Another school season is in the books and travel basketball has now officially began for this month of March and onward. After witnessing plenty of intense matchups and memorable moments during the winter, I can’t wait to see what this spring has in store. Quite a few established travel/AAU programs make up regions of Virginia, so I definitely felt another ‘open gym tour’ would give me a good idea of what these teams soon have to offer. I especially enjoyed the preseason ‘tour’ our entire Phenom Hoops team embarked on. My first stop found myself up North in Manassas, VA; walking into the gym with a program I’ve had great familiarity with dating back to my high school years.
Higher Level 16u AAU
Head Coach: Paul Pleas
Assistant Coaches: Dale Stephens and Ricky Feurtado
About Last Summer…
When reflecting on last year’s season, head coach Paul Pleas describes it all best in one word: unconventional. Early on, the coaching staff held a focus of helping players adapt to different positions on the floor, as several of their guys arrived after having spent the high school season playing as undersized bigs/forwards. I respect the Higher Level coaches acknowledging that 6’4” guys cannot simply rely on post skills if trying to reach the next level; a common height featured on the 2018 roster. In the first few tournaments, wins honestly didn’t come as easy for the program. However, as the guys gained more comfort in their perimeter skills, the team made a big turnaround in July, finishing with a strong record for the second half of the travel season and standing confident. Now, with this year’s group, I can see that same type of development again in making sure guys become versatile, which will take them a long way. Over six guys stand 6’4” or taller, while only one of them may play as a true post.
“A Quiet Gym is a Losing Gym”
I don’t recall exactly where… but I do indeed remember hearing that phrase in the past about a “quiet gym.” Perhaps the Higher Level 16u coaches have heard it before as well, indicated by their value of players constantly bringing energy in the time they spend together on the court. Camaraderie and effort shouldn’t become an issue at all with Coach Pleas’ group; they get after it and push each other, while also giving positive feedback, to achieve their greatest potential. That type of atmosphere I saw in their practice reminded me of how my college team used to act. It’s a trait that most may overlook but nevertheless proves key to winning. Communication, holding each other accountable, and attention to detail all appear on the coaches’ list of attributes to instill within their young group. They had a great practice of competition and a main emphasis on defense. With their collective activity and physical tools, I imagine them causing many turnovers soon once games start rolling.
Where are They Headed?
Higher Level 16u’s going to make their way around the East Coast for the next few months, starting off this weekend (3/30-3/31) in Baltimore, MD for the ‘Zero Gravity Inner Harbor Hoop Fest.’ The month of April will see them participate in the ‘Zero Gravity Southern Showdown (4/5 – 4/7 in Richmond, VA), ‘DMV Elite Warmup’ (4/20 – 4/21 in Bowie, MD), and ‘Pittsburgh Jam Fest’ (4/26 – 4/28 in Pittsburgh, PA) events. They’ll begin May by making the stop near Washington D.C. for the ‘DMV SuperCup’ tournament (5/4 – 5/5) and can again be found in Richmond, VA on the weekend of May 10th – 12th for the ‘Zero Gravity Mothers’ Day Classic.’ A week later, the group will participate in the renowned ‘Hoop Group Southern Jam Fest’ down South in Hampton, VA on May 17th – 19th (I definitely hope to make that one). In early July (7/10 – 7/14), Pleas’ young squad will have to pack their bags and head up further North for two consecutive sessions of the ‘Summer Icebreaker’ tournament in Manalapan, NJ. One can find the schedule on the team’s Twitter page, recently posted on March 25th.
Meet the Team:
Roman Barshow ’21 – Paul VI Catholic HS: A 6’6” wing with a soft shooting touch, Barshow should become a solid perimeter threat on the squad with his ability to stretch out the offense. He has good form and a quick release on his shot to go along with a good build. It’s evident that he already thinks the game well, most likely stemming from his place within the WCAC powerhouse program, Paul VI (Fairfax VA).
Shane Feden ’21 – Woodbridge HS: A top shooting threat in Prince William County, Feden should have a major impact as a guy who can move off of the ball to make shots from different areas. Folks around the area noted his shooting prowess last night during his appearance in the annual ‘NOVA Hoops Fest’ three-point competition. In addition, I think he’ll do well on the defensive side and also show an ability to make plays for others at times. At 6’4,” he has a lengthy frame and should use his wingspan to an advantage. As a sophomore, Feden played a big role for the very youthful Woodbridge varsity team this season, averaging over 17 minutes of floor time.
Lorin Hall ’21 – Potomac Senior HS: One of four players on the roster who played a role in Potomac Senior HS’ (Dumfries, VA) JV team and their undefeated 2018-19 season, Hall brings a good competitive edge to him and knows what it takes to win. As a 5’11” scoring guard, he can put the ball on the floor and pick up paint touches, while also drawing fouls with quickness. His teammates should fuel off of his demeanor.
Adric Howe ’21 – Colgan HS: Howe looks good as a strong and fearless guard who constantly makes his way toward the basket at will. If opponents try to stop him, the 6’1” guard uses his body control nicely to finish right through them for strong finishes. Defensively is where he should really shine; creating most of his offense from his embracing of that end on the floor. That two-way presence should prove conducive to Higher Level’s desired approach.
Hayden James ’21 – Heritage Christian School: Having recently wrapped up a stellar sophomore outing at his high school, I’m sure James will give the team a boost as an speedy guard who can both get his own bucket and set up others. He has great pace with the ball in his hands and a feel for where his teammates like to locate on the court. Similar to Howe, he also stands out on the defensive end, mainly shown by his lateral quickness. I also expect some of the strongest leadership out of the 5’8” guard; something I noted when he attended our Phenom Hoops’ elite camps.
Peter Oduro ’21 – Battlefield HS: A younger sibling of George Mason University signee and Paul VI senior standout, Josh Oduro ‘19, Peter has a game similar to his brother’s and has only started to scratch the surface of how good he can become. He’s more of a true post player who works hard inside and strongly grabs rebounds. I’m sure he’s still growing too, already standing at 6’6.” Above all else, I like the forward’s personality and confidence. I mean, hey, he did tell me to “watch out for him,” prior to leaving the school gym.
Edward Simms ’21 – Potomac Senior HS: Another guard from that remarkable Potomac JV team, Simms has a good IQ and calm pace about his game; typically taking time to make the best decision(s). He’s another one who can shoot the ball well, which he can get off on his own with the ball in his hands. Another intelligent piece added to the puzzle that also brings that mentality to win everything.
Tazir Smith ’21 – Colgan HS: One of the main lead guards, Smith has some good versatility in his game as a primary ball-handler who can do more than just initiate an offense. When off the ball, the 6’1” prospect moves well around the floor and can create his own scoring looks if needed. I also noticed how well he rebounds at his position, which can help Higher Level get into their offense quickly. Whatever type of pace the team wants to operate at, they can count on Smith and his ability to play both slow and fast. He started at point guard for the Colgan Sharks this winter.
Tyler Stringer ’21 – Patriot HS: The sole lefty on the team, Stringer has the potential to become an ultimate ‘pick-and-pop’ guy within the lineup. He has a nice easy shot that expands out to three-point territory and shoots it with confidence. His size at 6’7” makes him difficult to contain once he gets looks near the rim, which can serve as another advantage to go along with that shooting ability.
Marco Watson ’21 – Potomac Senior HS: A gritty, scoring ball-handler, I’ve seen Watson a couple of times in the past and continue to notice that his edge never takes a dip. He’s a relentless competitor who becomes a big time threat with the ball in his hands. The 5’9” guard is still working on his shot selection and decision-making. Nevertheless, his talent and natural ability to create for his own will give other teams problems whenever they lace up to take on Higher Level.
Larry Wright III ’21 – Potomac Senior HS: The 6’5” Wright III looks like a valuable piece who can produce both inside and out. His scoring and rebounding in the paint stands out, while he can also guard up to four different positions. I can see him giving his team several second-chance points that should wear opponents down at some point. Wright III showing a balanced perimeter game will start attracting more attention.
Koy Yarbough ’21 – Forest Park: When going by the ‘eye test,’ Yarbough looks like one of the team’s most impressive prospects. He’s still a bit raw and working to develop into a true wing, but his athletic tools and long-armed build makes me feel he’ll quickly put it all together soon and become a match-up problem for others. I like what I’m seeing out of the 6’5” sophomore, in terms of passion and ‘wanting to get it right.’ He can do some of the best by running hard in transition.
Good luck to Coach Pleas and the group this weekend (3/30 – 3/31) during their first test in the Baltimore area!