As we near the start of the NCAA basketball season and basketball fever returns there have been a number of interesting developments on the recruiting front. Beyond the excitement (and relief) of the early-signing period seeing Ton Izzo lock in three outstanding talents in Max Christie, Jaden Akins, and Pierre Brooks Jr., some high school programs have already started playing, including a number of Michigan State recruits. There are also some new names to keep track of for anyone following Michigan State basketball recruiting for the high school class of 2022.
Ypsi Prep vs. Team Sizzle:
On Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, Michigan State fans got their first glimpse of Ypsi Prep, the newly founded prep academy that Emoni Bates, Jaden Akins, Javaughn Hannah (2022), and Shawn Phillips (2022) all play for. Ypsi Prep took on “Team Sizzle” (Chet Holmgren’s AAU team) on ESPN 2, the first of a number of nationally televised games that Ypsi Prep will play, and the game did not disappoint. Bates and Akins’ Ypsi Prep ultimately lost to Holmgren’s “Team Sizzle” 78-71 in a terrific mostly high-leverage game. Bates finished with 36 points (11-for-22 from the field, four-for-11 from three-point range, and 10-for-13 from the free-throw line) and 10 rebounds, Akins finished with 17 points (seven makes on 14 attempts from the field, with three three-pointers made), four rebounds, a couple of assists, a steal and a block, and Holmgren finished with 31 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks.
While watching and scouting the game overall, Zach tracked Bates and Sam tracked Akins, with both writers keeping tabs on Hannah and the other prospects in the game.
Jaden Akins (Class of 2021, signed, point guard, 6’3”, 170 pounds)
Despite a brief spell on the sidelines with a bit of an injury scare, and a slow, tentative start to the game, Akins had a generally superb performance tonight. Physically, Akins is a potentially dominant athlete with very good positional size. Akins was active and effective on defense getting blocks, deflections, and steals all night, including a beautiful read to get a “steal-for-a-touchdown” in Izzo’s parlance and a clutch block at the rim in the last 1:30 of the game with Ypsi Prep trying to cut into the lead.
Akins’ athleticism and body-control were also on full-display on the offensive end of the court as well as he understood how to attack the dominant Chet Holmgren (who won the battle of the mega-stars and whose team won the contest): Akins had a number of attacks at the rim that saw him use his body to shield the ball and get it on the rim, including one terrific finish in the final minutes of the game.
This is what makes 2021 Michigan State signee Jaden Akins a special prospect.— Endless Motor Sports (@endless_motor) November 13, 2020
The combo of straight line speed, vertical explosion and body control w/good positional size at 6’3 is something you cannot teach.
Completely erases a legit 7footer & maintains balance.
Michigan State commit Jaden Akins with the nice step back 3 at the Geico High School Showcase. #YpsiPrep pic.twitter.com/oqDrdSxG9e— Farmdog (@MSUFarmdog) November 13, 2020
Akins’ offensive isolation game was also a feature of the Ypsi offense, which I will treat more below, and Akins hit a number of shots from the mid-range and beyond the arc using his patented cross-over combinations and step-back moves to create space. Another excellent highlight from Akins was a transition attack that saw him beat a man in the open court, draw Holmgren, cross-over, step-back and drill a mid-range fadeaway over Holmgren’s outstretched arm.
Akins’ ability to create for others was not given much opportunity tonight as Dillon Hunter did most of the initiating as the game wore on (likely an effort to get him more involved as he struggled dramatically offensively). But Akins’ passing game did have some bright spots including a couple of great assists to Javaughn Hannah. Tom Izzo has to have been thrilled watching this game: Akins can shoot, defend, is a heck of an athlete, has already begun adding muscle to his frame, and really understands how to get his shot off. While Akins’ point guard skills may not get as much development this year due to Ypsi’s unique offense, he clearly has the ability to get to the paint and to pass to open players, so the foundation is there.
Emoni Bates (Class of 2022, committed, guard-forward, 6’9”, 200 pounds)
Emoni Bates had a great game scoring the ball. He had 36 points on 22 shots. He posted an effective field goal percentage of 59.1 percent. He was excellent at scoring from his spots. When he had the ball on the left wing, it was close to an automatic bucket. He can get his shot off extremely easily and boasts the confidence to match it.
Emoni Bates 36 points 10 rebounds performance last night crazy he’s only a junior he has elite level scoring pic.twitter.com/cnSsbxK1JN— Swish Cultures (@swishcultures_) November 13, 2020
He gets to these shots by going to his in and out dribble and crossover. From there he does an excellent job of decelerating and rising up. He did show off a decent motor as there were not a ton of low effort plays from Bates. His shot selection was not the best, but that is understandable when you consistently face double teams inside the three-point line. He also showed excellent touch on his floater toward the end of the game. At the end of the fourth quarter he had one floater that he managed to get over Chet Holmgren’s outstretched reach.
Now onto the areas of improvement. Bates struggled on defense. Holmgren took him to the rim in post touches, beat him off his top hip in point of attack situations, Even though he has a reported 6-foot-9-inch wingspan, he did not utilize it. He was unenthusiastic when guarding off the ball. He was stagnant and did not offer much in terms of pack-line help (a feature of the entire Ypsi Prep defense). When he did make rotations, he could not get off the floor quick enough to be a rim deterrent. He struggles to go vertical at game speed, and struggled to chase Holmgren off pin downs and back screens. In one specific possession, Holmgren ran off two down screens and faded to the corner once he saw Bates go over. Bates could not recover in time because he cheated so far over.
When guarding in point of attack situations, he was beat off his top hip frequently, He has a solid frame but does not use it enough. He played small and did not move well laterally. Bates cannot be expected to shut down Holmgren completely at this point in his development, but Holmgren should not be able to attack him going downhill quite as easily as he did either.
On offense there are a few things he can tighten up. He needs to add the ability to facilitate to his repertoire. Unless he is scoring the ball, he does not contribute to the offense. He also has a high center of gravity when attacking downhill. He gets bumped off his spot too easily, even by smaller players, and shied away from contact at times. Bates’ spatial awareness and ability to navigate the court also needs improvement, especially given how packed defenses will be on his side of the court at the high school and college levels: once he beat defenders downhill, he allowed them to recover in front of him and was unable to decisively pass the ball on time. Bates’ occasional rushing of his shot also led to at least three air balls tonight; the result of a rushed release and a nonexistent follow through.
He still has a lot of room to grow, but if his floor is a 36-points per game scorer at the high school level against the team with one of the best defenders in the entire country and a competent cast around him, than that is a rather decent floor to say the least.
Javaughn Hannah (Class of 2022, target, guard, 6’4”, 200 pounds)
Hannah had a bit of a quiet first half, but grew into the game and ended with a nice line on the night, hitting shots and playing some solid defense down the stretch, including guarding Holmgren on the perimeter some.
He did a good job of playing within his role. He was not exceptional on either end of the floor, but showed some value in the mid-range. His form remains solid when shooting off the dribble, even though his dribble is rather high at times. Defensively, he was not the most impactful, but he is fundamental with his actions. He boxes out, so that is a nice change of pace from the typical high school prospect and one that Izzo will surely notice as well.
Ypsi probably needed more of Hannah and a more aggressive Hannah earlier, but he will play a solid supporting role on this Ypsi Prep team and see his recruiting profile rise as the season progresses — it would not be surprising if Izzo offers him sooner rather than later.
Ypsi has a clear top-four players: Emoni Bates, Jaden Akins, Dillon Hunter, and Javaughn Hannah, but none of the Ypsi bigs looked comfortable or confident against Holmgren and “Team Sizzle.” Part of this is a function of Holmgren being one of the top players in all of high school basketball, but part of it was a bit of a let-down performance, particularly from Shawn Phillips, who struggled to catch the ball on passes and rebounds and struggled to move with and jump with Holmgren. Phillips did have some good moments including some nice finishes, a couple of nice blocks, and better energy and aggression down the stretch, but he is clearly in need of a major physical rehabilitation of his body — he needs to lose some of his baby-fat, develop more explosion and agility, and get stronger with the ball.
The other challenge that Ypsi faces is how to run its offense. Bates’ superlative talents demand a high usage, but the challenge will be keeping the other talented guards involved and generating a better quality of look for Emoni and his teammates. Ypsi did not run much offense — a handful of sets, a handful of post-ups, and a handful of pick-and-roll plays — and relied on the shot-generation of Bates and Akins. If the team can cut-down on the bad shots, and rely less frequently on Akins and Bates creating looks in isolation situations (despite their strong efficiency in those kinds of plays), then they will find much greater success against the brutal schedule they will face.
Ypsi also needs to sort out its defense off-ball. While help defense is never a major feature of high-level high school basketball, Ypsi’s struggles with getting their help in the right position, and failures to communicate switches, exchanges, and help responsibilities really allowed “Team Sizzle” to create easy shots for Holmgren in transition and the half-court, and for their shooting guard (Donovan Smith) who drilled eight three-point shots, mostly on kick-outs, miscommunications, or in transition.
This game was still in the balance before some crucial and disastrous turnovers that led directly to points salted the game away; a key for Ypsi will be getting the ball to Akins and Bates in those situations. In this game Bates had worn down considerably after exerting a lot of energy in the first three quarters and Ypsi was not able to get the ball to Akins quite enough.
Finally, while Bates had a great stat line to go along with a so-so performance, it is vital to remember that he is only 16-years-old. Holmgren’s extra one-and-a-half years of age (Holmgren is 18-years-old) showed in his poise, pace-control, shot-selection, and physical advantage. Despite being thin himself and having a height and length advantage, Holmgren is also simply more physically mature than Bates at this point, and it showed in his ability to exert his influence over the entire course of the game. In another year, Emoni Bates will be even more physically mature and his game will have been further refined by the crucible of a national-level schedule. Expect Bates to continue to develop dramatically over the course of the year as he gets closer to playing for Michigan State and Izzo — a scary thought.
Ypsi Prep will play in the “Battle Basketball Showcase” in Allen, Texas, November 20th and the 21st. Ypsi Prep will take on Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, California) and Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kansas; and alma mater of Tum Tum Nairn, Marvin Clark, and Malik Hall).
Sunrise Christian will see Ypsi have to handle Kennedy Chandler (Tennessee commit, five-star point-guard), Kendall Brown (Baylor commit, five-star small-forward), Zach Clemence (Kansas commit, four-star power-forward), and Shaedon Sharpe (four star guard), among others.
Sierra Canyon also boasts a terrific roster: Bronny James (‘23, four-star point-guard), Amari Bailey (‘22 top-five player nationally, and a terrific guard), Chance Westry (‘22 top-30 player, guard), and Harold Yu (7’3” center), among others.
Games will be broadcast on FS1 (subject to change)
Friday, Nov. 20
6:30 p.m. – Sunrise Christian Academy vs. Ypsi Prep Academy
Saturday, Nov. 21
8:30 p.m. – Ypsi Prep Academy vs. Sierra Canyon
Pierre Brooks Jr. Update:
In the first week of November, Pierre Brooks II joined Chet Holmgren, Kobe Bufkin (Michigan), Malachi Branham (Ohio State), Ahamad Bynum (DePaul), and other players from the midwest at the Pangos All-American “Festival.” This competition saw four teams (East, Midwest, South, West) play in a round-robin competition. Needless to say, Brooks had a superb performance over the multi-day competition.
Michigan State Commit @nba_pbj is the complete package.. can score and defend on all 3 levels! Great pick up for the Spartans@PangosAACamp @trigonis30@FREDD_HOOPSQUAD @MSU_Basketball pic.twitter.com/wl0VSbUW4O— BALL DAWGS (@balldawgs) November 10, 2020
- Pierre Brooks, Michigan state commit, had an impressive shot-making weekend. Deep range & versatile shooter. Strong, physical wing who can guard multiple positions.— Ross Homan (@Ross_homan1) November 11, 2020
- Malaki Branham, Ohio State commit, showed improved shooting. Love him as a defender & IQ guy. Underrated upside
Pierre Brooks II’s ability to pull up on a dime and shoot it off the dribble is big time. Love what a POWER FINISHER he is at the rim. His handle looks noticeably tighter as well. You can tell he’s put in a ton of work on his body and craft this offseason.pic.twitter.com/VPppIaHqd8— DK (@SpartanHoops_DK) November 8, 2020
In games vs Team South and Team East, Brooks racked up 17 points, four rebounds (vs. Team South), and 23 points, two assists, one block, two steals (in the win over Team East). These stat lines are notable in themselves, but even more impressive when one considers the nature of these kinds of events: they tend to favor the ‘mega-stars’ (like Holmgren) and point guards (like Bufkin and Bynum) who simply tend to have the ball more often. On lower usage performances, Brooks’ efficiency and offensive polish from beyond the arc, in the mid-range, and at the rim really impressed.
Two other aspects of Brooks’ game that stood out: his defense and his physique, two aspects of his game that are inextricably linked. Brooks has always had a strong frame, but he has increasingly been cutting body fat and toning his musculature, this has helped him slim down a bit, add some vertical pop, and helps him contain ball-handlers and challenge shots at the rim more consistently. While defense in these events is never outstanding, individual defenders can exert an influence. While Holmgren was undoubtedly the defensive stand-out, Brooks’ defense was solid throughout, and he will be a quick study once he gets to East Lansing. An extremely exciting young player, Brooks will likely force his way into the rotation as a freshman due to his physical readiness, outstanding three-point shooting, and all around competence as a passer, defender, and competitor.
Names to track in the class of 2022:
While the staff already has two commitments in the class of ‘22 in the aforementioned Emoni Bates, as well as Enoch Boakye, there is already a strong possibility that both players reclassify to the ‘21 class. Combined with the likely departures of a number of players after the 2021-2022 season, the class of 2022 still needs a lot of work.
Izzo and the staff will likely try to add at least four more players to the class, and possibly five. The current confirmed targets the staff are pursuing include the following players (with brief commentary on each):
Trejuan Hollman - a talented point guard from Minnesota, and Izzo’s only current point guard target in the class to date.
Jaden Schutt - a superb shooting guard prospect who will likely grow a bit more than his already solid 6-foot-four-inch frame. Schutt is a terrific athlete, and a lights-out shooter; he should be a major priority for Izzo.
Ty Rodgers - one of the top players in the state of Michigan, Rodgers is a long, athletic, and heady wing-forward. Not a particularly polished offensive player at this point, Rodgers is a stand-out defender, a great natural player, and a solid passer, rebounder, and paint-scorer.
Isaac Traudt - a bigger forward with terrific athleticism and a very good ball-handling skill-set, Traudt has a bright future and would be a great developmental player at the forward position behind Malik Hall.
Kijani Wright - a big, athletic, dominant five-star power-forward, Wright’s recruitment will be a national one with the highest-level of teams pursuing him.
Tarris Reed, Jr. - a well-built, long-armed, sweet-shooting power-forward from St Louis, Reed’s recruitment will be a real challenge given his location, but his game fits Izzo’s program like a glove.
Donovan Clingan - Clingan is an interesting prospect from New England; already just about seven-feet tall, Clingan has solid footwork, broad shoulders, and a calmness to his game that would represent a new kind of big-man target for Izzo.
We will have another recruiting update as the calendar turns and the class of 2022 comes into sharper focus, but for now — get excited for this season; it is going to be a great one.