DUBLIN, Ohio -- Elevate Basketball Academy in Dublin was home to an event that is the only of its kind in Ohio this fall. The 270 Hoops Proving Grounds fall showcase series tipped off at 2 p.m. and featured 23 players of all classes from around Central Ohio.
With four teams and one court, the goal was simple. Win and stay on. Lose and risk sitting out the rest of the event. With games played to 13 by 2's and 3's with no clock, the winning team would be forced to hit a free throw to secure their win after hitting the target score. If you missed, you went back to where you were before the target score bucket. Even worse, if you missed three-straight game-winning free throw attempts, you were sent back to 6 points, making each end to the game that much more important and intense.
The first team to win seven games would be crowned champion. It took 20 games to get a champion, as Team 1 took down Team 3 in an absolute battle, 14-11. 11 of the 20 games were decided by three points or less, as nearly every game was as competitive as possible.
With competition levels rising due to the format and the balance of talent, we saw many players take their game to the next level on Sunday. Let's take a look at who stood out the most.
Caleb Conard (6'7 PF / Big Walnut / 2021): By far the event's breakout player and MVP, Conard did wonders for his stock on Sunday by leading his team to seven wins and a championship. Hitting big bucket after big bucket, Conard did not shrink under pressure, as he went perfect at the free-throw line to secure at least three wins. Conard is a fleet footed and athletic big at 6-foot-7, who showed off a really impressive shooting stroke that will translate to the next level. We were impressed with the physicality that Conard showed on both ends of the floor, as he was not scared of contact and challenged every big man in the event. Without an offer at any level, Conard makes sense for Division II and NAIA programs looking for a stretch four who can absolutely stroke it, but also finish above the rim in transition. It's not often that a 6-foot-7 big of Conard's caliber is so under-recruited at this stage, but that will no longer be the case following the Big Walnut senior's breakout showing.
Amani Lyles (6'7 PF / Beechcroft / 2022): Lyles has rapidly improved in the last year, going from a guy we knew a little bit about to a player who might just be the highest upside prospect in the class. The 6-foot-7 forward put another notch under his belt this summer when he and Conard led his team to a title. Lyles is a defensive nightmare who erased so many opportunities around the basket, both in and out of his area. On the offensive end, Lyles is a very skilled stretch four that can hit perimeter jumpers, but has the ball skills to put it on the floor and get to the rim where he finishes with improved strength. More than his physical abilities, Lyles is a highly intelligent and coachable player that does not make mental mistakes and plays with a calm demeanor that doesn't allow him to get too high or too low. With only one offer from Cleveland State that he received a week ago, Lyles is a NO BRAINER for mid-major and above programs looking for a hard-working, humble and rapidly improving big man with legit game. You will not want to be late to the party with Lyles. Trust me.
John Mobley Jr. (5'9 PG / Reynoldsburg / 2024): The youngest guard in the event by at least two years, Mobley Jr. held his own and did not back down against anyone. The 5-foot-9 guard is coming into high school with as much hype as any player since Sean Jones, as it appeared the upperclassmen guards were licking their chops to get a shot at him. Mobley handled his business, showing confidence with his outside jumper, pulling up from all parts on the floor and heating up toward the later part of the event. We were impressed with Mobley's toughness and IQ, as he made several winning plays off the ball on defense. Mobley is still adjusting to the speed of the high school game, as he went up against 18 other high-level players, but he was about as ready as you could be for a rising freshman. Mobley has game-changing outside shooting ability while possessing a tight handle with the ability to finish under the rim. The rising freshman understands how to move off the ball and can really work a ball screen, traits that are rare for players as young as he is, which is a testament to the work he's put in with college and pro level players with Tihon Johnson of the Kingdom Summer League. As Mobley fills out and grows, look for him to develop into one of the more deadly offensive players in the area, as he already holds an offer from UNLV.
Elhadji Thiam (6'7 PF / Pickerington Central / 2021): In what was a rough day for Team 2 for most of the afternoon, Thiam stepped up in a big way to lead them to two-straight wins toward the end of the event. The athletic, fleet footed 6-foot-7 forward took defenders off the bounce and did a really good job finishing at the rim. Thiam has intriguing length and versatility on the defensive end, as he can guard mostly every position at the high school level. For Thiam, strength and weight will be what he needs to add in order to reach his potential. We think he is capable of doing just that, as he works hard and truly loves the game. Thiam holds offers from NJIT and Walsh, with more soon to come.
Derrick James (5'10 PG / St. Charles / 2022): Absolute dawg. That's Derrick James. We absolutely love watching this 5-foot-10 point guard compete because he takes every matchup personally and gets the most out of his teammates. James exerts elite effort every single time on the floor, giving elite two-way contribution on Sunday, helping lead his Team 3 to four-straight wins and a crack at the title in a game they lost 14-11. James is a bulldog at the point guard spot, proving to be a dismantling point of attack defender that makes opposing guards uncomfortable. James was everywhere to be found on defense, playing the passing lanes and closing out on shooters at a high level. Offensively, James gets to his spots, can really finish around the rim and is an overall efficient player. Look for James to really step up for St. Charles this year as the Cardinals will need more scoring out of him than usual with the transfer of Jared Frey to Hilliard Davidson.
Chase Walker (6'7 C / St. Charles / 2023): Walker is the literal definition of a matchup problem. The 6-foot-7 330-pound big man was an immovable force on the interior, as he finished several ELITE under the rim buckets while being hacked and slapped by opposing players. Walker has big time strength around the basket, as you cannot pry a rebound out of his hands, while being an elite-level passer who can throw outlets as good as Kaleb Wesson. When his team finally noticed how much of a matchup issue he was for the other teams, his touches increased and his teams began winning games (basketball is really a simple game when you slow down and create an advantage). Walker was the ultimate advantage on Sunday, as no other team had an answer for him. More than anything, Walker is extremely coachable and a very intelligent player that has a chance to develop into Central Ohio's next great big man.
Henry Hinkle (6'0 PG / Olentangy Liberty / 2021): Smooth operator. Hinkle was in complete control when the event started, directing his team and making winning play after winning play in leading Team 4 to four-straight wins. Unfortunately for Team 4, the wheels fell off after that when they dropped five-straight games and fell out of contention for the event title. Regardless, Hinkle was very efficient on Sunday, knocking down shots from all over, finishing with both sides on each side of the rim and showcasing his exceptional passing ability to find open shooters and cutters. Hinkle is the reigning OCC-Buckeye player of the year and is one of the most accomplished players in the OCC, as we look for him to lead a talented Olentangy Liberty team deep in the tournament next season.
Jarius Jones (6'5 WG / Gahanna / 2021): Jones has enjoyed a very productive summer, picking up new offers from Jackson State and Concord while excelling at every 270 Hoops event that he's played in. The 6-foot-5 Gahanna wing was very solid once again on Sunday, as he played a big part in leading Team 4 out of the gate with four-straight wins. Jones is a slashing wing who loves to get downhill to the rim, which he did often on the day. When he wasn't scoring at the rim, Jones was hitting the mid-range jumper with some consistency. On the defensive end, Jones has the most value as his 6-foot-5 frame and exceptional quickness for his size allow him to stay in front of mostly everyone he defends. When you add that to the length that he possesses, Jones is a highly valuable defensive weapon that should attract the attention of scholarship programs all over the region.
Jaydon Pearson (5'11 PG / Dublin Scioto / 2021): Made some winning plays off the bench, playing in the passing lanes and coming up with a handful of steals. Hit open shots when his number was called and had a great attitude. Winning effort and toughness. Pearson is a player to keep an eye on at Dublin Scioto this year, as he will be able to put up bigger numbers in an expanded role.
Jaiden Guice (6'0 PG / Westerville South / 2021): The 6-foot Guice is an absolute bucket who has range out to 25 feet. After winning a title at the 270 Hoops 2021 Challenge Pt. II, Guice made it two-straight on Sunday when he helped lead Team 1 to the championship. Guice comes from great basketball stock as his father Jermaine Guice was a four-year standout at Butler in the 90's before carving out a 14-year pro career in Europe.
Tasos Cook (6'2 WG / Westerville Central / 2021): Cook put it all together in helping lead Team 3 to the title game. The 6-foot-2 guard is a physically imposing athlete who has really improved his ball skills and offensive scoring ability. Cook can really impact a game when he gets going on the defensive end, as he helped Team 3 blow past opposing teams in an impressive run of four-straight wins toward the end of the event with elite effort and toughness.
Quinn Corna (6'2 G / Upper Arlington / 2022): Started off slow but got into a groove as the day went on. Took defenders off the dribble where he finished with a finesse style against the bigs in the event. Corna is typically a knockdown shooter but found ways to be effective when his shot wasn't going down.
Daviyon McDonald (6'7 WF / Dublin Coffman / 2022): McDonald looks the part and played a big role in helping Team 3 make a run to the title game with four-straight victories. The 6-foot-7 forward is a vastly improved shooter and exceptional athlete. Hit a few tough perimeter jumpers but made his biggest impact on the defensive end where his length and versatility was valuable.
Jack Christian (5'11 PG / Marysville / 2021): High IQ sniper who was blazing hot out of the gates as Team 4 won four-straight games. Christian plays with great pace, does not get sped up and always makes the correct play. It was a treat to watch he and Hinkle work together on and off the ball.
Obed Achirem (6'1 WF / DeSales / 2021): A standout in the 270 Hoops Small College Challenge, Achirem was a substitute on Sunday at the Proving Grounds and gave his team elite effort. While he didn't score a ton, Achirem came up with a million offensive rebounds, creating second chance opportunities for his team. Achirem is a physical defender with elite-level athleticism in a broad shouldered stocky build at 6-foot-1.