2018 has Alex Lomax, Tyler Harris and TJ Moss at the top who are all receiving a ton of attention from coaches around the country followed by 2019 who which is probably the best upcoming class to most locally which includes Chandler Lawson, DJ Jeffries and Malcolm Dandridge. There is another class though whose starting to show that their trio should be mentioned as well. 2020’s Cameron Matthews, Whitehaven High School Matthew Murrell and Briacrest 6’5 guard ,Marcellus Brigham. All different in how they play but one thing that they do have in common, they are all future division 1 basketball players and they make up what could make this area once again a prime location in 2020 for college coaches.
Murrell is probably the best scoring guard in the city in the freshman class and has star written all over him. Scores it in bunches from all 3 levels, unmatched athleticism at the 2 guard position and you can play him some on the ball as well. He showed off the leaping ability this weekend with an array of dunks and finishes and he looks a lot more comfortable taking hits and scoring plus fouls. That’s what a year in the best district in the state will do for you. Matthews is a 6’5 small forward who will remind some of Antavion Collum (East) in body structure , has definitely added new bounce to his game. Does most of his damage close now but is a player who can get it of the rim and go with it and finish strong and he looks at his best when attacking where he can use his athletic ability to finish. He can defend multiple positions and is a good rebounder and weak side shot blocker. He’s improving his jumper and handle every year and I expect that to continue to get better the more comfortable he gets shooting it. Brigham is maybe the most intriguing because of his shooting ability from the mid game to the 3 and has some post up in his game as well. Has a smoothness about him, loves the pull up from the elbow and short corner and utilizes the floater when necessary. A mismatch because he’s a true big guard, most times to big for smaller players and able to drive around bigger players, the more aggressive he gets, his ceiling gets that much higher! Some say he could end up being the best player in this class in Memphis.
While I’m not ready to say that this class is better than another right now, I will say this, this class is starting to evolve into a pretty good and it starts at the top with these 3. Be on the look for these 3 as all run with Team Penny in the spring and summer.
Whitehaven High School and Coach Faragi Phillips hosted a first of it’s kind media day for the 16AAA district on Wednesday evening giving players and coaches a glimpse at the annually super competitive league. I’ve been around awhile and I don’t think it’s ever been done but then again, I could be wrong but never the less, a great event and something that is much needed especially for those seniors who have committed and will go through this every year in college. Coach Jesus Patino of White Station said to the players on hand, “you should embrace this, all of you that are here, you all hope to go on and play in college but this maybe the only time you get to do something like this for some of you” A true and profound statement but one needed to get the attention of some who may have thought that it was just another evening with teammates and their coach.
Legendary head coach, Verties Sails spoke of the importance of education to the players and getting a degree. “I worked in athletics for 50 years as an administrator and coach but without that piece of paper, I couldn’t have done it” He spoke on some of the history of high school basketball and mentioned to the players that they were standing on the shoulders of those who played before them and that that those after them would be on the shoulders of them. Then the good part, the pre-season predictions for 1st, 2nd and 3rd team all district and predictions on how each team would finish on the boys and girls side.
*The predictions for 16AAA were done by the coaches
16AAA Pre-Season Predicted Order Of Finish (Girls)
1.White Station – Absolutely loaded group for Coach Warren. 4 Division 1 commits, Teal Battle, Zaire Hicks, Damiah Griffin, Taylor Williams along with Tamia Jones. Brittni Moore, Taelor Manning and Kyla Harris will also be really important to this team with state aspirations. Best team in the city easily…
2. Central– Lost one of the better guards in the city but don’t feel sorry for the Lady Warriors. Still have one of the best trio of guards in Johne Stewart, Brianna Cooks and a top 10 player in the city regardless of class, Jireh Washington. I love Jireh’s scoring ability and and she can create offense for herself when she wants but si also a really good passer in the half court or in transition. Dynamic defensive guard Kynandi Kuykendoll was a 1st team selection and Brittany Ivory must be big for them this year.
2. Whitehaven– This could be a team that can see battling for that second spot as well. Dontrecia Johnson, Aexus Williams and Ariel Williams will carry the load but 5’11 forward, Shmya Ward could be due for a break out season this year. On any given night, this team can beat anyone locally.
3. Hamilton – Has the best player in the city to me in Tesia Thompson but I’m wondering what options she will have beside her.
4. Melrose– Their coach got it started yesterday with some strong words and he hopes that his confidence in his girls.Keanna Conner who was picked on the 2nd team by the coaches along with Zandra Watkins as a player to watch, translates to the court.
5. Overton– Lost their coach to district foe Whitehaven and will be in total rebuild mode this year.
6.East – Another team with a new coach in Demond Fason who is returns to his old alma mater from the middle school ranks. He was able to coach a few of the players who are on the roster from his Lester Middle days and is happy to be in his new position. Kayla Freeman is one of the best players in the city that you may not know much about as well as teammate Japerria Robinson who were in their new coaches back court as 8th graders. I can see a higher finish for them if they come together quickly.
Pre-Season 1st Team Selections
Jasmine Carson -Whitehaven
Damiah Griffin- White Station
Kynandi Kuykendoll- Central
Brittni Moore- White Station
Johne Stewart- Central
Tesia Thompson- Hamilton
Jireh Washington- Central
Ariel Williams- Whitehaven
Pre-Season 2nd Team Selections
Dontrecia Johnson- Whitehaven
Alexus Williams- Whitehaven
Kyla Harris- White Station
Taylor Williams- White Station
Shmya Ward- Whitehaven
Kayla Bradley- White Station
Keanna Conner- Melrose
Pre-Season 3rd Team Selections
Montysia Bennet- Central
Kayla Downs- Central
Brittney Ivory- Central
Tamia Jones- Whitehaven
Ariel Lane- Central
Danielle McAdams- Hamilton
D’Aysia Reeder- Whitehaven
Faith Rodgers- Central
Joelysia Spencer- Melrose
Taylor Williams- White Station
Jayla Woods- Whitehaven
16AAA Pre-Season Predicted Order Of Finish (Boys)
1. East– #3 ranked by MaxPreps in the country, returns 3 starters and overall, 9 players from a team that won the state title last year. The Mustangs are the hunted and one of the best teams in the country so everyone is coming with their best to upset them. They have a few new players who will have to get acclimated to style of play but this team is really really talented so those thinking beating them will have an uphill battle locally. Look out for newcomers Antavion “Dude” Collum and 6’4 guard, Jay Hardaway.
2. White Station– Aaron Strother, Adam Price and Allen Hatchett are back for Coach Patino and a good freshman class headlined by Tyland Mitchell. Price is the team’s best shooter, Strother and Hatchett will lead them in scoring most nights and junior Braxton Winford had some moments last year but should be better this year.
3. Central– Another team that if you put in another district, they might come in first. Long with some depth at the forward position and guard position, Central is still pretty young however. Guards Jordan Johnson, Brandon Mason and John Anderson Jr are all underclassmen. They could find themselves in the second spot in district my years end.
4. Whitehaven– Mike Fofana, Romero Hill, Javion Hamlet, all gone, how will second year head coach Faragi Phillips replace their production? The emergence of Cameron Jones will play into that this year as well as Marquavious Lobbins and point guard Paul Williams. Freshman Matthew Murrell could be in the rotation and be one of the only players in this year’s freshman class to be contributor as a freshman.
5. Hamilton– Will Smith inherits two of the district’s best players in Kevon McMahan and Martrell Brooks and they give them a chance at upsets in district. Bad news is, they play in this district and every night will be tough as there are no pencil that in as a W type games.
6. Melrose– Sherman Jones has realistic expectations of his team and he knows what he’s up against. “We trying to get it together” said Jones who is in his 4th year as head coach and trying to get the Golden Wildcats back on track as one of the premier teams in Triple A. Devante Luellen is a tough guard who will be asked to do a lot of scoring for Melrose as well as Shajuan Jones and senior guard, Ahmad Webster
7. Overton– Eric Brent takes over for the Wolverines this year but he is familiar with the program because he’s been at the school for almost 8 years. They are really young with only 1 senior but do have some players who have some good futures. Monterrio Ryan is really good off the spot up from 3, Anterrius Jeffries shows’s promise as a freshman at 6’6 and they have a go to in Brandon Brown, a 6’3 attack guard who can score the basketball. Only a sophomore, Brown will have to lead this team but is a capable 15-18 pt a night type player.
1. Cameron Matthews SF 6’4 (TGAND) Physical tools with size to match, Matthews is right now the best prospect in this class locally. Matthews is a 3-4 right now but looks to have a future as 2-3. Mismatch type where can take bigger defenders put on him off the dribble to the rim or post a smaller defender when the chance is given for easy opportunities. Has gotten bigger it seems over the last few months which does nothing but add to upside as a he could become a dominate scorer with increased motor. He rebounds it and doesn’t need to find a guard as he can bring it up, find an open teammate or create the jumper for his self which it looks like he had worked on as well. His athleticism has increased drastically as he is dunking it with ease and now is a player who can play over the rim on a regular basis. Physically imposing but has touch on the jumper he also a player who can become a big time finisher at the rim in the future. He’s a versatile defender right now as he can play the 3-4 and some 5 because of his strong body and could maybe guard some guards at this stage. Still would love to see him get even more assertive with his offense and add the post game to his arsenal as well. As the jumper gets better, it will open everything up to him especially when he’s knocking down the 3 on a regular basis. Lateral quickness might be concern but as he matures, he will become more explosive and his ceiling could rise even more.There is a lot to like about him right now and he has a chance to become a player people begin to take notice of nationally with a big spring and summer
2. Matthew Murrell CG 6’1 (TGAND) Quietly is becoming a player that will make you know his name and it’s easy to see why. He’s has become bouncy, quicker, confidence has increased to the level where he is becoming a scorer on a more consistent basis as he had to take over that role more this year in Middle School. He doesn’t try to force the issue much and will take whatever the defense gives him whether it’s the jumper through the 3 or mid range which he is knocking down now or tot he rim where he finishes with both hands. Right now, he’s more of a combo guard but he could become a pg because he sees the floor well, gets off the ball quick in transition and shows the signs of running a team because of leadership qualities. Never seems to high or low and looks like he enjoys playing the game. As I’ve said about him in the past, the more his confidence grows, the better player he becomes and it looks like it’s happening before our eyes.
3. Tayson Parker CG 5’10 (Team Thad) Some say he’s the best player in this class and the talent is there definitely. I really love his athleticism and people now know about it evidenced by a video floating showing him throwing it down on the break in playoff game for his home school. More of a scorer than anything else right, Parker’s eventual level could be decided by what position some see him as if he doesn’t continue to grow. I’m not sure anyone can touch him right now as a leaper in this class but some are catching up just in the last few months alone. Parker will be a name around a lot now and maybe it’s time to see if he can become a name nationally with his play. Athleticism is premium but so is position especially at his size but a very very talented young guy with a nice future.
4. Omari Thomas PF/C 6’3 ( Team Thad) The best big in Middle School this past season and while some could make the claim for others, Thomas was the focal point his teams offense. He was simply dominate at times off the catch and finish around the rim or in the post with his footwork and low post scoring ability. He possesses really soft hands and touch and can step out and hit the perimeter jumper and while it wasn’t shown a lot, he definitely has that ability. He has a good feel when he catches it low and where the double is coming from and is good passer from the post. Big body and knows how to use it, once he seals you, it’s pretty much foul or finish for him right now. Good rebounder, he might be better offensive board player than defensively because of the space that he eats up inside. Growth in length will be key for him if he is to remain here or lower but his production is high right now and it can’t be overlooked.
5. Marcellus Brigham SG/SF 6’4 (Team Thad) Really talented scorer with big time ability and maybe the most upside of anyone in this class Looks like a classic scoring 2 in the making utilizing the floater and the mid range pull up or the 3, Brigham score it in a lot of of ways. He could be a good defender as well if the desire and want picks up but as a young player, I kind of expect that to come and go at times. Consistency as a shooter from the 3 will lift him more as right now he’s more of a 15 foot shot maker but because of length, he can get that whenever he wants. Plays with a smoothness to his game that’s oozes high major ability and if the killer attitude develops, he goes to the next level. Would love to see him add the post game as well which would increase his production as well.
6. Rodney Mason Jr SF/PF ( Team Thad) The best player on a championship team at St George and he had an outstanding season. Played a lot more on the wing this year than I had seen in year’s past and looked more like he’s adjusting to being there more full time. He has tools you love, size, strength, improving skill set and the look of 6’6 if he continues to keep growing. Kind of still in the inbetween stages of becoming a 3 full time but that’s okay because of his ability to playing the 4 right now and be a problem offensively. Athleticism is increasing however, he’s not playing above the rim quite yet but I expect that to change soon for him if he keeps working hard. Handle is getting better but full time at the 3 will still require more work this summer. Ultimately, how hard he works individually could decide if he’s an “elite” level player and thought of across the country in this talented class.
7.Jaylin Lucas WF 6’3 (??) Strongly built 3-4 man near the rim, really made a name this year and threw himself here with the best players in the class. Tough to guard because his ability to overpower his defenders, he is difficult cover because his physical attributes and ability to hit the jumper. Plays with an aggression and will attack his man off the dribble with pull ups over the top or attack the rim and is a rebounder in traffic and doesn’t quit on plays and can start and finish a break. Needs to tighten handle like in Middle School if he wants to continue that progression to perimeter because he might end up being a big 2 guard or risk becoming that classic “tweener” without added length.
8. Reggie Neely 5’9 PG (Team Thad) Best guard that you may not know much about, Neely is a name you need to remember. Solid to the rim and with the jumper, Neely can play both guard spots right now but as I said in an earlier ranking of this class, is more so a scorer by nature. Shoots it well from 3 but maybe at his best to the basket on drives down hill and is a good decision maker with the ball in hands. Pretty good IQ, plays well off the ball and puts himself in position to score or make a positive play. I think the aggressive nature might be in him, question is, how long before it comes fully out.
9. Isaiah Cathey 5’10 PG (TGAND) Point guard on state championship winning team, Cathey’s best comparison to someone maybe Alex Lomax of East, just slightly bigger at the same age. Plays with a good pace at the lead spot, gets into the lane not with primarily quickness but more savvy and smarts and body. Can be creative with the pass and more of a pass first but is capable offensively when the need is there. Needs to keep refining he jumper to make when teams may lay off of him and be able to hurt teams off the jumper at the free throw line once a defender decides to stop the drive.
10. Caleb London 6’2 SG/WF (Memphis Magic Elite) To talented to take out of the top 10 altogether because I know how talented he is among this class. This spring/summer is big for him to play well among this age group with his slashing and athletic ability.
11. Issac Smith 6’3 SG/SG (Team Thad) Played along side Mason at St George and was in some games, their leading scorer. Has good upside, length, can get hot from the 3 line and put together games where he can hit 3-5. Can be another ball handler and option defensively against opposing wings and 4 men. Would love to see him rebound more from his position and get to the rim to more him more versatile as a scorer in the future.
12.Cedric Davis 6’4 PF (Memphis Magic Elite) Big body 4 with nimble feet and a soft touch around the rim. Has good motor. Raw offensively really but can score with his back to the basket with the over the left shoulder baby hook and really runs the floor well for a player his size. Davis along with Thomas are two of the bigger players in this class in Memphis.
13.Cameron Howard 6’2 SG (Memphis Magic Elite) Built to score, Howard is looking to do one thing, as I said, score. Always on the attack, Howard can score it from all 3 levels so you have to pay attention to him but what makes him pretty good can also be his downfall as sometimes his shot selection may not be ideal. When going though, he is as tough a cover as any guard in the city in this class.
14. Rodney Newsome Jr 6’3 PF/C (Team Thad) Among the best big men in the city, Newsome, is a little different from Davis and Thomas. Mainly because he sometimes plays up at the high post where he can turn face and hit the mid range jumper on the regular and it’s not uncommon for him to linger out to the 3 line and knock one down every so often. He has really good hands, can play with his back to the basket and put it on the floor some. He might end up being one that chooses a football in the future.
15. Joshua Stinson 5’7 PG (??) Scoring point guard that can get hot and put up numbers in bunches. Stinson can make it happen at the rim but at this point, he’s more score score than a creator for others. He put one of the best performances of the seasons up against American Way in the championship game and almost willed his team into a win. Like so many guards at that stature, the evolution into becoming a point guard will be key for his development going forward.
In last few years, we have seen some great middle school players come through the city. Each different in their own way but never the less, great young players that everyone knew about. Every year is different with a different set of players, new teams emerging, star players being star players and then there is one that really stands out among them and puts himself out in the fore front as the best player of them all. Question is though, who is that player this year? Is there clear cut player who you can say is the best in Middle School right now? It’s been awhile since honestly since I haven’t been able to identify that player by now but have you as fans been able to identify that one player as the best? Is it Omari Thomas at Bellevue? One parent told me that he was emphatically but what about his teammate, Isiah Cathey? Is it Jaylen Saulsberry at Cordova? He has the physical attributes but hasn’t been as dominate as I thought he might have been initially. Is it Matthew Murrell at John P Freeman, Marcellus Brigham at Snowden? What about teammates Rodney Mason Jr and Issac Smith? Is it a 7th grader and not an 8th grader this year? Can a case be made for a select few 7th graders? Maybe it’s a player that I haven’t mentioned and if you think so, I’m more than willing to listen below in the commentary(Disqus). I’m waiting on that alpha type to thrust himself into the best player in middle school role and nobody can do anything about mentality. The names I mentioned are capable of being the guy and with the “MAM” rapidly approaching, we could see that player really step it up because I have seen it before. It was where Chandler Lawson took the throne last year and became that player. Will the MAM bring him out? I truly hope so and I will be watching.
1. Cameron Matthews 6’3 G/F (Bluff City Ballers) Good looking prospect with big time promise at the big guard or wing position, Matthews has the look of a future d-1. Has a good first step where he can take bigger or smaller players off the dribble using his size and body to shed defenders. He’s very reliable inside where he plays for his summer team but is a ball handler who can get where he wants. Playing inside right now, will make him better long term but he projects as strong, big body 2-3 who will be able to knock score at all 3 levels and cause mismatches. He can finish with either hand, a good rebounder and shows some versatility as a defender. He’s a good and willing passer who can pass out the post and the high post and can post smaller players for lay ups. Pretty athletic right now but by this time next year, I think lay ups will turn into dunks for him as I look for him to stretch some and grow into his strong frame and keep his spot atop the ranking for some time.
2. Rodney Mason 6’3 Forward (Team Impact) Skilled 3-4, Mason is coming into his own and growing on me the more I see him as a player as I thought long and hard about him being the overall best player. Has really worked on his perimeter game, improved athletically and while he’s more so a face up type right now, Mason can go over the top or around and while jumper has improved, to the 3 where he shows that ability, he’s still more or a mid range player where the jumper looks a little more fluid. Mason doesn’t mind being physical defensively or rebounding and won’t back down from a challenge by stronger players. He projects as a possible 3 with his skill set and will be fun to watch him develop over time.
3. Matthew Murrell 5’10 G/F (Bluff City Ballers) Really a scorer, right now at 2 levels to the rim and in 15 feet in, the 3 will come as he matures, Murrell can put up points in bunches. His demeanor never changes and you never know whether his team is up or not as he goes along about business and operating at a efficient clip. Not flashy, doesn’t try to do things he can’t do, he has great fundamentals where he uses the ball fake and loves to get middle for scoring opportunities. He has good form on his shot and elevates enough to get it off and is a solid rebounder from the guard position. The more confident he becomes, the better player he will become and that will elevate him even more.
4. Alfred White Jr 5’8 SG (Memphis WarEagles) Talented shooter who can score it from all over and what I like most is the confidence he displays in himself. He has a good quick release and isn’t shy letting it go but also can make it happen to the rim where he can stop for the pull up and the floater. He can come off the screen but like his younger teammate (Jones) looks more comfortable off the spot up. Really smart player to, when the jumper may not be going, White can get to the line as well, willing to go to the rim but again, is a shooter mostly. As he gets older, scoring in a variety of ways will become a point of emphasis but right now, White is as good as any at what he does in middle school in the city.
5. Marcellus Brigham 6’0 SG/SF (Memphis WarEagles) Effective with the jumper, Brigham’s upside is as high as any in this class in Memphis. Doesn’t wow with athleticism just yet but has the looks of a player who knows how to play the game and get it done. The jumper off the dribble is I think his go to but can attack in the half court or transition. Can create space for the jumper and release it fluidly and is a player who you can go to late in games for a shot to win.