Sectional Tourney

1 Mar

Julian Mackey

The Sectional Tournament in Southwest Ohio is always a busy time for us at Triple Double Prospects. Not only is it often our last time to see some of the area’s top unsigned seniors, but it’s also a quality evaluation point for some of the top young players in the Greater Cincinnati area, as these prospects are often experiencing one of their first “win or go home” situations. We had the chance to attend several games over the course of the Sectional Tournament; here are top performers among games we attended…

Julian Mackey – ’20 SG Lakota West: After leading the GMC in scoring and being named to the TDP 1st Team All-Cincinnati this winter, we had high expectations for Mackey heading into West’s semifinal game against Mason. Mackey answered the bell, as the 6’1 scoring combo guard tallied 34 points, with 20 of them coming in the fourth quarter to close out a back and forth, high scoring contest. Mackey is a volume scorer who can create his jumper just about whenever he wants to off the dribble, but is also elusive with the basketball, as he recorded 21 free throw attempts, making 15 of them. He takes a lot of shots, but Mackey has unwavering confidence, and is perhaps the biggest reason for the West resurgence this season, as the Firebirds have advanced to next weekend’s District Tournament. An unsigned senior, Mackey is entertaining prep school as well as growing NCAA D2 interest.

Nic Smith – ’20 C Cincinnati Walnut Hills: Smith capped off a great career at Walnut Hills on Friday night, going for 15 points and 10 rebounds, doing everything he could to keep his team in the game in a close loss to Cincinnati LaSalle. A 6’6 power post with an efficient ability to score going to his left hand, LaSalle had no answer for Smith early in the game, as the senior not only physically battled down low, but caused several LaSalle players to find their way into foul trouble. A throwback center with nimble feet for his size and the wide body to post up bigger players, Smith is being recruited at both the NCAA D2 and D3 level, and is one of the top unsigned players in the area with a four-year body of work at the varsity level, including being named the ECC player of the year this season.

Aaron Ward – ’20 PF Cincinnati Winton Woods: Facing his old team, as Ward transferred from Princeton to Winton Woods following his sophomore season, the 6’6 senior fought to try and extend his final season with the Warriors, finishing with 26 points and 7 rebounds in a game Winton Woods was in until the final moments. A versatile slasher who has to curry much of the offensive burden for his team, Ward was able to drive into the lane and create contact to the get to the lane, scored on second chance points and even knocked down a few jumpers from deep on the night. Known from the travel circuit primarily as an offensive role player and athletic, energy providing forward who can defend and rebound, Ward proved he can score this season at Winton Woods, boosting his recruiting stock down the stretch.

AJ Braun – ’21 PF/C Middletown Bishop Fenwick: Braun produced the most impressive performance of the playoffs (of games we’ve seen) to date, finishing with 27 points, 13 rebound and 7 blocks as his Fenwick team pulled off the upset over previously 21-1 Blanchester. A versatile prospect offensively who can shoot it out to three or score down low with his size at 6’8 and good feet and touch around the basket, Braun has a ton of upside as a big who fits what college coaches want in 2020, as he stretches the floor with his skill-set and size. While he hasn’t been known as a volume shot-blocker on the circuit, Braun looked the part of a focused defender against Blanchester, and, if he’s able to produce defensively at that level, he’s going to add to his list of NCAA D1 offers over the next year; a list which already includes Ohio University and Lehigh.

Brayden Sipple – ’21 SG Blanchester: Sipple finished a legendary junior season against Bishop Fenwick, as the 6’3 wing guard totaled 28 points and 10 rebounds; and, while the playoffs did not go as anticipated for Blanchester, Sipple’s dominant play over the course of the season carried his team to a final record of 21-2 as the junior averaged 34 PPG and was named Co-Player of the Year in Divisions II-IV by this site. An athletic do-it-all slashing guard who can get to the rim at will, Sipple made great strides as a shot-maker this year, while also showing the athletic upside to be an above average defender and rebounder at the next level. Despite averaging 34 PPG, Sipple is sometimes too unselfish with the basketball as a passer; expect him to show college coaches that he can score or distribute this spring, as Sipple has caught the eye of several NCAA D1 programs over the last couple of weeks, having taken several unofficial visits, including one to Toledo this weekend.

Justin Lovette – ’21 PG Cincinnati LaSalle: A supreme athlete on a team with five players capable of being the team’s leading scorer on any particular night, Friday night against Walnut Hills belonged to Lovette, as the 6’1 junior point guard finished with a game-high 18 points, as well as several assists, as his Lancer team advanced to the District Finals. There’s no question that Lovette’s greatest asset is his athleticism, as he can make plays for himself or teammates in the open floor, but also is so explosive with his first step in the half-court that teams cannot contain him on ball reversals. The junior guard is going to have to continue to improve his shooting stroke from behind the line, but he’s established himself as one of Cincinnati’s best high school guards this season, and should see a huge jump in his scoring numbers heading into his final season.

Max Stepaniak – ’21 PF/C Hamilton Ross: We’d seen Stepaniak in the past at our open gym sessions, but never in a varsity game until his opening round matchup against New Richmond, where the 6’7 junior power forward posted an impressive outing, finishing with 18 points and 12 rebounds in the win. Stepaniak looked the part of a future college face-up post, as he stepped out and knocked down a pair of jumpers, but also looked surprisingly athletic in the paint, scoring above the rim with two-handed dunks on two separate occasions. A solid floor-runner with size and mobility, Stepaniak is going to burst onto the scene this spring as a prospect who will intrigue college coaches at multiple levels, especially if he can continue to shoot it well from the mid-range and three-point line.

Bowen Hardman – ’22 SG Cincinnati Princeton: With his Princeton team trailing early against Winton Woods, and struggling to score against the Warriors’ zone defense, Hardman stepped up to the plate. The 6’4 sophomore wing totaled 20 points on the night, going 5/7 from behind the three point line, as Hardman only did more to solidify himself as one of the top scorers and shooters in the entire state of Ohio in the 2022 class. The most heavily recruited player listed on this report to date, Hardman holds early scholarship offers from Ohio State, Cincinnati, Xavier and Ohio University. While he was just one of several scoring-minded guards on this year’s Princeton team, a squad which was defeated in the Sectional Final by Lakota West, look for Hardman, who averaged 12 PPG as a sophomore, to nearly double that output next season.

Deshawne Crim – ’23 SG Fairfield: The future of Fairfield basketball who finished the season averaging just over 10 PPG (good for second on the team), we were impressed with what we saw from Crim in our first high school viewing of the young prospect, as the 6’1 wing guard tallied 14 points in a loss to Hamilton. A scoring minded guard but also a very good passer on his drives, Crim is a poised and confident young guard who showed the ability to knock down shots, going 3/7 from three on the day. Folks in the GMC have whispered all year about the freshman class at Fairfield, with Crim expected to be the face of the program heading into next season.

Honorable Mention: Mitchell Greer (’20 Mason), Deairius Barker-Randle (’20 Cincinnati Princeton), Derek Eddings (’20 Cincinnati LaSalle), Jaylen Lemons (’20 Cincinnati LaSalle), Dan Leurs (’20 Middletown Bishop Fenwick), Matthew Smith (’21 Mason), Ayden Schneider (’21 Cincinnati LaSalle), Owen Murray (’22 Cincinnati Walnut Hills), Evan Isparo (’23 New Richmond)

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