Session 2 of MADE Hoops East Coast Winter Circuit returned to Nittany Valley Sports Centre & C3 Sports in State College, Pennsylvania last weekend. Not only did the playoff picture become more clear, but we had plenty of standouts and storylines take shape throughout the weekend of action. Here's what caught my attention in the 8th Grade Red Lea8ue...
Already undefeated in the West Coast Winter Circuit, AZ UPLAY brought an even more loaded roster of talent to the East Coast Winter Circuit, and made a case as the #1 team in the country at the 8th grade level.
On the weekend, they went 5-0, taking down Boo Williams, Team Takeover, Expressions, Team United & City Rocks. Their roster is an incredible collection of talent, featuring 6'4" guard Jerry Easter II, 6'9" post Tee Bartlett, 6'6" forward Jaion Pitt & 6'10 Maper Maker. Scary enough, there's more talent behind those guys, including efficient guard Noah George, rugged wing Tracy Kalonda, smooth 6'5" guard Cameron Holmes, and more. Is this team beatable? Sure. But will they be beaten on either coast? We have yet to see it.
Sitting at 5-2 through two sessions of action, there's a lot to like about this Expressions Elite group. During session two action, they took down the NJ Scholars & New York Gauchos while playing AZ UPLAY extremely tough. Overall, I really like the roster construction of this group.
Their star at session two was jet-quick 5'11" point guard Travis Upchurch Jr., who has proven to be one of the most electric point guards in the country this winter. Steady guard play from 6'0" Desmond Bellot Jr. & 5'10" Adam Conheeny made a huge difference at session two, while 6'5" wing AJ Dybantsa Jr. & 6'4" forward Jaylen Harrell had nice moments.
With a collection of talent rivaled by no other middle school circuit, every year we have a plethora of high-upside prospects whose best basketball will be years down the road. This year has been no different, and three prospects in particular stood out to me at session two with their blend of current production and considerable upside:
E1T1 Rebels 6'6" wing Jamier Jones is one of the most athletically gifted middle schoolers that I've seen over the past several years. His length and fluidity make him impossible to contain when he's locked in, and he showed flashes of that dominance last weekend.
The largest prospect in the building (literally) at 6'9" and well over 200-pounds, AZ UPLAY big man Tee Bartlett had a nice weekend. With nice footwork and a soft touch, he showed flashes of dominance around the basket, while also stepping out and knocking down three's on multiple occasions, which makes him unique at this age.
A returning big man on their 2020 MADE Hoops East Coast Winter Circuit championship team, New York Lightning 6'10" Badara Diakite is a freakish talent in his own right. His length and athleticism are impressive, and he's putting considerable time in the gym with a rapidly evolving skill set that is pushing him away from the basket.
Quietly producing on middle school basketball's biggest stage are 7th graders Darien Moore & AJ Williams. Moore, a 6-foot point guard, is guiding his City Rocks team through the Red Lea8ue. A talented downhill driver, he played an integral role in their upset win over the New York Lightning last weekend. If he was playing in the 7eague this winter for the City Rocks, you can bet that he'd be putting up huge numbers against his peers. As it stands, he's sharpening his skill set against class of 2025 members and preparing himself for next winter and beyond.
An even more impressive prospect is 6'5" wing forward AJ Williams, who is playing major minutes for the PSA Cardinals. A smooth operator on the wing, he's able to score from all three levels and is starting to play aggressively above-the-rim. His evolution from late October when I first laid eyes on him has been impressive, and it looks like PSA has a star for the future.