With summer fast approaching and the fiba youth tournaments around the corner, we are waiting for the Hoopsfix Classic in early June to close the British youth hoops season at domestic level. Time to look back at the EABL final that took place at Essex University between Charnwood and Barking Abbey, where the Leicester program closed a perfect season in the EABL unbeaten. It was a game of runs in which Charnwood locked down his rim during the last quarter and took control behind yet another impressive performance by Niall Harris, winning the MVP award in a final for a third time this year. Earlier in March, we talked about Niall and other top performers of the Class of 2019, so it´s time now to continue our All Prospects Guide bringing you profiles of guys who will be around next year in the EABL and who will take the lead soon enough. Meet our Underclassmen picks
Wakeem Richardson (01) 6’2 James Watt / Class of 2021 – Two Way Dynamo
One of the many positives in the EABL North Conference has been James Watt, a Birmingham-based program who’s reached the quarterfinal play-offs featuring a guard-heavy line and playing an attractive up-tempo with Daniel Penkov (99) as floor general and main ball handler. In such scenario, lacking big bodies and running for it, Wakeem Richardson has thrilled filling up the 2, 3 or 4, while being important on both ends of the floor.
Only 6’2 but sturdily built, Richardson looks more like a scorer in transition who has grown his input behind his powerful frame and energy levels. No surprise then that he got the DPOY in his conference, a 2 nd Team Conference spot, and several week awards. Wakeem can surely score off the dribble using his strength to make his way, good finisher with both hands, and can absorb contact or draw fouls after little cuts and dishes around the rim. Usually playing off the ball, Richardson has shown spot-up shooter potential behind the arc, but needs to work on his release and confidence to take those open shots more often.
Still, he uses well that shooting range to open the lane, and there is potential to build up his mid-range jumpshot.
On top of these qualities and his permanent “play-hard” attitude, Richardson is a terrific rebounder for his size, aggressive in the offensive glass and putting his body to work in the box-out. But he’s also a tough defender on the ball; always ready to put pressure on the ball-handler, with a dog mentality and the will to stay in front and ability to steal the ball.
There are several questions however regarding Wakeem future role at the next level. Besides improving his range and some off the-ball D awareness, a higher usage and on-ball creation for others are needed. Considering his size, Wakeem will probably fit as combo guard in a more competitive environment. Therefore playmaking is a must for a player whose intensity and effort could have a bigger impact if he works on his 1-2 versatility.
Asher Ndah (01) 6’4 JMA Rockets / Class of 2020 – The Fluid Long Guard
It’s been a fine second year for Asher Ndah in the EABL despite different peaks of form and playing alongside Rockets’ “veterans” Nosa Castillo or Emeka-Ankakwo,. He’s showed improved fundamentals, versatility filling gaps in the line up, and has come big offensively at times while keeping his notable defensive workload from last season.
At 6’4, long and quick, fluid and versatile, Asher’s traits bode well with the open court game and the attacking-the-rack mode. He needs strength and weight to keep his balance in traffic and draw contact in the lane. He also lacks some elite burst in the drive, but makes up for it with his mix of long steps and length. He can throw a hesitation move to slice and finish at the rim with either hand or a floater. Although he can run the point a bit, his next step should be working on his vision and off-hand bounce, improving his PnR execution and reads in half court sets looking for his teammates’ cuts.
A streaky shooter, Ndah is better off the catch with his feet set, and his release and shot selection are good but still workable. Also his midrange game is not quite there yet, as he sometimes struggles to create space and separation. As a result, he becomes a stationary offensive player when his deep shots are not falling in, and could be more aggressive with the ball, just like he does attacking close outs.
However it’s fair to say Ndah’s game approach is the right one: coachable and hardworking kid with a taste for D, who feeds from his effort and feel. He has the precious ability to guard and switch from 1 to 3: reactive feet, long strides and nice anticipation instincts using his wingspan, always ready to break in 1×0 transitions, but Asher needs to cut some tendency to ball-watch too much, losing his man every now and then off the ball.
All things considered, Ndah’s ceiling seems reasonably high if only based on his D upside, but could go further up once he gets to build up his passing, gets shooting consistency, and some physical development. We will keep an eye on him next season as a key member of the Reading Rockets’ young core with David Chive and Sam Grant.
Chris Feeney (01) 6’3 Barking Abbey / Class of 2020 – The Scottish Marksman
Only a year ago, Chris Feeney moved to London’s powerhouse Barking Abbey from L’Hospitalet, after having a little taste of the ANGT, the top European U18 competition, with this well-know Spanish program. That, alongside being a regular member of the GB U16 and U18 teams, speaks well of Feeney’s value as a prospect. So, what does the Scott bring to the table? Simply put, Chris Feeney is a marksman and has put a show as high volume shooter for Barking Abbey in the EABL as well as the NBL D1.
At 6’2, Feeney has been playing mainly in a 4-1 Abbey’s “game of guards” formation most of the season, adjusting in D and getting better in the sniper role, hitting above 36% in over 8 attempts per game from behind the arc. He is as pure as a shooter as they come. Clean stroke and quick release off the catch, wrist and shoulder perfectly lined up, and feet already facing to the basket when he gets the ball. His legs are fine, but he doesn’t need much impulse or time to get the ball going: nice rotation, scary execution when he gets hot. And he does so fairly often.
Do we have a role player at a higher level in the making? Feeney has certainly the skill; can catch and shoot it off the screen or kill you on the weak side. He also provides good minutes on defense, better than you may think because of his not very athletic built-up. Good activity on the ball, decent footspeed and effort, although he still lacks strength, and size won’t make his life easy against bigger matchups. On open court, Chris shines showing good vision and ability to fill the lanes passing or finishing the run himself.
There is still much to work on regarding Feeney’s offensive versatility though, especially in the playmaker role that he has filled up at times but not consistently. He needs to improve his overall speed and PnR execution, trying to cut TOs in the process when he leads the play. A bit more of punch running the point, as well as getting better and stronger in the drive and defensive end, will surely give him some cutting edge. Next season looks the perfect time to take on a bigger role in Abbey’s backcourt and move forward.
Veron Eze (02) 6’4 IBA Copleston / Class of 2020 – He Got Buckets
No place like home for Veron Eze, a Suffolk guy who dreamed of playing with England and exceeded his expectations at international level with GB U16 last summer following injuries and other setbacks. As evidence of Ipswich Basketball Academy’s fine work, Veron moved to Stella Azurra in 2017, but after a year learning his trade with the prestigious Italian academy, he headed back to Copleston to rejoin the club that gave him his senior debut as a 14yo. Copleston hasn’t qualified for the EABL playoffs, but all the same we have enjoyed Veron’s offensive mindset over the season. Shooters are gonna shoot and, even if his percentages need to improve, he’s first and foremost a gunner. Nice legs to get elevation, enough range of pump fakes and step- backs to create room for the shot or attack the lane after a close-out. Impressive when shots fall in,
Eze can provide buckets at other levels too, with his mid-range pull-up, still needing some balance, or his dribbling finishing off the glass with either hand or a floater. Not the fastest but with an explosive first step ready to penalize defenders, Eze likes to go aggressive all the way to the rack. Handle and shake can still get better though, especially with his off-hand, making the most of those frequent 1on1 and isolation plays. In addition, he can maximize his options with a better use of screens, not only finishing all by himself but also bringing teammates into the play. At times some pause is needed with his shot selection, although this can prove difficult as he’s able to heat up really fast. Now and then he forgets to use his strong upper-body and shoulders to draw contact, lost in the shooting frenzy. Veron also likes to run in transition, often in charge of the ball and showing off his passing in the open court.
With much of his energy going into the offensive game, D remains work in progress. He has tools, but loses concentration on his man at times, or takes unnecessary risks in passing lanes. On the glass however, he gets the best of his physical traits, and can make a stand against bigger opposition or crash the offensive board with success.
Pending some physical and defensive improvements as well as upgrading his playmaking, Veron could find a place as a lead guard/wing in the future, or maybe stick to a specialist role-player with range and scoring punch. It will require work and polishing skills, but next EABL season looks like a exciting one to take on.
Sam Alajiki (02) 6’6 Canterbury / Class of 2021 – The Utility Man
At 6’6 and wingy and skilled with the ball, with a strong frame and broad shoulders, Sam Alajiki is still pretty young and raw, but has gone places during his second EABL year with Canterbury. He has embraced an all-around role and built his game around his intriguing physical tools, power and versatility, especially on the defensive end.
One of the tallest guys in the team, a reality for many schools around the country, Sam has worked his way into Canterbury’s lineup by demonstrating his ability to contest and guard almost any position on the court. He has filled around the rim in zone or man to man, and developed his post defense by walling up larger bodies using his vertical, making good reads, anticipating with speed and usually playing bigger than he is. He has often switched to full court press too, matching up the opposition’s backcourt or applying pressure on the rival main ball-handler with great intensity and quick hands.
Alajiki’s defensive effort doesn’t go alone, as he has shown an improving offensive IQ and the ability to recognize and exploit mismatches against bigger guys in space. He’s well-built and elegant on the ball, with quick bounce and a bag of tricks and spin moves in the drive. At times he abuses of some tunnel vision, but overall he knows how to use his length and athleticism in the lane, and can finish generally with his right hand off the glass or explosively with a dunk.
Shooting mechanics and gaining consistent range should be the main focus for Sam to expand his threat and offensive game. He certainly can score from behind the arc, but shooting motion and release need some tweaks in order to speed up and make it more efficient. His mindset off the ball can also improve to make the most of his body strength, the same one he’s shown a few times when playing at 5 and establishing position deep in the paint.
On the whole, Alajiki has the looks of a classic utility wing/forward, able to fit different roles thanks to his on-ball ability, muscle and intensity. His versatility and effort on the court gives him some edge and opens the door to a wide range of outcomes, depending on his offensive progress and production at the next level.
Jeremy Sochan (03) 6’7 Itchen College / Class of 2021 – The Young Stud
Jeremy Sochan has been not only one of the youngest players with meaningful minutes in the EABL but one of the best thanks to his mix of length, mobility and raw athleticism. As a hoop fan, you should never take your eyes off of the game when he’s around, as you might miss the next flying dunk in transition, some impressive put-back, or maybe a nasty block running back in D. All those plays will be available on a highlight-reel later, but nevertheless Sochan’s fluidity and athletic traits will let you wondering what just happened.
It’s been an achievement for Itchen College watching this teenager with Polish and American roots become an essential part of the program alongside more experienced upperclassmen like Peter Turay and Matt Hughes. A versatile wing/forward with slim frame and quick on his feet, Jeremy has transformed his team’s line-up from the 3 and 4 spots. He has been key on the defensive end adjusting from the 2-3 zone – protecting the glass, rebounding and starting the fast break – to the top of a 1-3-1 – putting pressure on the opposition’s PG. He’s also efficient on 1on1 locking down the lane with all sort of blocks, or using his vertical jump in the post. Footspeed and long arms have helped to cover distances too, although sometimes he’s been over confident leaving space to open shooters.
On the offensive end, Jeremy is more of a transition animal as well as a terrific slasher with length and shiftiness to finish strong at the rim with dunks, an either-hand layup or a floater. He has a solid pull-up from 12-15 feet too, built on pump-fakes and explosive legs. His off-hand bounce needs to improve though, as well as his vision and court awareness if he’s going to become a serious playmaker and get the best of defences collapsing over him. And though he’s not a post-guy, his athleticism has been important in the paint after offensive rebound or making his way in the low- blocks. Jeremy’s shooting needs some fixing too: keeping his eyes on the target instead of the ball while working on his balance, stroke and motion. Some adjustments could add consistency and another dimension to his offensive arsenal.
It’s been a fun season watching Jeremy Sochan slashing and leaping around English gyms while working on his fundamentals and often dominating against guys up to 4 years older. And he’s made a good bunch of posters in the process. The speed of his game and his athletic tools might take him away from the EABL sooner rather than later, but wherever he goes next, just make sure you keep your eyes peeled for him.
FORWARDS / BIGS
Sam Grant (02) 6’8 JMA Rockets / Class of 2021 – The Stretch Big
Following the example of his former Rockets’ teammate Matthew Marsh, now with FC Barcelona U18 team, Sam Grant has become a key member of JMA Rockets’ frontcourt in his first EABL season after he announced himself last summer with GB U16 team. Besides some time injured, his year highlights the solid work that the Reading based academy has done with youth recently.
Sam, however, is different from Marsh as a bigman not just in size but also in approach. Standing at 6’8, he’s a big lad who fits the mobile forward role, but he also has length and some muscular frame to work with. That strong built-up makes his presence be felt on the defensive end and makes up for his lack of elite athleticism and speed.
Born a shooter, Grant usually starts the play behind the arc spacing the floor, dangerous as he doesn’t need much time to pull a triple. He’s nonetheless a streaky one from behind the arc, needing work on his low release and avoiding settling too much for long shots if the lane is open. But he knows where the basket is and how to score. Elegant with the ball on the deck, he runs the floor with ease, and while his first step won’t get much advantage against other forwards, he can do damage with his ball-skills, balance and size mainly facing bigger guys.
On the other hand, Sam’s offense in the low-blocks is still up for the grabs, as he rarely establishes position deep or play with his back to the basket. There is a risk then for him to turn into a one- dimension player in attack, and while his strength is definitely facing up, some options in the post using both hands are needed.
Body strength is coming nicely for Grant, and he needs to put it to good use in the zone, boxing out and getting tougher on the glass. Work on his lateral movement and general mobility will also help his mindset and defensive reactions, making him a better player, aware of switches and ready to rotate defensively when needed.
An intriguing one for next season with his face-up ability and physical progress, Sam Grant’s future role could be the skilled stretch PF/C who doesn’t just spread the floor but turns into a defensive rock in his paint
Amari Williams (02) 6’9 Myerscough / Class of 2020 – The Point-Forward
Yet another member of the GB U16 roster that competed in Sarajevo last summer, Amari Williams is one of the most intriguing UK-based prospects thanks to his game approach and playmaking upside at 6’9. The lefty fills up the line up as a frontcourt player but only in name. His traits bode well with the wing initiator role, as he is skilled on the ball with notable length and big hands, and plays mostly facing up, looking to involve others into the game.
Amari works best playing alongside another Myerscough bigman (Sanmy Fajana or Sam Keita) who primarily establishes position deep, giving Williams the freedom to roam around the three point line, look for a drive or act as a high-post passing point-forward. On some occasions, he will go to work in the paint, but he’s not particularly dangerous with his back to the basket, lacking real incisive post- moves, mostly turning to his right and finishing with the left hand. Instead, when in the post, Williams will let his passing instincts do the talk, holding and waiting for cuts or kicking out.
Behind the arc Amari plays the role of the stretch-big waiting for a catch and shot. Stationary at times, he shows a hot-cold motor in those situations, rarely attacking mismatches or taking smaller guys in the zone. Instead, he might rush deep shots with long percentages, and some work is needed on his range and the speed and flow of his mechanics. His jumpshot lacks elevation and power, and also balance when lining-up shoulder and arm. Of course, he still hits threes, but improving his motion and upgrading his FT form would increase his scoring options and threat.
Some questions arise with Williams’ apparently lack of athleticism and power on the back of past knee issues. His size, passing and skill however show he can really play and enhance half-court sets and transitions with versatility and high IQ. On the defensive end, his speed and reactions can improve, but he still poses a degree of awareness, which combined with his length makes him an interesting shot-blocker. Also his size comes handy in the low-blocks to match and contain other bodies, but toughness on the glass and improving rebounding instincts are a must.
Although an attractive prospect in the modern point-forward mould, Amari Williams is still a work in progress in a few basic concepts of the game, and will need to put all his talent, size and effort to fulfil his potential as a balling forward with the pros. He’s surely in the right place to do so, and this summer with the GB U18 program promises to be an interesting one in his development.
Ethan Price (01) 6’9 IBA Copleston / Class of 2020 – The Fundamentals Guy
It’s time to close our All Prospect Guide this season with another IBA Copleston guy who has topped the EABL in points, rebounds and blocks, and has won in the process two player awards in the South Conference; DPOY and MVP.
Standing at 6’9, long, thin and skilled, Ethan Price has played the mobile-5 role in a 4-1 lineup, dominating the stat-sheet with his efficiency on the boards, fluidity and versatility. Price hasn’t built his offensive game on elite speed and mind-blowing athleticism, but on bounce and fundamentals added to his wing-like mentality and high IQ. He’s got shake and balance, knows his trade in the lane and can take on smaller players. Ethan is especially talented in the baseline, cutting to the rim and waiting for a pass to take advantage. He is naturally able to draw contact in the process, making a notable 73% of his FTs.
Price is also floor-spacer, over 34% from deep, effective on the pop after the screen with the frontal three or in the corners off the catch – an invaluable tool to burn guys in the closeout. His release and stroke still need consistency, but he’s on the right track, shows confidence in his shot without relying exclusively on it to get buckets.
Strength-wise, Price has narrow shoulders but a long frame to bulk up as at the moment he suffers against strong and athletic big-types. His defensive role with Copleston has been anchoring the middle, usually working on a 2-3 zone and helping out in rotations or stepping in the perimeter against smaller players. He uses well his length to contest and block shots, but muscle will surely pick up his 1on1 D in the paint. In addition, weight can help him become more incisive in establishing position and playing with his back to the basket on the other end.
Besides, Ethan is an extremely competitive rebounder, explosive in the offensive board with tips and put-backs, while being a force in his own glass and showing some fantastic transition motor. He can start the fast-break with a grab and go move, a long pass or a short one to fill the lane afterwards like a wing does. His swiftness and coordination make other bigmen suffer down the hill.
All things considered, the Ipswich forward has really made his mark during his first EABL season, and 6’9 guys with his skill and understanding of the game don’t grow on the trees. We can’t wait to see how he works on his body, defensive mindset and awareness after this season’s solid foundation.