NEWARK, Ohio -- Making a return trip to the Jim Allen Gymnasium for the first time since Newark wrapped up yet another OCC title by dispatching Canal Winchester, it was nice to see the Wildcats in their home gym against Bishop Hartley on Saturday.
With each team's starting point guard missing the event due to ACT testing, we still saw a handful of talented rising prospects who each had good moments in Saturday's scrimmage.
Javan Simmons (6'4 PF / Bishop Hartley / 2022): Simmons is going to live at the free throw line for the next three years. An absolute workhorse with oven mitts for hands, Simmons snatched down more rebounds than anyone else in the gym on Saturday. With broad shoulders, a strong build and a nose for the ball, Simmons is a fearless forward that used a sledgehammer to crack the Hartley rotation last year, earning his spot and never looking back. On Saturday, the rising sophomore did a great job clearing space inside, showing the ability to seal defenders and put them on his hip. Simmons plays with a chip on his shoulder and refuses to back down from anyone, characteristics that are needed if you want to succeed in the CCL. With the graduation of all-time great Morgan Safford, Simmons might just end up being the top option for the young Hawks, who will make up for lack of experience with toughness - and that begins with the 6-foot-4 bull in a china shop sophomore.
Elijah Hinton (6'5 PF / Newark / 2021): Coach Jeff Quackenbush is elite when it comes to developing big guys. Hinton is next in line for the legendary longtime Newark coach. With the graduation of Keshawn Heard, Hinton is the new front court presence for the Wildcats and we think he's going to be a good one. A lanky forward with a great frame, broad shoulders and long arms, Hinton played a great scrimmage, competing hard on both ends, setting great screens, operating fluidly in Newark's motion offense and knocking down open jumpers when they came to him. Battling hard with Simmons all afternoon long, Hinton held his own and even showed us some intriguing handling coordination, grabbing a few rebounds and starting the break. With Quackenbush's track record in the past, we have no doubt that Hinton can develop into a stud, as he showed to be a coachable kid willing to work hard and sacrifice for the team.
Amari Gaston (6'2 WG / Bishop Hartley / 2022): A late signup for The Intro last summer, Gaston immediately stood out in skill drills in the first year event for rising freshmen. Seeing him for the first time since that event, Gaston has really developed in the time since, as his smooth jump shooting ability stuck out on Saturday. Gaston knocked down a handful of jumpers from all over the floor and showed the acceleration and grace to beat guys off the dribble and finish through traffic. Hartley has a good track record with wings as of late and Gaston should be next in line if he keeps working and putting more into his craft.
Bobby Crenshaw (6'1 WG / Newark / 2020): Developing like crazy from the beginning of winter until Newark's season ended in the regional semifinals in March, Crenshaw is one of our favorite unfinished projects in the 2020 class. An elite-level athlete who recently finished eighth in the state in the 400 meter dash, Crenshaw also has springs for legs, as he created several highlight plays for the Wildcats last year. On Saturday, Crenshaw was intriguing once more, defending the crap out of the ball, as he was able to physically bother opposing players without fouling, creating several turnovers for Newark. Offensively, Crenshaw is still a work in progress, however, his improved handling ability was encouraging, as was the catch and shoot three he hit late in the scrimmage. The 6-foot-1 guard has arguably the quickest first step of any player in the area and is a really explosive finisher with more strength than you'd expect from his frame. Division II, III and NAIA programs should consider taking a chance on Crenshaw based on the fact that he's only going into his second year of organized basketball, as he is nowhere near his ceiling as a player.
Drew Ballinger (6'3 WG / Newark / 2021): Ballinger came out of nowhere last high school season as one of the OCC's top breakout sophomores, using his marksmanship from the three-point line to cement his place in the Newark starting lineup. Ballinger even knocked down six threes in the district final against Olentangy Orange, giving Newark the boost it needed to take down a very good Pioneers team. On Saturday, Ballinger was up to his old tricks, converting on nearly all of his open three attempts, as he doesn't need much space or time to make defenses pay. He's not just a one trick pony though, as he's slippery enough to create off the bounce and is a very smart defender who did a great job denying his man of the ball. Ballinger is a classic Newark kid who buys into the program and does all the little things to help the Wildcats win games. We think Ballinger is the purest shooter in his class with what we've seen from him in our last few viewings.
Will Miller (6'2 WG / Bishop Hartley / 2021): While we've known about Miller since before his freshman year, he's waited his turn and will finally have a chance to crack the starting rotation for Hartley this winter. On Saturday, Miller showed off as a skilled shot maker who is developing into a leader for the Hawks. Miller has a good frame and really competes, never lacking for confidence, which was evident as he drained a contested three-point buzzer beater to end Saturday's scrimmage in a deadlock. Miller is a catch and shoot specialist who loves the corner three, which we see him hitting a ton of this upcoming season with the attention that Simmons will draw on the block.
Jaden Woods (6'4 WF / Newark / 2020): Woods had a strong junior year, serving as a complimentary scorer that played a big part in Newark's run to conference and district titles. It was nice to watch him again on Saturday, as he continued to knock in the mid-range jumper and remains a finesse finisher around the basket. The 6-foot-4 wing forward is a great teammate, always gives a great effort and is a streaky scorer who can give you 20 when he's in a rhythm. Division III programs should begin to familiarize themselves with Woods, as he can play and defend multiple positions, while coming from a program where he will have four years of great coaching under his belt.
Braden Blanchard (6'0 G / Bishop Hartley / 2021): A player that popped onto our radar in the open division of the 270 Hoops Fall League last year, Blanchard is a hard-nosed tough guard that appears to be the glue guy for Hartley. On Saturday, he provided Hartley with two-way production, defending on and off the ball at a high level while making shots and using his crafty finishing ability at the rim. Blanchard doesn't have great size or athleticism, however, he is a tough customer that simply knows how to play the game. The rising junior is one of those guys whose production almost always leads to winning.
Dejon Donnell (5'10 PG / Bishop Hartley / 2021): Seeing Donnell for the first time since last July, we were really impressed with the on-ball defense of the rising junior. Donnell can REALLY move his feet on the perimeter, proving to be a disruptive point of attack defender that gave the Hawks great production on that end of the floor. Offensively, Donnell is still developing as a facilitator and playmaker, but we did like the way he was able to create separation and get into the lane. Donnell can really defend the ball and should have a strong junior year if he can make stout defense his niche and role for this team.