UAA Finals Standouts

The final weekend of AAU and last live weekend of the summer did not disappoint. I was out at the UAA Finals for some games, with five total Illinois teams taking part. Many of the programs showed well, with Breakaway 17U winning the UAA Invitational Gold championship to bring home a trophy to represent the state.

Breakaway 17U

Bobby Durkin (6’7 SG, Glenbard West/IMG Academy)

The game looked easy for Durkin. His reads were advanced offensively, selecting precise angles when he put the ball on the ground, using his big body to maintain advantages, and pulling up when defenders gave him an inch of space. Durkin connected on multiple threes in the games, stepping into looks in transition, scoring off set plays, and doing a nice job of using hesitations and crossovers to get separation in isolation situations. He’s become a better run-and-jump athlete, but his body control is exceptional at his size when he gets into the paint. Durkin also contributed as a pick-and-roll playmaker, primary ball-handler at times, and as a volume rebounder from the guard spot. He was one of the best players in the gym and has offers and attention from Power 5 programs.

Nik Polonowski (6’6 SG, Lyons)

One of the biggest winners of July as a whole, Polonowski showed his entire scoring package. His offense started with his ability to extend defenses as a top-level shooter with range, burying wing jumpers in bulk. But as soon as defenders began to stay attached to him off the ball, he got dunks and layups off backdoors, used his athleticism to drive by guys, and stopped on a dime for a few pull-ups. Polonowski was one of the louder defenders I saw, acting as a vocal leader while also taking the toughest offensive matchups. He maximized his opportunity this month with another big live period and coaches are realizing the Division 1 game that he possesses.

Arius Alijosius (6’3 SG, Riverside Brookfield)

Marksman, three-point specialist, sniper, however you want to say it is fine. Alijosius is and was automatic from beyond the arc this weekend, putting together some huge outputs. He made some off-balance threes off of floppy actions and made defenders rethink the quality of their closeouts on numerous occasions. On top of the shooting, he got some layups off straight line drives and even added a dunk in transition. Alijosius has a projectable frame and might not be down growing. He has the floor of a Division 2 prospect at this point, but from a floor spacing perspective, he is a high-major shooter.

Drew Scharnowski (6’8 SG/SF, Burlington Central)

Scharnowski gave glimpses of his potential as a disruptive two-way player. He had a few turnarounds and hooks in the post, stepped out for some pick-and-pop jumpers, and threw down a couple of big dunks off backdoor cuts. Always a threat to grab and go in transition, he initiated the break and made some slick passes in the half court as well as some full court outlets for layups. Defensively, he is as versatile as a player as there is in the state. He blitzed ball screens, slid with quick point guards for multiple steps, and was agile enough to get back to his man to either deter a pass or get a blocked shot on the recovery. He’s another Breakaway player with a slew of mid-major offers.

DJ Douglas (6’4 PG/SG, Yorkville Christian)

Douglas was solid on both ends for Breakaway, starting most games out at point guard where he has done a nice job adapting to more playmaking duties. He’s a wiry scoring guard that made his open threes and was able to break down the defense before making decisions off of two feet. Douglas is usually more of a perimeter scorer, but he mixed it up on the inside with some contact takes to the rim. I think his projectability as a defender will give him an edge over similar guards. He’s long, athletic, and takes pride in stopping any of the three perimeter spots. Douglas has a few Division 2 offers and could be a low-major prospect.

Alex Engro (6’2 PG, Loyola)

From game to game, Engro’s consistency as a decision-maker stood out. He has developed into a true point guard over the years and does what is needed to win. When he had open threes, he knocked them down. If he had to act as the ball-handler in a pick-and-pop action, he delivered timely passes to shooters or got downhill if the defense cheated it. Engro has a nice bag of ball-handling moves and misdirections to get to his spots that should translate to college. Defensively, the best way to describe his performance was scrappy. He fought through screens and looked for chances to make plays. Engro is a scholarship-level point guard that should be one of the top playmakers in the CCL this year for Loyola.

Fundamental U 17U

Ryan Duncan (6’3 PG, Wilbraham & Monson)

Duncan orchestrated offense as he normally does, making accurate advance passes, identifying mismatches off of ball screens, and getting the ball to the right spots within the offense. He’s a high-level passer that had some tough dimes off the dribble. In addition to his passing, Duncan also converted some difficult layups, putting spin on some shots around the rim. Duncan has deep shooting range as well that should force defenders to fight over ball screens. He will have Division 1 looks.

George Bellevue (6’5 SF/PF, Lincoln-Way East)

Bellevue plays multiple roles for Fundamental, but really excelled as a screener and rim runner. He slipped screens hard to get a few layups and put it on the ground for and and-one finish as well. The bouncy 6-foot-5 forward really springs off of the ground to get rebounds while displaying good hands at the top of his jumps. He projects as a high-energy combo forward that can guard a few spots.

Jackson Kotecki (6’9 PF, St. Ignatius)

The potential is clear for Kotecki at 6-foot-9 with great leaping ability and face-up skill. There were times when he was able to score over the top of smaller defenders in the post and a few rolls to the rim where he got loose. But Kotecki really got going defensively with some blocked shots and overall activity around the rim. He may be 6-foot-9, but he’s got pogo stick bounce and good instincts as a help side defender. Kotecki’s jumper looked smooth and he should be a threat as a short roll guy who can take one or two dribbles to attack. He’s a projectable Division 1 four.

Illinois Wolves 17U

Asa Thomas (6’7 SG, Lake Forest)

Thomas was very impressive scoring from three levels and utilizing his size to shoot over the top of defenses. He has such a good feel for how to get his shot off without a lot of space, getting around the foul line for pull-ups, scoring off of turnaround jump shots, and dropping in a handful of deep threes. The Clemson commit also did a nice job of drawing contact when he got into the paint and got to the foul line where he is nearly automatic. The 6-foot-7 wing projects as a quality floor spacer in the ACC.

Troy Cicero (6’1 PG, Romeoville)

Despite giving up some size in a few matchups, Cicero’s toughness and athleticism stood out. As an on-ball defender, he was poking balls loose and disrupting the flow of opposing offenses. He does a nice job of getting up to pressure without getting beat, also showing quick recovery time on the few occasions he gave up a step. Cicero is an energizer of a point guard who plays up-tempo and shows a knack for getting into the paint. His athleticism really stood out in transition with quick blowby moves and a transition dunk. He will have a chance to play at the low-major D1 or D2 level.

Cam Christie (6’6 SG, Rolling Meadows)

Usually known as a volume scorer, Christie contributed across the board this weekend while drawing some of the toughest matchups. He has a lot of upside on the defensive end with his long arms and ability to cover a lot of ground laterally while in a stance. Christie handled the ball against pressure at times, dropped off some pinpoint passes off ball screens, and ran the wings to get early offense as well. His pull-up game remains among the best in the state with how quickly and efficiently he pops up into his shot off the dribble. There were a couple of highly contested shots at the end of the shot clock that he made look effortless. Another high-major recruit for the Wolves, Christie will have amble options.

Ryan Cohen (6’4 SG, Glenbrook North)

Cohen is a steady shooter that produced off the ball well. Strong and smart at 6-foot-4, he knows how to use his body to set up cuts and create space prior to the catch. When he had his feet set, Cohen delivered consistently from three. The ball didn’t stick when it got kicked out to him, either moving it, taking an open shot, or attacking a closeout. Cohen will be one of the more productive returning guards in the state and has cemented himself as a scholarship-level player.

Chikasi Ofoma (6’7 PF, Curie)

A little undersized height for a four man, but Ofoma is a workhorse. He was around the ball defensively whenever any actions occurred inside the paint, either blocking a shot or getting space to rebound. Ofoma fights for positioning on both ends and was a quality rim runner and dunk spot outlet. He gets off the ground well and had a few powerful dunks. I was also impressed with his passing instincts out of the high post, hitting teammates on backdoor actions and putting nice touch on high low passes. Ofoma gave the Wolves a much-needed inside presence and should only get better with time.

Jake Hamilton (6’3 SG, Sacred Heart-Griffin)

Hamilton does a lot of dirty work and play at his own pace. He’s got an athletic frame that allows him to play bigger than his 6-foot-3 listing and he competes with an edge on both ends. Hamilton guarded multiple positions and had to defend bigs at times. Offensively, he scored with his back to the basket using hooks and short turnarounds to finish against size. The lefty has a solid shot from the perimeter as well, although he didn’t take many. He has multiple Division 2 offers.

Illinois Wolves 16U

Cole Certa (6’5 SG, Bloomington Central Catholic)

In another breakout weekend for Certa, he was one of the top scorers at the 16U level. A naturally wired scorer, he can get his shot off from a number of areas, doing his most damage as a catch-and-shoot three-point weapon and around 10 feet with his runners. He has ideal size for a two-guard at 6-foot-5 which helps him lift up over defenders off of pin downs and flare screens. Certa showed some ability to create his own shot off the dribble with some straight-line moves. He has a couple of offers, but should be much more of a known national commodity after this weekend’s performance.

Jaylan McElroy (6’7 SF, DePaul Prep)

If you can’t see the upside and multi-dimensional impact of McElroy, you aren’t watching close enough. There were numerous occasions where he rotated and switched onto multiple players in one possession and forced them to pick the ball up or take a bad shot. He is an elite wing defender that rebounds with energy. On the other end, he got better as the weekend went on, running out in transition, finishing off putbacks, sealing inside, and using his long strides and strength to get a step on defenders to get downhill. McElroy also showed a good understanding of how to set up teammates as a passer when help came. I wouldn’t expect it to be long before the Division 1 offers start to roll in.

Kelton McEwen (6’1 PG, Bartlett)

McEwen showed the ability to change games with his sharpshooting. When the Wolves needed to end a dry spell most, McEwen stepped up with a couple of big threes off a couple of actions. They ran sets to get him looks off of a wing flare screen and found him drifting off of penetration. His shooting range extends to NBA range which opens up the lane where he can use his ball-handling to get touches. McEwen drew fouls and made push shots off drives. I was impressed with his defensive impact as well, causing havoc with his quick hands, anticipation, and ability to stride and stop in space. McEwen is another Division 1 level guard who can shoot at a high level.

Angelo Ciaravino (6’6 SG, Mount Carmel)

There’s something different about the way Ciaravino moves. He had a couple of double clutch finishes in traffic that you don’t see every day. In isolation situations, Ciaravino used his change of pace and athleticism to separate from defenders. He’s got a nice pull-up game with a balanced, consistent release off of one or two dribbles. That complements his finishing skill and ability to evade the secondary help. Ciaravino’s fluidity defensively allows him to guard quicker guards and longer wings effectively. He had a solid performance on both ends and will be moving up once again in our updated rankings.

Jaheem Webber (6’9 C, Normal)

A power big that showed that he can control the paint, Webber was blocking shots and dunking with force. Even at 6-foot-9, he has good feet and a very mature frame for his age. Opposing bigs struggled to move him off the block and were unable to back him down on the other end. Webber rolled hard and operated well in the short corner to crash for rebounds or punch home drop off passes. His timing as a shot blocker and vertical rim protector stood out as well. Webber is clearly one of the best junior centers in Illinois.

Jehvion Starwood (6’3 SG, Oswego East)

Starwood is a plus college-level athlete already. He has great start-and-stop ability with a bunch of explosiveness to use on or off the ball. The 6-foot-3 guard was a quality end-of-shot clock option with his creativity and mid-range pull-up shooting. He can dance on defenders and has the athletic burst to get to the rim at will. If his jump shot continues to get more consistent like it has over the last month, he is going to be scary for Oswego East.

Illinois Wolves 15U

Sean Reynolds (6’1 PG/SG, DeKalb)

Reynolds is a true shooter. He has clean footwork to get square on the move and has the balance to sprint off of screens to score. Throughout the game, he made a few catch-and-three looks and got into the lane for floaters. There’s a toughness that he plays with that you have to appreciate, especially when he attacks baseline aggressively to score or draw help. I would look for Reynolds to have a big sophomore season and he should be securely in the discussion for the top shooter in the class.

Lyncoln Koester (6’2 PG, Mt. Zion)

I really like the pace and feel that Koester shows. He’s 6-foot-2 right now and uses his body well as a ball-handler to protect the ball and create angels. Koester was able to make passes over the top of the defense to bigs and connect on drive and kick to find shooters. With a quick, high-arching three-point shot, Koester hit some threes with good range. Koester is both a plus shooter and passer, but has some shift to him that led to some short jumpers around 10 feet.

Marcos Gonzalez (6’3 SG, Brother Rice)

Gonzalez was able to use his shiftiness and handle to get into the paint and make things happen. Offensively, he’s looking to put pressure on the rim with his driving ability, but he did also show the willingness and ability to take threes. He’s got good length and size to make plays in traffic and use it to defend both backcourt spots. Gonzalez is coming up in the Rice pipeline and will be a problem for years to come.

Jake Nosek (6’6 SF, Metea Valley)

For a growing 6-foot-6 wing, Nosek can really shoot it. When he got clean looks from three, he showed textbook form and release that is hard to affect. Although he didn’t have to put it on the ground a bunch, he looked smooth with the ball. Nosek is a skilled wing that probably has a few more inches of growing to do.

Jackson Hupp (6’7 PF/C, Hersey)

Both a threat on the block using his good footwork or as a catch-and-shoot pop option, the lefty is able to score in a number of ways. But he had more impact in other areas. Hupp, a big and highly skilled interior player, used his strength on the glass during the weekend. He got tap outs and corralled rebounds in his area, showing some touch in the paint once he got it. There were also flashes of his vision as an interior passer. Hupp was one of the most productive freshmen last season and should be a focal point for Hersey.

Nick Allen (6’9 C, Bradley Bourbonnais)

Allen has the look of a rim-running center that you could potentially build around. He has broad shoulders, great length, and changes ends well. Largely patrolling the paint defensively, Allen was an anchor as a back line defender. He recovers nicely from the weak side and showed some promise hedging ball screens. Allen is a vertical outlet offensively that can finish lobs and get second chances at this point. As he continues to get stronger, he should be a rock solid two-way big with a chance to be a difference maker.

Jonas Johnson (6’5 SF, DePaul Prep)

Johnson didn’t do anything too flashy, but he contributed across the board as a scorer, rebounder, and switchable defender. Playing both on the wing and guarding bigs at times, the 6-foot-5 DePaul Prep product used his length effectively while moving his feet to stay in front of the ball. He’s got a versatile offensive skillset, displaying a good release from three while also attacking off rip throughs from the wing and making layups in crowds. Johnson will get exponentially better with time.

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