Spending this past weekend in Mechanicsville, VA, I had a chance to again check out the Team Loaded AAU organization, who brought their absolute A-game. Of course, one could expect this when considering the fact that Team Loaded happened to also be a co-host with ‘Big Shots’ for the annual ‘Big Shots Team Loaded’ tournament. Like I mentioned in my recent feature of this year’s Team Loaded 804 17u group, the program contains many teams, mainly from the state of Virginia. The majority of this weekend’s competition came from Loaded, while other teams from both in and out of the state arrived too. With games taking place at four different locations, varying by age divisions and winning/losing brackets, I chose Lee-Davis High School as my venue to scout. 16u and 17u teams filled the gym, with a couple of 15u ones showing up as well. In all, Loaded got the job done, earning plenty of championship wins in different divisions.
Gold Bracket 17u Champions: Team Loaded VA 17u
17u MVP: Henry Coleman ’20 – Team Loaded VA 17u: We can always expect the 6’8” Coleman, aka ‘Mr. Unstoppable,’ to deliver. No matter who steps in front of him, the junior can power his way through for relentless finishes and strong rebounds. He really turned things around in the championship’s second half to take control; starting it off with two completed AND-1s. His efficiency around the rim and motor, which never seems to hit the brakes, both continue to make him one of the Virginia’s most highly-sought after college recruits. Coleman finished with 14 points in the title game.
Gold Bracket 16u Champions: Team Loaded DC 15u
16u MVP: Trey Thomas ’22 – Team Loaded DC 15u: I unfortunately didn’t get to see what sounded like a great battle between Loaded DC and Team Loaded VA 16u (DC won 40-39) in Sunday’s title game, but the impressive young roster clearly has a rising star in Thomas. He’s a big, physical guard with a strong frame and stands at 6’3” already. Playing as one of the team’s main ball-handlers, he showed a natural feel for leading the fast break and score mainly as a slasher. Once the freshman got a paint touch, he always seemed to make a play in some crafty fashion. Going up against a notable defensive backcourt in the championship, Thomas led the way with 17 points (stats provided by ‘Big Shots’).
Gold Bracket 15u Champions: Team Loaded VA 15u
15u MVP: Tyler Nickel ’22 – Team Loaded VA 15u: I’ve seen him play about 5-6 games now in the last few weeks and can confidently say Nickel’s skill, confidence, and IQ all goes WAY beyond his youthful age. To put things in simple terms, he just…gets it. The 6’6” prospect can do damage both inside and out, but it’s his smart way of thinking the game that really separates him from most other freshmen I’ve seen. His approach resembles that of a veteran…not a young player who’ll be entering only his second high school season later this year. I’m starting to truly wonder just how high his ceiling can reach. Nickel scored a game-high 21 points in the final contest.
Seven More Standouts
Kaden Metheny ’20 – Big Shots Elite WV 17u: Ok, if there’s one thing I learned this weekend, it’s that you can’t give Metheny ANY type of space when he has the ball. Once he steps onto the floor, he’s in range. The West Virginia product put on an absolute show, offensively. He consistently left spectators in amazement by his electrifying shot-making. Metheny’s an elite scorer who uses his next-level quickness to make plays off of the bounce at will and can shoot it from distance with ease. Sometimes, his shot selection (more specifically the range) appeared a bit ill-advised, but he’s one who honestly just has the ability to make those tough shots more times than not. Metheny isn’t the biggest guy, at only about 5’10,” but I feel he’s going to be fine moving forward due to his combo guard capabilities. I know that I, and likely others, will first acknowledge his scoring prowess, but just know that his court vision jumps out strongly also. I’d buy a ticket to watch him play.
AJ Williams ’21 – Team Loaded VA 17u: Following a strong showing last weekend’s (4/27 – 4/28) live period in Dallas, the super sophomore continued to prove why his sharpshooting makes him one of the deadliest marksmen in all of Virginia. In a Saturday game, I saw that Williams had knocked down eight triples. He can splash them from all over the floor undoubtedly, with a pure form, but he’s starting to do better in scoring more around midrange/close areas also. One of his best traits, in my eyes, involves a reliability to step up when the moment arrives. I tweeted that Williams has a history of showing out in big-time games through his young career; the 2018 VHSL Class 5 state championship and 2019 Class 5 Region B regional championship come to mind immediately. The same pattern continued in the second half of Sunday’s championship. He has a natural scoring/shooting feel, but it’ll still be crucial to see if he can develop more into a point guard. At his 6’0” height, Williams will most likely have to take on that type of role at the Division I level he’s received offers and interest at.
Landon Hawes ’20 – Team Loaded 434 Hawes 17u: Hawes plays a highly important piece on his team by bringing both skill and toughness. At 6’4,” he can score it at a high rate either off of perimeter shooting or driving it to the rim on controlled finishes. Once he heats up, he can definitely take over on a personal scoring run, even with other talented scorers around him. I saw this in Team Loaded 434 17u’s nail-biting win over Team Push on Saturday afternoon. The contest stayed close for all 32 minutes, but Hawes paced things with a strong start in the first half to end with a game-high 25 points. He had a versatile offensive package on display, along with good rebounding and smart/unselfish decisions. It’s apparent how focus he becomes once a game officially begins… he doesn’t waste time slacking off or doing anything that could potentially harm his team’s chances of winning. That attitude becomes an asset to any program.
KJ McClurg ’20 – Big Shots Elite WV 17u: Similar to his backcourt mate, Metheny, the 6’3” McClurg showed he can fill it up on the scoring end also. He has a good-looking shot with some lift on it that made him another constant perimeter threat for Big Shots Elite WV whenever they had him on the court. The shooting guard’s separation game appeared as his most lethal weapon, whether it involved smooth crossovers, jabs, or snatch-backs. I especially liked how well he could get defenders to bite on his shot fake, which often led to him making jumpers off of one-dribble pull-ups. Another one of West Virginia’s top guards, McClurg has that ‘it-factor’ and knows how to start a game off strong to get his team’s offense flowing. His way of being a go-to scorer without having a selfish approach should continue to help his stock increase. When he and Metheny both catch fire, it becomes quite fun to watch.
Elijah Seward ’20 – Team Loaded DC 17u: With Team Loaded DC 17u only having five players available for the two-day event, Seward had no choice but to play every single minute. Although his team ultimately lost in the gold bracket’s semifinals to Big Shots Elite WV 17u, the 5’11” scoring guard’s play should have left his peers more than satisfied. A lefty, Seward shot the ball well from distance; continuing to show confidence in that area likewise to what he displayed this past high school season at John Marshall High School (Richmond, VA). His quick release goes along with a high vertical leap on his shot over defenders. He’s always been known as an explosive athlete and now appears to look even stronger. Seward’s jumping ability definitely stood out when he went up for a thunderous two-handed put-back in the semifinal matchup. The more he keeps building up his physical tools, the easier it’ll become for him to powerfully finish through defenders when attacking the rim. He’ll have to constantly prepare for a big role next season at John Marshall, being the team’s highest scorer returning.
Roosevelt Wheeler ’21 – Team Loaded VA 16u: A high school teammate of Seward, the 6’11” Wheeler gives one of the most impactful post presences in the 804, which involves much more than just scoring. He fights for position well inside and can finish with defenders all over him, but right now I see paint protection and rebounding as the two areas in which Wheeler is most valuable. His size and timing helped him either block and changed up shots frequently throughout the weekend, which tends to always make opponents more reluctant in their drives. He’s better in this aspect when already set in the team’s half-court defense; trying to deny shots while getting back in transition can improve. Rebounding-wise, the sophomore attacks the glass solidly on both ends and secures with both hands. His motor keeps getting better each time I see him play, which will make him that much more dangerous. Adding in more go-to moves inside and taking care of his knee (after suffering an injury that sidelined him for most of the 2018-19 high school season) should see the most focus.
Maliq Brown ’22 – Team Loaded VA 15u: A lengthy forward at 6’6,” Brown has always checked in as a spark plug whenever I see him play, dating back to his recent freshmen outing at Blue Ridge School (St. George, VA) and now with Team Loaded VA 15u. He’s a great finisher around the rim and provided some of the most hustle plays I saw throughout the weekend. This primarily emerged from seeking offensive rebounds; giving his squad many second-chance points or opportunities off of missed shots. Brown’s physical tools, long arms and height, combines with an advanced nose for the ball that leads to success in dominating the boards. He’s oozing with potential at his age, with a basketball frame that has plenty of room for more inches of height and added strength. Even if he continues to grow, Brown has a chance to go much farther in his career if he can show more perimeter skills. Adding in the basics of comfortable ball-handling and shooting should be the first steps. He still has plenty of time though…it’s easy to forget that he’s still only a freshman.
Another successful weekend spent in the gym! Excited to see what will pop up next on my schedule.