.

And lastly, McKoy, who ended up winning the MVP of the final game, is a player with a nice skill set on the court that has toughness in his DNA and is always up for battle when on the court.

Aftermath

In both of these events, players from Connecticut made plenty of waves, and showed that the talent is there. Hopefully, next year, both of these events can come back and showcase their talents. Both of these events had nationally-ranked talent and had some gems as well, which definitely bodes well for the next summer. So, college coaches, if you’re recruiting and you’re looking for talent, make a pit-stop on the I-95 highway, and check out not just the players in the NEPSAC schools, but also players from cities such as Bloomfield, Waterbury, New Britain, Bridgeport, New Haven, Stamford, Fairfield and even Willimantic. The hoopers are there.

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