GROVE CITY, Ohio -- The 2nd annual Proving Grounds began this past Sunday and showcased Central Ohio's top talent. The first of five sessions, this week's event featured The Top 28, which consisted of the area's best players, regardless of class.
The competitive event was won by Team 1, which featured:
‘23 Devin Royal (Pickerington Central)
‘22 LA Pratt (Harvest Prep)
'22 Dior Conners (Pickerington North)
‘22 Troy Scowden (Buckeye Valley)
‘22 Chase Ouellette (Wellington)
‘22 Atticus Schuler (DeSales)
‘24 Jason Moore (Marysville)
Below, we breakdown the top ten players from the event and include some honorable mentions.
Devin Royal (6'6 WF / Pickerington Central '23) The undisputed MVP of the event, Royal willed his team to the championship. The Pickerington Central junior spent countless hours this off-season to improve his all-around game and it certainly showed Sunday. With a noticeably more cut and stronger build, Royal was able to get to the rim in each fashion; off the dribble, off the fast break and off the receiving end of an alley-oop. While he still has room to add consistency, Royal displayed confidence with an improved ability to shoot and convert from distance. In addition to his evolving overall skill set, it was Royal's willingness to take over that stood out as he took control and willed Team 1 to victory that concluded with clutch game-winning free throws. There's perhaps no player in the area that has improved his all-around game in the last few months more than Royal. That improvement is beginning to attract serious high major attention as shortly after Sunday's event, Royal received or plans to receive visits from Marquette, Illinois, Ohio State, Butler, Cincinnati and Xavier. This added interest is on top of his current ten offers. If Royal continues to improve at this rate, it's fair to expect the Pickerington Tiger to develop into a Top 100 recruit nationally.
Dailyn Swain (6'6 WG / Columbus Africentric '23) Royal would have been the clear-cut MVP favorite if it wasn't for a nearly equally impressive outing from Swain. Already considered a Top 100 recruit in the country for his class, Swain was the most naturally talented player on the floor. Despite a relatively thin frame, Swain has exceptional coordination and body control that's evident with his relentless attack and ability to finish around the rim. Swain also showed off an elite offensive skillset through a variety of moves from various spots on the floor. Already holding offers from programs such as Ohio State, Arizona State, Marquette, Cincinnati, Xavier and Ohio, Swain also received visits from Butler and Illinois after his performance on Sunday and should continue to be one of Ohio's top prospects.
Jacob Pleiman (6'6 PF / Botkins '22) Despite having to travel nearly 90 minutes from his Northwest Ohio home, the Division IV state champion came as prepared as any player. One of the first players to arrive for warm-ups, Pleiman was the session's best defender. At six-foot-six and with a decently strong build that could mistake him for a tight end, Pleiman moves exceptionally well with a relentless motor. Offensively, he's an above average shooter and is active off the ball, often times making smart cuts in the half-court offense that lead to easy scores or attempts at the free throw line. Pleiman is a regular participant at 270 events and continually stands out against Central Ohio's best players. Holding two offers from Gannon and Goshen, Pleiman is a diamond in the rough that scholarship coaches, including those at the Division I level, need to take notice.
Atticus Schuler (6'6 WF / Columbus DeSales '22) While Royal was the MVP, Team 1 could not have achieved their championship without the excellent play from Schuler. The DeSales senior was one of the most versatile scorers of the session as the long wing showed significant improvements with his shooting form, connecting from long and mid range. Schuler is an underrated athlete that displayed the ability to handle the ball up the court and pulled off two impressive spin and finishes while in transition. He matched his offensive output with aggressive defense and active play on the glass. Like Pleiman, Shuler was one of the first players in the gym and comes across as disciplined and coachable. Schuler is a late bloomer yet has size for the next level and should be a fast-rising prospect. With Des Watson no longer leading the Stallions, look for Schuler to take charge and become one of the area's most improved players.
Jesse Burris (6'3 WF / Delaware Hayes '24) Only three players from the sophomore class participated on Sunday and while all three were impressive, Burris was the session's breakout player. The Delaware wing showed serious bounce and athleticism on his dunk opportunities and also with clean blocks from the defensive end. He mixed that with his ability to connect on his three-point attempts. Already a top scorer for Delaware from his freshman season, expect Burris to be one of the area's top offensive players, regardless of class.
Drey Carter (6'8 WF / Westerville South '22) Carter had a busy and successful summer, attracting eight Division I offers in a short span. On Sunday, we saw what coaches at the next level see and that's Carter's unique size, athleticism and potential. Carter looked extremely comfortable on the offensive side, with most of his points coming in transition with strong body control and efficiency on his finishes. While we didn't see Carter take too many attempts from distance, something he is capable of converting, that's because Carter did a good job of being aggressive with the ball and running the floor. As Carter continues to add to his all-around game, expect the Westerville senior to continue to be a high priority for regional collegiate Division I programs.
Derrick "Doogie" James (5'9 PG / Canal Winchester '22) Pound-for-pound one of the toughest players in the area, James was the session's most efficient play-maker and distributor. With exceptional vision, James is aggressive, but also mostly avoids careless mistakes and turnovers. Always looking to push the ball, James is a selfless point guard, but also not afraid to be aggressive off the dribble and finishes well in the paint. While still able to improve his long-range consistency, James hit an impressive and a fearless pull-up contested three. Don't get caught up on his size. Doogie James is a gamer and a winner. We've seen him compete against other guards that will play at the Division I level and at times, he out performed them. Sunday was no exception as he was the top lead guard of the day.
Cortez Freeman (6'2 WG / Canal Winchester '24) The other sophomore standout of the event, Freeman hardly looked the part of an underclassman and played with the confidence and efficiency of a seasoned player. The six-foot-two guard gravitates towards having the ball in his hand and creates an up-tempo style of play. Defensively, Freeman doesn't allow his opponent much space. While still young, Freeman has shown glimpses that he may be a natural scorer with the ability to create offense from all parts of the court. Like fellow sophomore Burris, expect Freeman to be a top producer in the area this season.
Andrew Hedgepeth (6'2 PG / Pickerington Central '23) The junior guard earned his invitation to Sunday's session after he delivered an impressive performance from Saturday's Nova Village Fall League. He made the most of his opportunity Sunday as well. The next-in-line point guard for Pickerington Central looks to be a head up, natural pass-first guard that finds teammates with a smooth touch. Hedgepeth then further impressed with a couple of contested threes, including one in a back and forth contest against Swain. The son of Pickerington Central's former girls basketball coach, Hedgepeth looks to have a natural feel and approach to the game and will be a strong contributor for the Tigers.
Caleb Iheukwu (6'5 WF / Westerville North '22) While he did show off the ability to hit shots from distance, Iheukwu made this list for his effort and efficiency around the hoop. The senior forward rarely takes plays off and consistently attacks the glass, with at times creating and converting on second chance opportunities. Iheukwu also attacked off the dribble and made most of his shot opportunities. Keep an eye on Iheukwu, as like Schuler, he may be a '22 prospect that takes a serious leap.
HONORABLE MENTION: Ryan Paris (6'4 WG / Hilliard Davidson '22), Dior Conners (6'2 PG / Pickerington North '22), Jason Moore (6'7 PF / Marysville '24), Troy Scowden (6'8 C/ Buckeye Valley '22), Jayden Nervis (6'6 WG / Hilliard Davidson '22), Chase Walker (6'8 C/ St. Charles '23), Sohn McGee (6'5 WG/ Central Crossing '22), Ryan Nutter (6'3 PG / Dublin Jerome '23), Javan Simmons (6'7 PF/ Gahanna '22), Chase Ouellette (6'8 WF/ Wellington '22), Jerry Saunders (6'1 WG/ Pickerington North '22)
The Proving Grounds continues this Sunday at 3pm and will feature the top players in the 2024 class.