Covering Prospective Student-Athletes in the SouthEast US and beyond
Albany, GA – I went to the Darton Jamboree otherwise known officially as the Southeast Juco Jamboree for the 5th straight year. I’ve been as a juco assistant, juco HC & whatever it is you want to say I do now…..event operator, recruiting service, media, etc. Lately I’ve been getting bored just writing and reading write-ups from events. The names change but the articles are basically the same, small recap paragraphs and then a list of players and their attributes. I’ve been trying to do things a little bit different to spice it up here and there, so this time I’m going to give you a diary of my day.
Stopped to get coffee then got to the gym about 9:20. Leah Henry, who is awesome, met me as I came through the door. Got my packet without waiting and chatted with Lea for a minute outside the gym. Her goal is to get 100 colleges every year and I think that’s super reasonable. This is a great event. If you coach college in the southeast US at ANY level you should be there….absolutely no excuse. There are teams there from all over….Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina and of course Georgia. The diversity of leagues is what I like best about Darton. By seeing teams from many leagues, it can help me gauge teams I don’t get to see.
At some point I walked into the gym, Eastern Florida was playing Albany Tech. My guy D-Lo from UNF was there so I hung out there, right on the inside of the gym. Eastern Florida has a nice team as usual. There were a few kids I didn’t notice until I saw their names in the packet and I was surprised I didn’t notice them on the court. Despite that, I thought Tynasia Bunting looked great…long, athletic and hit a few shots including a nice pull up J. Phillipa Greene looked great but would have liked to see her produce more when I was watching. Freshmen Skye Williams from Indy put up a few baskets and had a nice assist. The real hidden gem during this game was freshmen Allissa Jones from Albany, GA and Albany Tech. No lie, she’s the best player that Albany Tech has had in the 5 years I’ve been going up there.
For game 2 I went down to court 3, way on the end and sat with Wichita St. asst. Jeff Osterman and St. Bonnies asst. Ryan Phillips. Gulf Coast was so good, we were all super impressed. I had questioned prior to the day if they would be as good as usual. I knew long time assistant Austin Medford had taken the Seward job and had done a nice job recruiting for Ronnie & Grover. The talent level far exceeded my expectation despite his leaving. Naomi Mbandu was ridiculous. She’s huge at 6’3, playing on the perimeter and making it look easy to over play the passing lane on the wing. She can catch and shoot from 20 feet at full speed in transition with a jump stop. She’s a future pro, no question. I think the sophomore class in Florida (and the entire southeast) lacks a clear cut, big time super star #1 player…the freshmen class doesn’t, Mbandu is just way better than any other freshmen. On top of that they have a bunch of future D-1 players….anywhere between 8 and 12.
At 11, I stayed at court 3 and watched Pensacola and Albany for about 2/3rds of the game. Albany lead by Allissa Jones played right with Pensacola. Pensacola has a ton of talent, but a bunch of it needs to be tamed some, particularly Daja Woodard. Woodard would probably be rated as the #2 prospect at the event behind Mbandu, but she struggled to finish when I was paying attention and was just in general a little bit wild. Her potential is through the roof though. There’s no doubt that almost all of the 100 schools there would take her. The last part of the game I saw my guy Tony Bozella and Lauren Defalco and I went to sit with them. There aren’t many D-1 Head Coaches I enjoy talking to as much as Tony. He is super genuine and just totally gets it. If more coaches were like him, we’d be coaching in a better profession.
The lunch at Darton is nice and the layout on the second level is very unique. The facility at Darton is actually incredible for a juco. It’s too bad that they basically merged with D2 Albany St and lost their athletic program. There wasn’t alot to watch at noon, but I did get to catch up with some coaches including my guy Josh Cooperwood from LA-Monroe.
1PM had some good games with an improved Hillsborough playing an improved Daytona team. As little as 3 years ago these teams were conference rivals but both teams have different coaches and different players now. Both teams are much better than they have been recently. Hillsborough had a few transfers from the Panhandle including Shay Collins (Winter Haven HS) from Gulf Coast who is their best player followed by Fanny Paulin, a foreign transfer from NWF. Daytona, has a solid squad with a bunch of depth. Giana Copeland has untapped potential….she should be ranked as one of the top freshmen in the country. They also have a few guards who will eventually be scholarship players. This is coach Brim’s best team since she’s been at Daytona.
Two o’clock game time featured Gulf Coast playing another cupcake and the other teams playing had only a few borderline D1 caliber players. 3PM was a different story though. Northwest Florida played on court 2 and FSW played on court 3. They both had slam dunks. Honestly they should have been playing each other. The bad part for these top teams is the talent gap between the top 5 to 7 teams in the region compared to the next group of teams is large. Making it worse is 5 of the top 10 teams nationally every single year are Panhandle Conference teams, who already play 3 or 4 times in the regular/post season. They obviously don’t want to scrimmage in a jamboree. So I think it’s a no win situation having to schedule the teams for these things. It’s easy for us to be there, saying let’s put NWF and FSW together at this specific time. That said I know many of the coaches and myself would have LOVED to see NWF and FSW play then. Both teams won easily and all the kids looked good on both of those teams. NWF & FSW were what you’d expect from Bart Walker and Kristy Ward. Bart has some serious studs and they are doing what he wants them too. Coach Ward had her team playing really hard and coach Vince has them jacked up, nothing less than you’d expect. Both squads have close to double figure D1 prospects. My girl Taylor Williams, a transfer from Tennessee State is playing the point for FSW. When they had a originally told me that, I thought no way….but she looked great at the 1 and I was truly impressed.
By 4 I was mentally getting ready to leave but I wanted to make sure I had a chance to watch each top team before I left. I had totally missed Shelton, except glancing them a few times a court or 2 away in the main gym. I wasn’t happy that I missed them, but losing 3 or 4 starters was a big blow especially Ciara Johnson, so even though I didn’t personally focus on them for a whole game, I had to rank them a little lower than last year. That said they have some nice pieces like Tiyah Johnson.
So at 4, I really wanted to watch Tallahassee vs Chattahoochee on court 2 but chose Chipola vs GA Highlands on court 4 in the back gym. Not to critique the scheduling too hard, but golly putting that next to TCC vs Valley would have made life a lot easier for everyone. GA Highlands has some really nice transfers as does Chipola. GHC has Ciara Thompson from UCF and Destiny Marshall from Charleston, while Chipola has Blessing Ejiofor from Vandy and Dekeriyah Patterson from LSU. Anyone who knows, knows I love Dee Patterson. Dee probably doesn’t know this but she’s a prototypical John McGraw player. Dee would have thrived playing juco for me. Great game, probably the best of the day, at minimum probably the most high level. GHC has a PG issue against the big time teams at least and while Thompson and Marshall kept it close, they weren’t enough to overcome Val Nesbitt’s explosiveness and Blessing Ejiofor’s size. Dee Patterson finally put things away for good with 2 late 3s. Chipola and Greg Franklin are back and GA Highlands should be the top team in Georgia although So. GA Tech will give them some problems as always.
After the 4pm game, I waited to talk to Dekeriyah and I watched thru the window in the lobby as NWF played East GA. NWF was playing Georgia Gayle, Rellah Boothe, Awa Trasi & Shania Meertens vs East Georgia and a new coach who looked totally shell shocked. East GA was down 18-0 when I left. Give CJ Pace a ton of credit…she did a great job in Swainsboro, GA. That’s not an easy job. After watching that massacre I went over to court 3 to watch GA Highlands, who was playing back to back, take on FSW. FSW wore them down, a trademark of coach Wards teams. FSW just outran GA Highlands. Tina Stephens was a total beast and Za’Nautica Downs could be a high level player.
My plan at 6pm was to watch half of Tallahassee and get on the road to Jacksonville, but I really enjoyed watching the Tallahassee guards. Q has a team that fits his style with a bunch of small athletic guards, but the Panhandle is filled with huge players this year. Tallahassee will have to overcome their lack of size with the chaotic style employed by coach Q to duplicate last season’s National Title. Daja Bradford will be one of those guards and will be one of the top freshmen in the country. As I was about to leave Demetrius Colson who has helped me with some events text me and told me to come see Aubrey McElhaney of Chattahoochee Valley. I knew her from a few games with FGB and also last year’s jamboree. I know she must have been killing prior to walking into the back gym and I know she could really help a mid major team somewhere probably in the southeast. Unfortunately I came in late in the game and she really didn’t do a whole lot, but you could tell she’s a legit player.
And that was my day. I stopped at Chic-Fil-A in Tifton, and made it back to Jacksonville by 10pm.