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Battle for the City: Top Freshmen Performers

By Connor Harr, 03/30/19, 12:00PM EDT


A look at the top freshmen performers from Battle for the City

LEWIS CENTER, Ohio -- The one glaring conclusion that I could make from scouting the 2022 class at Battle For The City is that the future of Central Ohio Basketball is in good hands. Going into the event, I anticipated nothing, but pure domination from the freshmen that made a name for themselves at the varsity level this season. While prospects like Sean Jones, Rob Dorsey, Jaylen Simmons, and Jared Frey definitely shined, the amount of prospects that were able to hold their own on the court with these key varsity contributors was pleasantly surprising. With an influx of talent to look forward to over the coming years, let’s jump right into the top performers and my first impressions of a majority of these freshmen.

Sean Jones (5’10 PG / Gahanna Lincoln / 2022): Probably the best current prospect for his class in this event, Jones had a pair of solid outings aiding his OCC team to a victory in both of their games.

Standing at 5-foot-10 Jones is lightning quick off the dribble and one of the best ball handlers you will find in the area regardless of class. He excels both changing directions and speeds at a high level which allows him to get into the lane whenever he pleases. Once in the lane, Jones is capable of finishing at the rim with solid body control or decelerate in a moments notice in order to create space from his mid range pull up. Jones finished at the rim and knocked down the occasional mid range jumper at the event and his efficiency taking those shots appears to have steadily increased throughout the season and now into the offseason. Where the undersized guard really impresses on the offensive end of the floor is as a playmaker. With an IQ well beyond his years Jones’ decision making in the lane is impeccable. He regularly reads the weakside of the floor and is capable of consistently making reaction reads to helpside defenders. While there's not much helpside going on at a showcase, Jones did showcase his weakside vision.

Defensively, Jones is a strong point of attack defender with elite lateral speed and quick hips. His offensive IQ translates on the defensive end of the floor where he is far ahead of the learning curve for freshman defending off the ball at the varsity level. With exceptional recovery speed in and out of rotations and great anticipation skills, Jones can turn his defense into offense off the ball as well.

Jones is a name that every coach should be familiar with if they are not already. While it’s silly to project levels at this stage in a prospects career, Jones would excel in an uptempo system. With great north/south speed as a transition handler, the Gahanna guard is capable of making any passing read with ease in transition and would really be a killer in early offensive drag screens. In the halfcourt, he should thrive in frequent spread ball screen actions as well. Along with effectively utilizing his active hands and anticipation skills within a fullcourt press. His three point shot is still a work in progress, but if he can start consistently knocking that shot down, he is going to be a complete offensive lead guard.

Rob Dorsey (5’10 G / Northland / 2022): I have had the pleasure of viewing the Northland freshman guard twice now since the season ended. It has been refreshing to get a better on ball offensive feel for him since Northland had some quality upperclassmen guard talent this season. While he could not pull out the showcase win for his City League squad, Dorsey was named MVP of the event after scoring an efficient 26 points in 15-20 minutes of play in the last game of the night.

Standing at 5-foot-10 Dorsey has showcased his on ball skills so far in the offseason as a change of pace handler. Typically the young guard does a fantastic job of getting into the lane by creating driving angles for himself and getting to the rim. He got to the line at a high level during his Battle For The City games, but his outpouring performance in the last game was the real eye catcher. A quality mid-range shooter, Dorsey expanded his range out to the three point line and consistently knocked down triples both pulling up and spotting up. This will be a key development for him as a prospect which will help both his creation value as a primary/secondary creator or off the ball paired with a wing creator. He also showcased some simple reads as a passer mainly in transition.

Defensively, Dorsey is a capable defender on the ball, who does not have elite lateral speed but is able to contain his matchup off the dribble. His continued development as a team defender will be something to track as well.

Dorsey is one of the better freshman guard prospects that you will find in the area. He is another name that coaches should become familiar with. He will be playing slightly more on the ball next year without N’Keeley Elmore, but will likely be thrust into a more permanent handling role in two years after Devan White graduates. The young guards shooting consistency and development as a passer in the lane will be two major factors to look for in his future development.

Jaylen Simmons (5’10 G / Beechcroft / 2022): Simmons was a key player as the primary handler at Beechcroft this season. The young Cougar guard has an efficient and effective outing in both games. He did not look to force the issue, which you will not typically see from many freshman in his position.

Standing at 5-foot-10 Simmons has a tight handle with quality burst off the dribble, also flashing an ability to change directions successfully as well. With a plethora of ball handlers on the City League side, it was hard for some guards like Simmons to fit into their role that they play within their high school system. The freshman guard probably handled an off ball role better than a vast majority of guards at his age. Knocking down several spot up threes, making some quality low usage reads attack off spot ups, and flashing some weakside passing vision. This quality decision making as a passer was very encouraging from the young guard. As a player who currently excels as a downhill finisher taking advantage of his burst off the dribble to get to the rim, Simmons continuing to shoot the three ball consistently will go a long way in rounding out his offensive game in particularly as a pull up shooter.

Defensively, Simmons has flashed some off ball defensive equity at his age with fantastic recovery speed and usually does a nice job of making fundamental closeouts to contain on spot up drives. I’d like to see him continue to improve his off ball technique in particularly when chasing his matchup on off ball screens. His quickness does translate laterally on the defensive end of the floor and he should continue to develop into a solid on ball defender as well.

With his older brother Jelani now playing at Youngstown State, Simmons has a strong bloodline and a basketball rich family. Seeing his adaptability to a new role on the fly was quite impressive. However, he is still a prospect that will likely be a primary creator and continuing to develop his pull up jumper and decision making will go a long way for him.  

Jared Frey (6’4 WG / St. Charles / 2022): Frey was the leading scorer for St. Charles this season averaging 17.6 points per game in an off ball role. The southpaw is one of the better shooters off movement you will find in the area with ideal wing size. Unfortunately there’s not much use for an off movement shooter at a showcase, but Frey played a total opposite role then you will see at St. Charles. Playing on a team with few reliable ball handlers, Frey was thrust into primary handling duties.

Frey actually had a sound outing and while he did show off his shooting equity, he was far more impressive as a transition handler. With a pair of strong rebounding performances as well, the wing was able to grab and go making pinpoint outlets to his leaking teammates. Along with making some simple reads to the strong side corner. This was a little surprising, but the Cardinals leading scorer has flashed his low usage passing equity in the halfcourt before, so it makes sense that he would be able to execute in transition as well. I’d still like to see him continue to develop his shot creation and tighten his handle, struggling at times when occasional ball pressure was applied.

Defensively, Frey is going to have be a positive off the ball. His IQ should translate to the defensive end of the floor, and will have to rely great positioning since he does not have a large amount of speed when making rotations.

It was good to see Frey have a nice outing especially since he is not the type of player that you would expect to thrive in this environment. He’s definitely a prospect that coaches are going to want to evaluate at St. Charles. They does an excellent job creatively working him off movement in the halfcourt. His IQ, outside shooting equity, and low usage passing ability are currently his most marketable traits.  

AJ Clayton (6’6 PF / Philo / 2022): Clayton was one of the best surprises of the day. Emerging himself as a dominant force among Central Ohio’s elite.

Standing at 6-foot-6 Clayton has a very developed game for a young forward. He can score with his back to the basket or facing with soft touch and flashed a potential ability to stretch the floor from the outside. Along with showcasing some handling coordination on spot up drives. A fluid mover at his size, Clayton applied his motor in transition finishing in the open court and will finish above the rim as well.

Defensively, the Philo forward was able to contest shots at the rim executing simple rotations. His movement skills should translate to the defensive end of the floor as a forward who can become capable of defending guards on switches as well.

Clayton has a ton of potential and a great foundational skillset already. He could develop into an all round big man threat or a stretch four at the next level. One of the better long term prospects at the event, Clayton is definitely going to become a name that every in Central Ohio will be familiar with in the coming years.

Dior Conners (6’0 CG / Pickerington North / 2022): Conners is the only other prospect that could rival Clayton for the biggest surprise of the event. Playing sparring varsity minutes for a fantastic Pickerington North team this season, Conners could be a key ingredient for another deep postseason run in the future.

In this setting, on ball talent on the offensive end of the floor always shines through. Conners may have had the most out of anybody who stepped onto the court not named Sean Jones. Standing at 6-foot tall, the freshman is a shifty handler that excels changing directions with an array of dribble moves and counters. He thrived in the open court with strong top speed finishing at the rim, flashing a mid range pull up game, and making some simple passing reads.

On the defensive end of the floor, Conners had a few possessions where he took advantage of weaker ball handlers as a point of attack defender. He does have quality lateral speed, but mainly guarded wings, so I would like to see if he can continue to have the same effect against more dynamic lead guards.

Conners is going to be a name to watch out for at Pickerington North. While the Panthers do have their entire core returning, I think Conners is going to be a kid that can provide a spark off the bench and potentially become yet another scoring option the Panthers will be looking for behind the three-headed monster of Jack Sawyer, Chris Scott and Hunter Shedenhelm.

Troy Scowden (6’5 PF / Buckeye Valley / 2022): Coming into Tuesday, Scowden had been covered extensively by 270 Hoops this season. However this was my first viewing of the freshman forward who was a major contributor at Buckeye Valley this winter.

Standing at 6-foot-5 Scowden already has a very encouraging frame. As one of the biggest players in the event, he looked to take advantage of his size early and often. Mainly playing a below the rim play finishing role and dominating on both sides of the boards. Along with running the floor in his first game where he has the athletic ability to finish above the rim. He did attempt a jumper from beyond the arc, but I think he’s still a little ways away from growing into a legitimate floor spacer. The freshman has been praised for his passing vision before, which is something I would have loved to see. Unfortunately none of his games were very post up heavy.

Defensively, Scowden did a solid job protecting the rim. He was able to execute simple rotations to challenge layup attempts. His athletic traits could point to some switchability in the future, but is something to keep in mind to see at a consistent rate over the course of next season.

Scowden kind of fell victim to the flow of the up and down fast paced game in his second game. It would have been nice to get a larger ideal sample on him, but the freshman is definitely poised for a huge career at Buckeye Valley and will be a name to keep a close eye on throughout his sophomore season and this spring.

Josh Whiteside (6’5 C / Gahanna / 2022): Whiteside is a player that received some varsity minutes this year at Gahanna off the bench. I’ve seen him give some good minutes for the Lions throughout the regular season.

Standing at 6-foot-5 Whiteside is your prototypical play finisher with a wide frame at the big position. He was productive in both games consistently ambidextrously finishing below the rim through contact and flashing a functional handle on a mid post drive that we have not seen before.

Defensively Whiteside is limited to defending his position. However, with his frame he is going to be a player that is hard to move in the low post and should thrive in one on one situations with opposing big men.

Ideally you’d like to see Whiteside become a little more explosive to develop into a rim runner that can develop a feel for the weakside of the floor as a roll man.

LA Walker (6’2 WG / Linden / 2022): Walker was one of the most consistently productive prospects in both of his games. The young wing came on for Linden late in the season, putting together some quality outings late in City League play.

Standing at a lengthy 6-foot-2 with a developed frame, Walker appears to have grown from the beginning of the season and is much more of a true wing than a guard at this point in his career. A large amount of his offense was created as a transition handler, frequently taking advantage of his rebounding ability in order to grab and go, driving to the rim and finishing with a full head of steam. While he wasn’t much a willing passer initially, once he settled down Walker was able to make some simple passing reads both in the halfcourt and in the open court. The freshman wing attempted a three as well, but his shooting consistency will go a long way creating some value for him offensively in the halfcourt along with tightening his handle and applying it in more ways than just in transition.

Defensively, Walker does have decent lateral speed and his length should allow him to guard off ball guards and wings. His reaction time and IQ off the ball when making rotations will be something to look for in the upcoming season, since he does have the requisite physical and athletic tools to blossom into a plus team defender.

Noah Lawrence (5’10 G / Westerville North / 2022): Lawrence was another pleasant surprise for me on Tuesday. A bench contributor at Westerville North this season, the freshman definitely made a name for himself as one of the better offensive guard prospects in his class.

Standing at 5-foot-10 Lawrence is a lightning quick and shifty ball handler that excels changing directions. Mainly scoring off of his jumpshot, the Westerville North freshman was able to create space for his pull up jumper and efficiently knock down spot up jumpers from beyond the arc. I was also very impressed with Lawrence’s passing ability. He executed simple drive and kicks to the strong side of the floor and flashed some weakside passing vision. Off the ball, Lawrence is capable of playing off his shooting equity where he can attack the middle of the floor with a quality first step.

Defensively, Lawrence is limited to one position at his size and while he didn’t spend a majority of time guarding ball dominant handlers, his fantastic speed changing directions should allow him to at the very least become a serviceable defender that can contain his man on the ball.

I was very impressed with the role versatility that Lawrence showcased. He is effective and efficient playing both on and off the ball. The freshman sees the floor substantially better than most guards his age and even some upperclassmen. With their lead guard Jeremiah Keene moving onto Lincoln Memorial, expect Lawrence to be poised for a breakout sophomore season where he establishes himself as a legitimate guard prospect in Central Ohio.

Andre Darthard (6’1 WG / Walnut Ridge / 2022: Darthard did not get much varsity run at all this season. With a veteran filled backcourt and a plethora of talent, the freshman only played in the occasional blowout.

A true wing, Darthard excels with ball in his hands. He was able to consistently create space in the halfcourt and finished well in the open court, showcasing a well rounded high usage scoring game. I’d like to see him continue to develop as a passer. Since he does have a fair amount of scoring equity just to help round out his offensive game.

Defensively, Darthard played with some energy on the ball. He flashed some lateral speed as a point of attack defender and was really able to disturb almost any wing on the ball. Unfortunately, it was difficult to get a feel for how he works off the ball so that will be a major factor to look for heading into next season. Darthard will definitely be a name we will be keeping our eye on, with the potential to string together points in a hurry if he gets consistent varsity minutes next season.

LB Towns (5’3 G / Linden / 2022): Towns quietly caught my eye with the impact that he was able to make on both ends of the floor. Getting more playing time in the back half of the season like his teammate LA Walker, Towns showed flashes this season as the future looks bright for Linden McKinley basketball.

Standing at 5-foot-3, Towns is a lightning quick and creative ball handler that excels changing directions and can get to his top speed in a moments notice. He did most of his work scoring from the three point line where he was able to knock down spot ups, and create space for his pull up thanks to his handle and a quick release that is absolutely necessary for a guard at his size. However, Towns was the most impressive passing the basketball making quality simple reaction reads once he got into the lane, showing off his high IQ along with proving himself capable of executing simple reads in transition.

Defensively Towns plays with a fantastic motor and a junkyard dog like mentality. He’s not going to back down from anyone and is the type of guard that is capable of pestering opposing teams ball handlers with active hands, elite lateral speed, and low center of gravity.

I was very impressed with Towns, especially being able to flourish on both ends of the floor at his size. Playing JV early in the season and at the last Linden game I attended, I will be eager to see how Towns develops. In particularly looking at if he can consistently get his jumpshot off and regularly make weakside passes in the teeth of the defense at his size.

The freshman guard is also an elite student who has excelled in everything he’s done thus far in his high school career.

Doogie James (5’6 G / St. Charles / 2022): Derrick “Doogie” James is the running mate to fellow freshman Jared Frey, who are two key players in the future of the St. Charles basketball program. James came off the bench for most of the year, but was usually a breath of fresh air for the Cardinals as a much needed handling option and occasionally providing instant offense.

Standing at 5-foot-6, James has a tight handle and is a change of direction handler like Towns. James was able to consistently knock down jump shots tonight which is an element of his game that has been inconsistent in the past. This is something that was refreshing to see and will help him as an undersized guard prospect who likes to score and get into the lane. I would still like to see him develop a floater game and become more comfortable pulling up from midrange so he doesn’t have to take the ball into the teeth of the defense.

Defensively, James is also a point of attack defender with his blistering lateral speed. He is capable of disrupting opposing teams ball handlers and he flashed a quality IQ off the ball, but it is hard to really stand out as a team defender at his size.

James should be primed to take over the starting lead guard position at St. Charles next season. More than capable of filling this role, I love the way that him and fellow freshman Frey compliment each other and will be fun to watch in the upcoming season.

Ethan Smith (6’0 WG / Olentangy / 2022): Smith didn’t get any varsity run at all this year at Olentangy, as it is difficult for a freshman to find consistent minutes when a team is filled with juniors and seniors. However, Smith held his own offensively in both of his games.

Standing at 6-foot even, Smith is more of a wing than a lead guard at this point in his career. I thought the low usage role the freshman played fit him well. He was able to consistently play off his shooting gravity as the Olentangy freshman is easily one of the best spot up shooters in his class with range that already extends well beyond the collegiate line. This led to open driving lanes that he could attack with ease, but I would like to see him continue to tighten his handle and apply it more in the halfcourt.

Smith will be an interesting track over the next few years at Olentangy. Already comfortable playing off the ball, if the freshman continues to grow or becomes more comfortable as a handler in a high usage role he could become an intriguing offensive prospect.

Dan Wagner (5’10 G / Africentric / 2022): Wagner played almost every single varsity game for Africentric averaging 10 points per game for the Nubians this season. Unfortunately, I did not get an opportunity to see Africentric this season so this was my first viewing of the lead guard.

Standing at 5-foot-10, Wagner is a change pace handler. He got a ton of shots up at the event and made quite a few impressive pull ups from well beyond the three point line where he was able to create space with ease. Even though he was scoring minded, the freshman filled up the stat sheet as well. Showing off some passing abilities in the open court and rebounding the ball exceptionally apply quality leaping explosion despite being one of the smaller players on the court. This allowed him to get out and initiate early offense in a moments notice.

Defensively Wagner made quite the impression as well. In a setting where team defense rarely shines, Wagner was able to generate high impact plays off the ball coming up with steals and blocks.

I was impressed by the young Africentric guard in his two games, showing of an all around game. I’d like to see him continue to play off the threat of his pull up jumpshot rather than settling a little too frequently. Nevertheless Wagner is a quality prospect and a volume scorer that can fill it up in a hurry. He will definitely want to be a name that you get to know over the course of the next few seasons.

Chase Ouellette (6’4 WF / Wellington / 2022): Ouellette was another player that received a good amount of varsity run at Wellington this season. He put together a few big games for the Jaguars throughout the course of the year.

Standing at 6-foot-4 Ouellette has a clearly defined role and stuck to it. He’s a lights out spot up shooter with ideal wing size and he proved exactly that efficiently knocking down a pair of triples throughout the contest on a limited number of attempts.

Continuing to round out his offensive game by developing his handle and improving on the defensive floor will be key. However, it’s rare to see a player this young have such a clearly defined role as a floor spacer with solid size. Without Dallas Patrick next season, somebody will need to take the reins on a major creation role at Wellington. While I do not anticipate Ouellette to step into this role, it will be interesting to see if he develops as an off movement shooter and becomes a vital element in how the Jaguars will create offense in the halfcourt without a high level creator.

Brandon McLaughlin (6'6 PF / Heath / 2022): In the era of big men being able to handle, shoot and pass, Heath's McLaughlin fits this mold. A lengthy 6-foot-6 forward who can score it in the post over either shoulder, while having the ability to extend out to the mid-range area and knock down jumpers, arguably McLaughlin's most intriguing trait is his handling ability for his size.

In our viewings of him in the high school season, McLaughlin showed this off, as he was able to beat opposing defenders from the top of the key to the rim. On the block, he can score it with consistency and shows a good level of versatility on that side of the ball.

McLaughlin is an impressive athlete with good feet, as he is a serviceable defender on the perimeter, while still developing into a shot-blocking force on the interior. In a Licking County League without a ton of size (minus Licking Heights' Tyrese Hughey), McLaughlin will have every chance to dominate over the next three years. Between McLaughlin and 6-foot-4 freshman wing Keylan Williams, Heath has an impressive young core to build around. 

Jerry Saunders (6'0 WG / Pickerington North / 2022): In a Pickerington North program busting at the seams with young talent, Saunders is yet another piece in a collection of talent that has regional title and beyond potential. The most experienced of the Panthers' freshmen duo, Saunders had a solid outing on Tuesday in an off ball role.

While the 6-foot wing is a physical ball handler that can power his way to the rim against most high school defenders, what we really like about him is his outside shooting ability. Saunders can get hot in a hurry, as we watched him light up several JV games that we saw this season, while giving the Panthers good energy off the bench on the varsity level. 

While North returns nearly its entire rotation, Saunders will have every chance to earn more minutes next season, as the athletic wing is a throwback player with versatile scoring ability and toughness that you can't teach. 

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