COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Spending about 10 hours in the gym at Africentric on Saturday, we saw a litany of the area's top talent at the third annual The Challenge. Showcasing the top teams from the OCC and City League, the third-year event definitely delivered.
Let's take a look at the top performers and underclassmen to watch from the event.
Matt Allocco (6'4 WG/PG / Hilliard Bradley / 2020): Events like The Challenge offer the unique opportunity for players to have a sort of coming out party in front of crowds that don't get to see them very often. For Allocco, that is exactly what happened, as he thoroughly dominated Walnut Ridge in every phase of the game as the 6-foot-4 guard led all event scorers with 28 points in a 54-44 win. Posting up Walnut Ridge's defenders time and time again, Allocco showed a relentless desire to get to the basket, finishing several savvy scores and showcasing his elite level finishing ability under the rim. While the outside shot is nearly non-existent in Allocco's game right now, he has found new ways to be productive and at 6-foot-4, is extremely tough to handle on the drive at the high school level. The junior guard is one of the smartest players that you'll find in the state and communicates as well as anyone on the backside of Bradley's defense, which is part of the reason why the Jaguars are so good on that end of the floor. Allocco plays with an intensity that reminds me so much of former Upper Arlington standout Kevin Vannatta, who coincidentally enough was coached by Allocco's father Gregg. Vannatta wasn't an exceptional athlete and wasn't the most elite shooter, however, he refused to be denied any time he stepped up on the floor and played with the type of two-way passion that elevated everyone around him. Allocco has that same quality and is the type of player that can lead a team to a state championship, something Vannatta came one buzzer beater away from doing. Hopefully for Allocco, he is able to do what Vannatta came so close to by the time his career wraps up at Bradley.
Jalen Sullinger (5'9 PG / Thomas Worthington / 2021): If Allocco had the top breakout performance on Saturday, Sullinger was right there with him. Going for 25 points in Thomas Worthington's 72-57 win over Africentric, Sullinger absolutely lit it up, knocking down three triples and finishing several difficult drives at the rim. The 5-foot-9 guard is a shifty ball handler that plays like an upperclassman, as he picks his spots extremely well and doesn't take many ill-advised shots. The sophomore scored on all three levels, knocking down two spot up threes and one transition three, while also knocking down two mid-range jumpers off the bounce in addition to several impressive finishes at the rim. While Sullinger lacks for size, he knows how to use every inch of his body to extend and finish against length. In addition to his game-high 25 points, Sullinger added five rebounds, five assists and five steals, dominating the game from the point guard spot on both ends. Sullinger may be the best pure point guard in the 2021 class in the area, as he certainly made a strong case for it on Saturday. The son of former Ohio State standout JJ Sullinger and nephew of Jared Sullinger, Jalen Sullinger has an elite bloodline and should be a nightmare of a point guard matchup by the time his senior year rolls around.
N'Keeley Elmore (5'9 PG / Northland / 2019): In a matchup of top 2019 guards, Elmore seemed to take the challenge against Westerville North's Jeremiah Keene personally. Playing all 32 minutes in Northland's 55-54 win where he made the game-winning free throw, Elmore led the troops on both ends of the floor and put together a defensive performance on the perimeter that changed the game. Staying with Keene, who is as quick as they come in the area, Elmore put great pressure on the Westerville North senior, forcing him into tough shots and not allowing him to get off from the three-point line. Elmore led all scorers in the game with 19 points, adding four rebounds, four assists and two steals to his stat line. The senior guard showed off nice touch from the three-point line, hitting two triples in the first half. Elmore can get by defenders and has the toughness and strength to finish against bigger players. With just one offer from Columbus State CC, Elmore is deserving of an offer from nearly every junior college program in Ohio. You won't find many guys tougher in the area. We love the leader that Elmore has evolved into as one of few seniors on the Northland roster.
Jack Sawyer (6'6 WF/PF / Pickerington North / 2021): Sawyer was too strong, too tough and too skilled in the Panthers' win over Centennial. The 6-foot-6 man child led all scorers with 16 points, punishing defenders at the rim and showing soft touch from mid-range. Sawyer, a no doubt five-star football prospect, is also a Division I basketball talent, as he might just be the most polished player at his position in the state at this juncture. The 6-foot-6 Sawyer defends the post at a high level, can step out and move his feet with the quickest of guards and has the toughness and physicality to bully opposing players for rebounds and inside scores. You won't find many sophomores anywhere in the country with Sawyer's accomplishments in football and basketball.
Myles Martinez (6'7 PF / Centennial / 2019): Martinez was the only Centennial player ready to play on Saturday, as he came out and made an impact from the opening tip. The Ohio Dominican baseball signee could more than likely fill a role within the Panthers' basketball program as well, as he's improved as much as any big man in the 2019 class in the area. The smooth lefty has a great spot-up game, is a much improved finisher at the rim, can handle the ball in transition and has the foot speed to play and defend on the perimeter. Martinez, who is the son of former Kentucky basketball player Gimel Martinez, is the go-to guy for Centennial and finished Saturday's game with 15 points, including an impressive pump fake and baseline slam in the first quarter.
Chris Scott (6'3 WG / Pickerington North / 2020): While a high-major wide receiver on the football field, Scott is no slouch on the hardwood either. In an 85-56 win over Centennial, Scott made his presence felt from all over the floor. An elite-level athlete with great hands (obviously), explosiveness and motor, Scott impacted Saturday's contest on both ends. Scott was hard to contain on the drive, getting past defenders and finishing at or above the rim when he got there. We were impressed with Scott as a perimeter defender and rebounder, as he punished Centennial's smaller set of guards for 32 minutes. As Pickerington North has a deep collection of talent that will challenge for OCC-Ohio and district titles, look for Scott to continue to elevate his game in more of a leadership role as an upperclassman this season.
Sammy Sass (6'0 PG / Upper Arlington / 2019): Freshmen want to play. Sophomores want to start. Juniors want to score. Seniors want to win. Sass fits that final phrase, as the senior does so much for Upper Arlington that goes beyond the stat sheet. A rare three-sport standout that in this day and age is almost unheard of, Sass, a Wright State baseball signee, has turned into the best player on the Golden Bears with Max Martz out with a back injury. Garnering MVP honors in Upper Arlington's win over Eastmoor, Sass did it all over the floor, finishing with nine points, five assists and two steals. The quick guard defends at a high-level against any ball handler he goes up against, while also showing off some wiggle on the drive, as he was able to get past Eastmoor's athletic backcourt and into the lane where he created for his teammates. As the catcher on the baseball field, quarterback on the football field and point guard on the court, Sass is a quintessential leader that gets the most out of his teammates. You have to be able to lead others if you want to play any of those positions for district title competing teams and Sass does just that for Upper Arlington in three sports. Enjoy the Upper Arlington senior while you can, because you wont see many multi-sport athletes like him for awhile - especially since Sass could play at the college level in any sport that he chooses, it just so happens that he's the top catcher in the state of Ohio.
Zach Hummel (6'4 PF / Hilliard Bradley / 2019): Hummel, a tight end signee for Cincinnati, is a very important piece to Bradley's team. A hard-nosed interior player that helps give the Jags its signature toughness, Hummel was outstanding on Saturday, finishing with eight points, five rebounds and a block. Hummel and junior Chris Mayfield form a terrific one-two punch, as the duo were assigned with stopping Walnut Ridge junior star Von Cameron Davis. They did just that, never missing a defensive assignment and playing excellent help side defense on the area's leading scorer. Hummel in particular is a brute scorer around the rim where he finishes most of his chances. Hummel does a ton of things for Bradley that don't end up on the stat sheet, but for the senior forward and rest of the Jags, winning is the only thing that matters and that's all Bradley has done over the last four years.
Makhale Massey (6'3 WG / Northland / 2021): While still only eight games into his high school career, Massey plays with a veteran's feel to his game. Impacting the game on both ends of the floor, Massey uses his length, athleticism and quickness as the Swiss Army Knife for Northland's defense. Massey seems to be in the right place at the right time, as he's a perfect fit for Northland's run and trap defense, coming over for two weak side blocks at the rim. The son of former Kent State standout Kyrem Massey, Makhale Massey has great basketball DNA and is only going to continue to polish his game. We were impressed with the shooting touch Massey showed, knocking down two corner triples in the first half, as well as his usual high-level finishing ability that we've come to expect out of him. With a great motor and feel, Massey is one of the elite prospects in the City League.
Isaac Settles (6'5 WG / Thomas Worthington / 2021): Settles has a chance. The 6-foot-5 wing guard makes some of the most athletic moves look so easy, as he is physically developed with a college-ready body already. Settles has begun to develop into a reliable outside shooter, as he showed great touch on his one make on Saturday. The sophomore did most of his damage slashing to the rim, as he can change direction and stop on a dime, a trait that not many big guards possess. If Settles continues to develop, he has the potential to turn into one of the elite wings in the area in time. He will need to continue to improve as a perimeter shooter and find ways to impact the game outside of just scoring. For now though, we are impressed with the strides Settles has made to his game, as his motor and activity level were much higher compared to this time last year.
Isaiah Kelley (6'4 PF / Eastmoor / 2019): A fun fact about Kelley is that I coached him when he was a freshman on Eastmoor's baseball team. While a talented first baseman, the righty has developed into Eastmoor's most reliable scorer, as he had a very solid showing against Upper Arlington, going for 12 points and four rebounds. The 6-foot-4 senior is a physical post player that operates entirely from 10 feet and in, as he knows how to get to his spots and finish when he gets there. In his first real season of legitimate action on the varsity level, Kelley has been a breakout performer for Eastmoor and put up big numbers already. With nice touch from the free throw line, Kelley should continue his great start to the year, as he will create plenty of opportunities from the charity stripe with the level of aggression that he plays with. Kelley would be a solid look for Division III programs in need of a tough forward who knows how to score on the block.
Hunter Shedenhelm (6'4 WG / Pickerington North / 2020): The 6-foot-4 Shedenhelm has really impressed us lately with his physicality and athleticism. While already a pure shooter with a great stroke, Shedenhelm has really rounded out his game, developing into a great rebounder and shot blocker at the high school level. The junior has a much improved ability to score off the bounce and uses his length to get past defenders and finish at the rim. Outside of his 10 points that came complete with two three-point field goals that didn't even touch the rim, Shedenhelm added four rebounds, three assists and two punishing blocks at the rim to his stat line. We anticipate that Shedenhelm will have his pick of quality Division II offers by this time next year.
Ben Wight (6'8 C / Thomas Worthington / 2019): The 6-foot-8 Wight had a solid showing in Thomas Worthington's win over Africentric, going for 16 points, seven rebounds, two assists and three blocks. The Ohio signee has great length and shot blocking ability, as he has begun to play with a higher level of aggression around the basket. We liked the touch that Wight showed around the rim, as he has good footwork and post presence. The key for Wight will be strength, as he will begin to start finishing at a higher level once he adds to his lengthy frame. If Wight can continue to play with the motor that he had on Saturday, this should only elevate Thomas Worthington as the Cardinals look to emerge in the OCC this winter.
Chris Mayfield (6'4 PF / Hilliard Bradley / 2020): Mayfield checks so many boxes for Bradley, as the 6-foot-4 man child plays a role that is similar to Draymond Green (think like 2015-2017 Draymond) for the Jaguars. While Mayfield sacrifices scoring for the good of the team, he has developed into a rebounding nightmare and a back side shot blocking threat that seems to always be in the right spots. With a front line of Hummel and Mayfield, Bradley has the physicality of a college team up front, as the duo put together a dominant defensive performance and also combined for 14 rebounds. Mayfield, while heavier than he was as a freshman and sophomore (big-time football prospect on the defensive line), can still guard most high school players on the perimeter, but is best served on the low post, where he holds his ground and uses his long wingspan to make it tough for opposing players to score. The 6-foot-4 forward can handle the ball, is a talented passer and dominant rebounder that gives Bradley another element that makes them so tough to stop.
Phil Alston (6'6 PF / Westerville North / 2019): After a tough first half, something must have clicked for Alston in the second half of Saturday's game against Northland. The 6-foot-6 forward played a great half, putting his size and athleticism to use to garner team MVP honors after going for 16 points, seven rebounds, two assists and three blocks. Alston's motor was much improved, as he put together a great defensive performance in the second half, blocking three shots but made his biggest impact on the perimeter, forcing a steal with under 30 seconds to go that led to a layup from him in transition which tied the game. Alston has the measureables and enough skill to develop into a productive college player, it will just depend on if he plays with the motor that he did which nearly led Westerville North to a win. With a few Division II offers, Alston is a priority recruit for a few programs in the region who believe that he can turn into a stud.
Cameron Kates (6'0 WG / Centennial / 2020): Kates came off the bench and had a great second half, knocking down two threes and scoring 12 points as Centennial's only other player in double figures. The stocky built guard knocked down two of the Stars' three triples on the afternoon and had a few driving scores at the rim to lead all Centennial guards. Serving as Centennial's sixth man, if Kates can continue to produce like he did on Saturday, the Stars should greatly challenge at the top of the City League North division.
Julian Binford (5'7 PG / Eastmoor / 2020): Binford has always had some of the best handles in the City League, however, he is now starting to develop into one of the best shooters that Central Ohio's oldest league has to offer. Knocking down four threes against a good Upper Arlington defense, Binford showed no signs of doubt with his jumper, pulling up from all over and against all defenders. The shifty guard has the ball on a string and can change direction as well as anyone. With the advancements he's made to his shooting, Binford has become a more dangerous scorer. On the defensive perimeter, Binford is one of the best in the City at defending the ball, as he can move his feet and apply pressure without fouling. The 5-foot-7 guard sets the tone for Eastmoor and gives them their identity. Look for a big senior season out of him next winter as Eastmoor will graduate most of its rotation.
CJ Karsatos (6'8 PF / Upper Arlington / 2019): Karsatos is finally putting it all together and converting upside into production. With a long, wiry frame and natural athleticism, Karsatos is beginning to break out of his shell to put together double-digit scoring performances for the Golden Bears. On Saturday, Karsatos made an impact as a low post scorer, executing a couple up and under moves, while showing soft touch on his jump hook shot. Finishing with 13 points, six rebounds and two assists, Karsatos showed flashes of what he could become, which is why Division I programs like Air Force and UT-Martin felt confident enough to offer him scholarships this past fall. If Karsatos wants to play at that level, he has to get much stronger and become a more physical presence, however, we were impressed with the showing he had against a pretty big front line for Eastmoor.
Isaiah Ingle (6'8 C / Northland / 2020): While only playing one half of basketball, Ingle made his presence felt in the second half and was Northland's defensive MVP. Playing the best half of his career, Ingle showed an elite shot blocking ability, coming from the weak side on three of his swats and covering a lot of ground. The 6-foot-8 center has a gangly build and is still pretty raw, but we love the role that he filled on Saturday, playing tough defense in important spots in the game. If Ingle can develop into a capable post scorer with improved footwork, he could turn into one of the better post prospects in the area. As Ingle fills into his frame, he should only continue to improve.
Lyheem Hilliard (6'3 PF / Africentric / 2019): Hilliard was the toughest player on the floor in Africentric's loss to Thomas Worthington, as he gave the Nubians everything he had in a matchup against the 6-foot-8 Wight. Dominating on the boards, Hilliard fought hard as hell on the glass, as his second, third and fourth chance efforts made a difference. Hilliard finished with eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks, challenging everything at the rim and finishing a few second chance points at the rim. The glue guy for the Nubians off the bench last year, Hilliard has transformed into a senior who leads by example and gives Africentric toughness on the interior.
Charles Perkins (6'4 PF / Westerville North / 2020): Perkins was the glue guy for Westerville North on Saturday, nearly putting up a double double performance with 13 points and nine rebounds. The 6-foot-4 forward reminds us a bit of former Pickerington Central forward Juan Elmore, as he is a thick post that knows how to use his body on the block. Perkins has soft shooting touch around the rim and from the free throw line and is also very good at carving out space and rebounding near the basket. Look for Perkins to turn into a priority recruit for Division III programs in the area next winter, as he has the ability to put up similar numbers from Saturday each time out.
Von Cameron Davis (6'5 WF / Walnut Ridge / 2020): Davis faced the toughest defense that he will see all year on Saturday, as Hilliard Bradley made an intense effort to limit the area's leading scorer. The Jags did just that, as Davis was held to a season-low 11 points, mainly due to Bradley's elite packed in defense which smothered Davis with multiple defenders all night. Any time Davis touched the ball, he was met with multiple defenders, which mostly consisted of Hummel and Mayfield, both physical athletes with Division I football offers. Despite that, Davis continued to play hard and made the most of the few opportunities he had in good spots, finishing with a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds to go along with two blocks. We liked the aggressiveness that Davis showed on the boards, carving out space and rebounding against a great front line for Bradley. Still averaging 31.7 points per game, Davis will have to continue to grow as a perimeter shooter and ball handler going forward, however for now he is one of the toughest one-on-one covers that you'll find in the area.
Jake Warinner (6'3 WG / Upper Arlington / 2020): Warinner's role for Upper Arlington is to score and score often, which is what he did on Saturday against Eastmoor. Going for 19 points, Warinner started off quick with 13 in the first half on two threes and a few strong drives to the basket. With all-around seniors like Sass and Josh Rushin to aid him, Warinner fills his role nicely, however, we would like to see him begin to impact the game in more ways. For the time being, Warinner is a multi-level scorer that will continue to put up big numbers, especially when Martz returns, which will create plenty of open looks for the junior transfer from New Albany.
Meech Coble (6'2 WG / Walnut Ridge / 2019): In what was a tough game for the Scots, Coble was a bright spot as he stepped up and led the team with 12 points. The only player to knock down multiple threes, Coble filled his role as the team's floor spacer decently well, while also finding a few creases to score on the interior against Hilliard Bradley's elite team defense. Coble received team MVP honors for his efforts and should continue to put up solid numbers as Davis and others will create space for him on spot up opportunities. Coble has waited his turn at Walnut Ridge and is having a productive senior season for the Scots.
Cali Davis (6'1 CG / Africentric / 2020): Davis' role this season is to be the primary scorer for Africentric and he did that on Saturday, going for 15 points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals. A volume shooter who has never seen a shot he doesn't like, Davis can score from multiple spots on the floor, while improving off the bounce as well. We'd like to see Davis add more layers to his game outside of just scoring, as he has the quickness and natural toughness to turn into a strong perimeter defender and the handling and passing ability to really facilitate. If Africentric wants to return to a regional title caliber team, Davis will need to become the unquestioned leader, which he feel he is capable of doing. Africentric this season remind us a ton of their 2016-17 team that replaced a ton of seniors but had a junior guard who was learning how to lead a young group in Tre Baumgardner. We wouldn't be surprised if Davis has a similar senior year to that of the Nubians' floor general from its 2018 state runner-up team.
Casey George (5'9 PG / Pickerington North / 2021): Receiving the start on Saturday, George was outstanding on both ends of the floor. The sophomore has a tight handle and some wiggle to his game, as he was able to get into the lane and create for himself and others. George finished with nine points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals, playing a complete game and providing Pickerington North with another reliable playmaker.
Dan Wagner (5'9 PG / Africentric / 2022): We heard a ton about Wagner from coach Michael Bates at Africentric coming into Saturday's event. Bates was not wrong about his freshman guard, as Wagner came off the bench and had an efficient 13 points, where he scored from multiple levels on the floor. Wagner has a quick first step and finished with both hands at the rim, while also showing an ability to knock down mid-range and perimeter jumpers. The freshman guard exudes confidence, which will rub off on the rest of his teammates as Wagner matures and gets older. From what we saw on Saturday, we feel that Wagner has a chance to develop into one of the very best freshmen in the City League over the next few years. With backcourt pieces like Wagner and sophomore Eli Burke, who is one of the very best in the City League in his own right, Africentric is set up good for years to come.
Jerry Saunders (6'0 WG / Pickerington North / 2022): A standout from The Intro back in August, Saunders showed no signs of slowing down, as he was one of the game's top shooters in Pickerington North's win over Centennial. Knocking down three spot up triples, Saunders showed off the confident shooting stroke that made him one of the elite players in our August event for rising freshmen. One of several talented freshmen in the Panthers program, Saunders has an old school feel to his game and should develop into one of the area's best scorers.
Noah Lawrence (6'0 PG/CG / Westerville North / 2022): Lawrence came into high school touted as an elite shooter and that was the case early on as he knocked in two threes in the first half. Receiving the start for the Warriors, Lawrence showed some of the ability he has as a multi-dimensional scorer with a versatile offensive game. Lawrence is a tough ball handler who does not lack for confidence. With Jeremiah Keene moving on after the season, look for Lawrence to evolve into North's primary ball handler where he will be able to show off all the parts of his game as a score-first guard that can also make things happen for others.
Travonne Jackson (6'3 WG / Centennial / 2021): Off upside alone, Jackson is really intriguing as a 6-foot-3 ball handler with a lot of shift to his game. Jackson can change speed and direction on the move, shows nice touch on his jumper and can get by defenders to the rim. While Jackson still has a lot of room for growth in terms of running a team and facilitating offense for others, we feel confident that he has what it takes to develop into one of the better guards in the City League, as he has the size, quickness and athleticism to turn into a force.
Dior Conners (6'1 PG/CG / Pickerington North / 2022): The only freshman in the area with a Division I offer, Conners appeared in his first amount of significant action on Saturday after battling an injury. The 6-foot-1 guard quickly impressed, as he is one of the best freshmen anywhere in the state at getting into the lane. Conners has an elite first step, special body control and crafty finishing ability with either hand. Conners scored eight points on Saturday on a few impressive finishes at the rim. With guys like Saunders, Conners, Idris Lawrence and George, Pickerington North is going to have a nightmare of a backcourt in the next few years.
AJ Mirgon (6'0 PG/WG / Hilliard Bradley / 2021): While Mirgon plays at the point in AAU, he has sacrificed and played a little out of position since Jack Pugh went out with a fractured foot. To the untrained eye, you would have no idea that Mirgon was doing just that, as he has been terrific in his role as a 3-and-D guy for the Jags. Locking down some of the top guards in the area over the last nine games, Mirgon has been outstanding on the defensive perimeter, as the 6-foot guard is a physical athlete with plenty of toughness. On Saturday, Mirgon knocked down two crucial threes both in spot-up situations, while also slashing to the rim for a score. Finishing with eight points, three rebounds and two assists, Mirgon's greatest contribution came on the defensive perimeter, where he can stay in front of some of the quickest ball handlers and force them into mistakes. Even more impressive is that Mirgon can handle multiple positions, as he is capable of defending bigger wings due to his physicality. For teams going up against Bradley, it's so difficult to beat the Jags because not only do they make you work on the defensive end with the way they move on and off the ball, they also will wear you down for 32 minutes on defense with studs like Mirgon, Allocco, Mayfield and Hummel.
Robert Dorsey (5'10 PG / Northland / 2022): Another alum from The Intro, Dorsey saw plenty of time on Saturday starting in Northland's backcourt. The 5-foot-10 guard is a talented ball handler with great pace and feel to his game. Going for six points, all of which in the second half, Dorsey knocked down four clutch free throws in the fourth quarter which helped Northland win the game. We think Dorsey has the tools to turn into one of the best point guards that the City League will have to offer in the next few years.
Kobe Buford (6'4 WG / Upper Arlington / 2021): Buford had a nice showing against Eastmoor, playing an all-around game to help lead Upper Arlington to the win. In a starting role for the Golden Bears, Buford finished with seven points, two rebounds, three assists and a block, doing everything that was asked of him. The 6-foot-4 wing guard is a straight line slasher that can knock down spot up threes, while having rangy ability on the defensive end of the floor and the size to guard multiple positions. We are excited to see how Buford steps up next year when he will be thrust into more of a primary scoring role alongside Warinner.
Gabriel Oduro (6'5 PF / Eastmoor / 2021): While Oduro didn't play a whole lot on Saturday, we were intrigued with what we saw from him in the time he was on the floor. The only underclassman in Eastmoor's top eight rotation, Oduro filled a role as an energy guy, coming in and giving the Warriors good minutes. Oduro has a wide frame that he's still filling and some intriguing length. Look for him to keep improving, as Oduro could be the go-to guy for Eastmoor in two years.
Keaton Norris (6'0 G / Hilliard Bradley / 2021): The ultimate floor spacer for Bradley, Norris had a decent showing against Walnut Ridge, knocking down two threes. The elite shooting gene has been passed down from his older brother Braden, as Keaton can fill it up as well as anyone in the sophomore class. On a team without a whole lot of knockdown perimeter shooters, Norris' role is extremely crucial, as he will need to keep knocking down shots to help open up driving lanes for Allocco and Mirgon. An underrated part of Norris' game is his handling, as he dealt with swarming pressure of the Scots just fine, helping Bradley get into its offense without making any major mistakes.