Each and every gymnasium has a vibe. Some are new, state of the art facilities that sparkle like a shiny new car, while others are dusty and worn, but rich with history. Before even stepping into Blake Arena at Springfield College, you can feel the history. Passing the Basketball Hall of Fame on Interstate 91, winding up the old New England roads to campus, and finally proceeding under the overpass that reads “The Birthplace of Basketball” makes it quite clear as to where you are.
The campus and its surrounding area aren’t flashy and new like Fiserv Forum or Wintrust Arena, but they certainly check the box next to “rich in history”. It’s where a physical education teacher named James Naismith searched for an indoor game to keep student-athletes in shape during the cold winter months. It’s where a non-contact sport called “basket ball” was created for men and women with just thirteen basic rules. Thanks to Dr. Naismith and little ole Springfield College, basketball was born in 1891.
The Spalding Hoophall Classic is now in its eighteenth year at Springfield College. Showcasing 25-plus games every Martin Luther King Weekend, the birthplace of basketball becomes the center of the high school basketball universe. Last year it was Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Bol Bol. A year before that? Mo Bamba, DeAndre Ayton, and Jaren Jackson Jr. Take a look at any year’s alumni, and you’ll find NBA stars scattered throughout the rosters. Anthony Davis, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum – the list goes on.
What started as a high school basketball tournament eighteen years ago has now turned into a showcase for the game’s next best thing. Blake Arena becomes a stage for prospects and future stars to prove themselves in front of a host of top college coaches. For that 3-star recruit who’s on the brink of national spotlight, Hoophall is the place where he can make his jump.
The sound of basketballs hitting the hardwood is tremendous, no matter where you are. For many of us, it signals a sense of familiarity and comfort unlike any other. Way back in 1906, it was Spalding’s No. M ball hitting the floor. Fast forward to 2019 and it’s still Spalding, but this time with their new Precision ball and a twist.
Spalding recently teamed up with ShotTracker to change the way players, coaches, and fans experience the game.
ShotTracker is a “sensor-based system that delivers live stats and analytics via an app to coaches, players, and fans”. In other words, the system can track the stats and performance of an entire team in real-time. The rechargeable ball rack, seen above, charges the sensor-enabled balls within two hours, allowing the system to be good to go for multiple games. The three-part system, comprised of ShotTracker tags on the player’s shoes, sensors around the court, and the balls themselves is as innovative as any system out there. And it’s all coming into form right where Naismith first laid the foundation.
Those little Nintendo Wii-like figures on the left are what you see on the ShotTracker app. Watching the game on the right in comparison to the screen shows that it’s as real-time as it gets.
In 1972, Spalding released their first ever synthetic leather basketball. Less than 5 decades later, we can track every player’s movement and stats from that same orange, circular ball. The sound of dribbling now takes on a whole new meaning.
But what about this year’s players and teams using the system? After all, that is the main focus of the event, right? Let’s take a look at this year’s biggest prospects at the event.
Brandon Boston Jr, Norcross, GA, No. 10, Class of 2020 (rankings per 247 Sports)
Boston was the biggest eye-opener on Saturday at Blake Arena, putting up 26 points in a blowout win over Roselle Catholic and fellow 5-star prospect Khalil Whitney. Granted it was only one game, but a passing eye would have told you that Boston was the clear-cut prize compared to Whitney (No. 8, 2019). The skinny 6’6 wing showed a terrific ability to get to the lane and finish in traffic, while also sporting an impressive outside game, going 4/7 from deep. For a player who hasn’t totally filled out yet, Boston has the ability to create his own shot thanks to his lightning-quick release. His multidimensional game opens up a ton of flexibility for Norcross, which allowed them to run high ball screens to free him up on the perimeter. When watching a junior, no matter how hyped, one can normally pick out some deficiencies in his game. Other than his frame, Boston lacks any fundamental issues to his game.
Boston is being recruited by Duke, Kentucky, Auburn, and Florida, amongst a host of other programs.
Khalil Whitney, Roselle Catholic, NJ, No. 8, 2019 (Committed to Kentucky)
Whitney and his Roselle Catholic teammates were on the other end of that Norcross drubbing on Saturday afternoon, which gave every in attendance a tough look at one of the top 2019 prospects. Whitney struggled to find any flow on the offensive end, as Norcross pressed him along the perimeter, making high dribble hand-offs very difficult. Whitney’s athleticism was dramatically slowed on Saturday, which showed the limited side of his game. If he can improve his outside shot, particularly finding a consistent deep ball, Whitney will be much more dangerous. There were a few transition opportunities where Whitney was able to display his athleticism, and I have no doubt John Calipari will capitalize on that next season in Lexington.
Cole Anthony, Oak Hill Academy, VA, No. 3, 2019
Anthony has as much upside of any player at this year’s event, but unfortunately missed Oak Hill’s matchup with IMG due to a sprained ankle. Anthony is in range when he steps in the gym, while also having an explosiveness that allows him to get to the rim with ease. At just 6’3, he surprises people with his flashy athleticism and thunderous dunks. Anthony is great at dribbling in traffic and has no problem creating space for himself. Once he learns to get his teammates involved at a more consistent rate, Anthony will be a very dangerous college prospect.
Despite having a list of six potential programs, Anthony is reportedly down to two schools: North Carolina and Oregon. His commitment will likely take place in April, according to his mother. (Highlights below are from his junior season, before transferring to Oak Hill.)
Anthony Edwards, Holy Spirit Preparatory School, GA, No. 4, 2019
Edwards is a 6’5 shooting guard with a huge frame, which was one of the many reasons for his reclassification from 2020 to 2019. He’s confident shooting off the dribble and off the catch-and-shoot, in addition to his solid athleticism. That athleticism really comes to light when he aggressively gets to the basket and shows his great touch around the rim. Edwards shares the podium with Cole Anthony for the best player in the class of 2019, in my opinion, due to his two-way potential. He didn’t have the best performance over two games at this year’s Hoophall Classic, but he had multiple zones schemed against him, along with a host of double teams.
Bottom line: Edwards play as a wing is perfect for today’s style of basketball. He can aggressively score at all three levels and creates a brutal mismatch for teams on the defensive end.
Edwards is down to Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Florida State, and Georgia. He will visit Kentucky this week.
SB Nation’s own Ricky O’Donnell recently dove into Edwards’ story here.
Scottie Lewis, Ranney School, NJ, No. 12, 2019 (Committed to Florida)
Scottie Lewis is one of the more intriguing prospects in the 2019 class, with an unmatched motor that pushes his athleticism and high ceiling to the next level. Many focus on Lewis’ offensive abilities, which is understandable considering his shot-creating, athletic ability. What often gets overlooked is his skill on the defensive side of the ball, which is also sparked by his high motor. This was on display Monday at Blake Arena, as he held Jaden McDaniels (No. 5, 2019) to 10 points on 4/19 shooting. Both players should be lottery picks in the 2020 NBA Draft, but Lewis held the upper hand on Monday afternoon.
Jaden McDaniels, Federal Way, WA, No. 5, 2019
Lewis gave McDaniels all he could handle on Monday, but just watching him run the floor shows off his potential. His good mechanics tag along with a solid frame and length to create loads of pro potential. Seeing McDaniels get smothered by Lewis wasn’t the best advertisement, but he still has plenty of promise and should be in the NBA within the next few years.
Bryan Antoine, Ranney School, NJ, No. 13, 2019 (Committed to Villanova)
Jay Wright’s top recruit put on a solid performance on Monday afternoon, posting 23 points in a win over Federal Way. On a loaded Ranney roster, Antoine took the reins on the offensive end, showing off his shot-making and passing ability throughout the victory. The 6’4 shooting guard has good length and build, which leaves open the possibility to improvements on the defensive side of the ball. If he can become a more consistent defender, Antoine will easily become one of the best prospects in the class.
Ranney is expected a few players back from injury in the near future. Combining them with the already lethal combination of Lewis and Antoine makes them one of the best team’s in the nation.
Josh Green, IMG Academy, FL, No. 11, 2019 (Committed to Arizona)
Green scored 19 points against Oak Hill on Sunday night, showing off his multi-dimensional game against the 7th ranked team in the country. His quick first step allows him to create space on the perimeter for his solid jump shot. Green can finish in traffic and can spread the floor well in transition. His all-around offense game is something that many prospects don’t have until they’re well into their college careers.
Precious Achiuwa, Montverde Academy, FL, No. 9, 2019
Achiuwa’s 6’9 190-pound frame is slightly misleading in a similar way to Zion Williamson’s. He’s significantly larger than most others on the floor, but he’s extremely quick and athletic. Achiuwa showed off the ability to run effectively in transition and create for his teammates with good court vision and passing. He has a very unique package to go along with his size, which creates a world of options on both sides of the ball. A good college coach will quickly turn him into a defensive weapon.
Other notable prospects: Cassius Stanley, Kofi Cockburn, Armando Bacot, DJ Jeffries, Tre Mitchell, Jaden Springer, Jonathan Kuminga.