Braxton Blackwell is one of the most versatile forwards in the Class of 2016 and he’s currently focused on six schools in the recruiting process. Alabama, Kansas, Tennessee, Texas, Vanderbilt and Virginia are all in the running for the 6-foot-7 forward and he had a strong summer at times with the Atlanta Celtics.
Four-star Class of 2016 forward Braxton Blackwell is cutting his list to six schools entering the final week of July, according to his high school coach, Drew Maddux. The versatile 6-foot-8 forward is down to Alabama, Kansas, Tennessee, Texas, Vanderbilt and Virginia.
A native of Nashville, Blackwell runs with a loaded Atlanta Celtics team on the grassroots circuit and he’s regarded as the No. 38 overall prospect in Rivals‘ rankings. With an ability to play multiple guard spots, Blackwell is an asset at multiple spots on offense and he can also defend multiple positions on the floor.
Vanderbilt and Tennessee are both local favorites while new staffs at Alabama and Texas have done a nice job gaining ground. Kansas and Virginia are trying to put together big classes and Blackwell is a good piece because he meshes well with many other styles of play.
Recruitment starting to pick up for top 30 point forward Braxton Blackwell
LAS VEGAS — For high school players the summer months aren’t solely about making a name for one’s self. Those times are also about improving upon their individual skill sets and building on a (hopefully) successful high school season. That was the case for versatile 6-foot-8 forward Braxton Blackwell, who was coming off of a highly successful sophomore season at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. Last season Blackwell posted averages of 19.4 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game on a team that finished with a 34-3 record and reached the semifinals of Tennessee’s Division I Class II state tournament.
For his efforts Blackwell was named Tennessee’s Mr. Basketball, extending an impressive streak for the CPA program to three consecutive Mr. Basketball selections. With his ability to affect games in a variety of ways, Blackwell has been on the receiving end of some of the nation’s top college programs. Being a “point forward” capable of initiating the offense tends to have that kind of effect on a player’s recruitment.
“Being versatile,” Blackwell said at the adidas Super 64 last week when asked about his strengths. “I can get a rebound and go, [playing] kind of a point forward position, passing the basketball and defending well.”
As a sophomore Blackwell also averaged more than two blocks and two steals per game, and in Las Vegas his ability to be in the right place at the right time defensively was another asset on display. Playing on a team that featured fellow 2016 prospect Kobi Simmons, it was just as likely that Blackwell was the player with the basketball in his hands looking to make a play for his teammates. That freed up Simmons, a point guard more likely to score at this stage in his development, to do more scoring for the Atlanta Celtics, and Blackwell’s understanding of the game is something that can benefit future teammates at the college level as well.
When asked what he’s looking to improve upon this summer, Blackwell’s answer was direct and to the point.
“Shooting and being more aggressive offensively,” Blackwell stated, and for the role he hopes to have at the college level those are obviously important tools to strengthen. Having a consistent jump shot can open things up from a spacing standpoint for a player serving as his team’s point forward. And there’s also the need to properly balance finding looks for oneself and making sure teammates are getting looks in the areas where they’ll be most successful as well.
Among the schools mentioned by Blackwell when asked about his recruitment were “Providence, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, Memphis, Vanderbilt and a lot of other programs.” And being from Nashville, Blackwell’s bound to attract a lot of attention from Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings. How much attention? During one of Blackwell’s games in Las Vegas, the entire Vanderbilt coaching staff was in attendance, taking in the action from the front row of the coaches section. And as is the case with many recruits, that kind of effort doesn’t go unnoticed.
“That just shows that I’m probably one of the priorities in their class,” Blackwell said. “It’s pretty cool to see all four coaches there.”
As Blackwell continues to sharpen the tools that have made him one of the better recruits in the Class of 2016, programs will intensify their pursuit of his signature on a National Letter of Intent. And for the versatile Blackwell, who spoke of studying journalism in college, his ability to do a variety of things on the basketball court has resulted in his having multiple options when it comes to picking a school.
LAS VEGAS — One of the better matchups on Saturday was the adidas Super 64 quarterfinal between Dream Vision and the Atlanta Celtics, with both teams possessing a high number of Division I prospects. Chase Jeter was the headliner for Dream Vision but he struggled mightily against Abdul Hakim Ado, who is considered to be one of the best defensive big men in the Class of 2016. Ado finished the game with seven points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots, and he altered numerous attempts around the basket as well in a performance that backs up the praise of his defensive prowess.
With Jeter struggling others needed to step up, and Bennie Boatwright and Arizona commit Justin Simon did just that to lead Dream Vision to the 66-63 victory. Boatwright had it rolling offensively, as he scored 27 points with a considerable amount of his damage being done from the perimeter. And as the points increased so did his confidence, with Boatwright even looking to mix it up with some touches in the post. If he can play with the offensive aggression he displayed Saturday on a consistent basis, look out.
As for Simon much has been made about what position he’s best suited for, with some wondering if he’s a good enough setup guy to serve primarily as a point guard. But if his showing in Las Vegas is any indication of what he’ll be able to give Arizona in 2015, it’s best to give him the label of “playmaker” instead of trying to fit him into a strict role. Simon made plays off the dribble, attacking the defense to either put himself in position to score or set up his teammates. And it was his lob to Jeter with 20 seconds remaining that gave Dream Vision a 64-63 lead that it would not relinquish. While there’s still room for Simon to improve as a distributor, there’s plenty to like about his game as he enters his senior year of high school.
For the Celtics, 2016 guard Kobi Simmons scored 18 points but he had to work awfully hard in order to do so as he made just six of his 24 attempts from the field. This is the area where Simmons will need to work hard to improve upon. He can put points on the board, but that can’t come at the expense of making sure his teammates are taken care of as well. Braxton Blackwell played just as much of a role in initiating the offense for the Celtics, dishing out five assists in a “point forward” role to go along with 13 points.
Junior college showcase attracts solid number of quality prospects: JucoRecruiting.com once again held a showcase event in Las Vegas, with more than 100 players looking to land an opportunity to play at a four-year school on display. And while former DePaul forward Dejuan Marrero was one of the players involved he wasn’t the player both Herb Sendek (Arizona State) and Pat Chambers (Penn State) showed up to see. That distinction goes to South Plains JC guard Andre Spight, who continues to work towards being a factor as a point guard. Last season Spight, who began his career at UTEP, spent a considerable amount of time playing off the basketball. That will change this coming season, and Spight’s goal is to be a point guard for a four-year program when the time comes to make a decision.
According to Spight, who will visit Arizona State on September 5 per Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports, he’d like to make his decision during the early signing period. Another guard to consider from the event was Desmond Medder, who will play at New Mexico JC after averaging 20 points and just over six rebounds per game at Scottsdale (Arizona) CC last season. Per Medder he’s yet to receive any calls from Division I programs, but if he can continue to score as he did last year that should change.
Hot week in Vegas leads to added recruiting interest for Justin Foreman: One of the best offensive performances of the week was put together by NY Rens guard Justin Foreman, who on Wednesday night dropped 48 points in a thrilling 96-94 win over the Ohio Basketball Club. Foreman was unconscious that night, hitting 14 of his 16 shots from the field (15-for-17 FT) and making all five of his three point attempts. Foreman continued on that scoring streak throughout the weekend, and Foreman’s hope is that his recent run of play results in increased recruiting interest.
Currently the majority of his offers come from MAAC programs including Iona, Canisius, Niagara and Saint Peter’s, and he has also heard from Hofstra, St. Francis-Brooklyn, LIU Brooklyn, Rhode Island and Kent State. Foreman also stated that next month he’ll be taking unofficial visits to “Fairfield, Canisius, Marist and Sacred Heart.”
Curtis Jones will move to the point this high school season: While the 7-footer receives much of the attention nationally, the fact of the matter is that Team Loaded has a number of quality prospects with 2016 guard Curtis Jones being one. Jones played well in Las Vegas, providing his team with the perimeter scoring needed to balance what they get inside from Maker. What’s interesting about Jones’ game is that he’ll be making a position switch of sorts, as he expects to play the point for his high school team. “A lot of ball-handing, watching film of other point guards and trying to improve my decision-making so I can get my teammates involved,” Jones told NBCSports.com when asked how he’s preparing for the change in roles.
According to Jones he holds offers from Cincinnati, Virginia, Virginia Tech, NC State, Wake Forest, West Virginia, Maryland, and VCU. And among the schools who have recently been in contact, Jones mentioned Louisville, Indiana, Ohio State, Missouri, Xavier and Texas. Those programs will be watching intently to see how Jones’ transition to the point guard spot goes, and with his ability to break down defenses off the dribble he’s a tough matchup for many teams.
LAS VEGAS — Over the last year or so guard Jaylen Brown has gone from merely being a talented member of the 2015 class to becoming one of its best players. With a maturity that’s rarely seen in most teenagers, Brown has managed to balance his high-level athleticism with a good understanding of the game and what his team needs him to do at any point in time. Brown’s full skill set was on display Saturday, as he was able to not only get the basket at will but also knock down perimeter shots when open. And according to Brown, there are a number of things he’s working to improve upon this summer.
“There’s a long list of things I have to improve upon,” Brown said. “Making sure my jump shot is consistent, and I have to improve on by ball-handling. Defensively I have to be more active, [and I have to] get myself to a high level of conditioning so I can play at a high level for a long time.”
Another important factor for Brown has been the hard work he’s put in to transform his body, which is obviously the case when considering his stated goal to become an even better-conditioned athlete. And that effort has resulted in Brown becoming a dominant perimeter presence.
“Definitely the weight room and conditioning,” Brown said when asked where he’s made the greatest strides over the last year. “The weight room really helped.” According to Brown he weighed 200 pounds last summer, and now he’s up to around 220. The added weight (good weight, mind you) has helped him become a more explosive threat on the wing, and once in the lane Brown has no problem finishing above the rim with authority.
As for his recruitment, Brown stated that he’ll take an unofficial visit to UCLA after participating in adidas Nations next weekend in Long Beach, California. Among the reasons for his considering UCLA was the presence of Georgia natives on the roster, with Tony Parker entering his junior year and Jordan Adams putting together two highly successful seasons before being picked in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft (Memphis Grizzlies).
Other schools that have been most active in his recruitment according to Brown are Kentucky, Ohio State, Kansas, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida and Texas A&M.
Kobi Simmons continues to improve: The Celtics don’t lack for talent, and one of the standouts in Las Vegas has been 2016 point guard Kobi Simmons. Simmons has run the show for the Celtics, and his importance was on full display in their win over Team Rose during Friday’s afternoon session. When Simmons was the one initiating the offense the Celtics ran like a well-oiled machine, but they struggled when he wasn’t the one being asked to make a play. Simmons displayed the ability to finish at the rim with either hand, and for the most part he remained under control in running the show.
Simmons described himself as a “scoring guard” following the game, but he also has the ability to set up his teammates for quality looks. Among the schools Simmons mentioned when asked who all is recruiting him are “Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Ohio State [offered about two weeks ago], Missouri, Memphis and Texas.”
Vanderbilt goes four deep for local prospect Braxton Blackwell: Playing alongside Simmons was 6-foot-8 forward Braxton Blackwell, who like Simmons is a member of the Class of 2016. And based upon who all attended from the Vanderbilt coaching staff it’s clear that the Nashville native is of high priority. Head coach Kevin Stallings was there with all three assistants (one left during the second half to get to another game), and the reasons why they hold Blackwell in such high regard were easy to see. Blackwell rarely gets rushed on the offensive end of the floor, and defensively he had no issue with doing the little things a team needs in order to be successful.
“Just being versatile,” Simmons said when asked what he believes his strengths to be. “I can get a rebound and go, [and play] kind of a point forward position right now.”
When asked what areas he’s looking to improve upon this summer, Blackwell mentioned perimeter shooting and being a more aggressive player on the offensive end. Vanderbilt wasn’t the only school mentioned by Blackwell when asked about his recruitment, either. “Providence, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, Memphis, Vanderbilt and a lot of other schools,” Blackwell noted. Blackwell also stated that last year he took unofficial visits to Indiana, Memphis, Vanderbilt and Auburn, and he’ll look to take more unofficial trips in August.
A possible fourth visit for Bennie Boatwright: The 6-foot-9 forward is more of a perimeter threat, an attribute that meshes well with Dream Vision teammate Chase Jeter, who has emerged as one of the best big men in the Class of 2015. Boatwright has a good perimeter stroke, and with his tendency to be out on the wing the areas Boatwright mentioned when asked what areas of his game he’s working to improve upon (being more efficient and strengthening his ball-handling), fit in well with what he’ll need to do in order to be successful.
As for his recruitment, it’s been known for quite some time that three schools that will definitely host Boatwright on official visits are Arizona State, Gonzaga and Washington. Head coaches Herb Sendek (Arizona State) and Mark Few (Gonzaga) were among the coaches in attendance, with Washington having an assistant keeping tabs on their target. And in speaking with Boatwright following the game, there’s also a possible candidate for one of his other two available official visits.
“I might go to UConn’s ‘Midnight Madness,'” Boatwright told NBCSports.com. Obviously the key word there is “might,” and Boatwright also noted that he was unsure as to whether or not he’ll use all five official visits.