If you've never been to an AAU basketball event, you should try it. If you're any sort of basketball fan, it is certainly a small piece of hoops heaven.
My neck of the woods, upstate New York, is fortunate to host the GymRat CHALLENGE AAU event annually. The boys' version is the largest AAU tournament on the east coast bringing in more than 2,400 players. The majority of those, even a good portion of each team's reserves, will go on to play at some level of college.
Players who have appeared in the event in the past include the likes of Emeka Okafor and Michael Beasley, each of which was the second overall pick in their respective NBA drafts. Also here one year was Cole Aldrich, the center on the most-recent Kansas national championship team.
Literally dozens ... maybe hundreds ... of players who came through the GymRat have gone on to have impact at the high major level of college basketball.
But, for readers of this blog ... those of us whose interest resides at the mid-major level and, most specifically the MAAC ... rest assured that similarly dozens of players who have appeared in the GymRat have gone on to play for teams of our favorite conference, too.
With that in mind, I'll highlight a few players from this year's event (played Memorial Day weekend) who either have expressed interest in a MAAC school or look like a good fit for a conference program.
Also, you can find the event's all-star teams and honorable mentions on this website: www.gymratchallenge.com
Once there, click on "tournament history" to find a full paragraph describing the attributes of about 35-to-40 all star selections at each of the three age brackets contested in the event as well as newspaper-quality reports on each division's championship game.
Your blogger helps out at the tournament, serving as the talent evaluation coordinator. Our group of 10 "scouts' who watch games and, eventually, make the all-star selections is comprised entirely of some of the better "basketball people" in upstate New York.
Anyway, here's the start of some a list of some of the players who look like good MAAC fits ...
- Pat Ackerman (Middlesex Magic AAU team), a slender 6-10 center with nice skills for a true big man. Right now several MAAC teams are involved, as well as Ivies. His expressed interest here was, possibly, to defer college for a year in favor of a prep school and it's certainly possible that a year's maturity could result in bigger schools getting involved.
- Rob Poole (Jersey Shore Warriors), a 6-5 off-guard with terrific range. He has already given a verbal commitment to Siena. He was the GymRat's MVG (Most Valuable GymRat) at the 17-under age division after scoring 24 points in a semifinal-round game and, then, 10 points late in the first half of the game-deciding juncture of the championship game. A very intelligent player who not only contributes with his shooting but is also a good passer. Should be a very good MAAC player.
Darrun Hilliard (Jersey Shore Warriors), an athletic 6-5 swingman, the type of player who has an all-league caliber career in the MAAC. Very good rebounder, drives to the basket and finishes. Siena has expressed strong interest, but the A-10 (St. Joe's, Temple) is also involved.
Andrew Nicholas (Jersey Shore Warriors), a 6-6 left-handed forward who plays hard and effectively at both ends. He originally committed to Rutgers, but has decided to re-open the recruiting process. Probably a little short to play in the Big East, but he would be an outstanding player at the mid-major level and is open to MAAC schools.
Matt McMullen (Jersey Shore Warriors0, a 6-6 swingman who is versatile and played extremely hard at the GymRat. Has been offered by Colgate, and his interest is mostly from Patriot and Ivy League schools. But he could definitely play in the MAAC and it appears that several MAAC schools will get involved.
Jayon James (Team Izod), a powerful 6-5 swingman who is capable of playing point guard or small forward. Originally committed to Fordham, but has opted to de-commit and consider other schools with a possibility of delaying his decision with a year at prep. There are "rumors" that Iona might get involved. Most definitely capable of having a strong impact at a MAAC level school.
Blaise Mbougorba (N.J. Roadrunners), a legit 6-10/6-11 center who is getting some interest from MAAC schools, but is also hearing from Big East programs, too. But, he is relatively slender and not yet a finished product offensively. Still, off-the-chart athleticism and enthusiasm for playing mark him as a player to watch develop. And, we might be watching him nightly on telecasts of high-major level games.
Dennis Clifford (Bay State Magic), a 6-11 center who is more skilled than a banger. He was being looked at extensively by mid-major programs a year ago and, then, added about 20 pounds of muscle and another level to his game since then and interest in him blew up. He has committed to Boston College.
Michael Zangari (York Ballers), a 6-9 inside player whose only need is to add some bulk. He only weighs about 210 pounds right now. Ivy and Patriots are strongly involved, as are several MAAC schools. He is getting some early calls from Pitt and Seton Hall, too. Looks like he could be a standout MAAC player and could develop into someone who could contribute at a high-major program.
This is truly only the tip of the proverbial ice berg. In coming days I'll highlight a few more players from the upper level age bracket of the event as well as put out a couple of names of players from the younger levels who look like they will have great basketball futures.
And, for anyone within range of New York's Capital Region ... don't forget that the girls' version of the GymRat CHALLENGE ... 156 teams, more than 1,750 players ... will take place this weekend (June 19, 20) with games at Siena College and at the University at Albany.
Like the boys' event, the girls' tournament is a mecca for young players who will advance to the college level.