NOTEBOOK: National Hoopfest + Gonzaga DC Classic

By MARCUS HELTON

Notes from the Gonzaga DC Classic (December 8-10) and ARS Rescue Rooter National Hoopfest at DeMatha (December 9-10):

TREVOR KEELS ENTERS THE SPOTLIGHT

It came in a loss, but Paul VI 2021 guard Trevor Keels had one of the most impressive outings of the weekend, posting a game-high 23 points in a 73-70 loss to Oak Ridge (FL) on Sunday at DeMatha.

Keels was solid all-around and, and owned – for three seconds at least – what was the biggest shot of the game, hitting a 3-pointer to temporarily tie the game before Oak Ridge’s Damon Harge took the ensuing inbounds pass and hit a 3 from halfcourt to win it.

“I was yelling [Jeremy] Roach’s name loud [for the pass],” Keels recalled, “and I felt good when the ball was coming and I felt confident that I was going to knock it down and it went in. Then we celebrated, which we never should did, we should have gotten back on defense. We didn’t stop the ball and he made a lucky shot.”

Keels was remarkable efficient, going 8-of-11 from the field and 4-of-6 from 3-point range.

“The first half I went 0-2, 0-3,” he said. “But I didn’t put my head down, I just kept on shooting and in the second half, I felt it that confidence come. Every time I shot it in the second half, i knew it was going to go in.”

At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Keels already has solid size and instincts for the varsity level. He was highly-touted coming into the year and looks to be continuing the long line of talented Paul VI and Team Takeover guards.

“It feels great,” he said of his early contributions. “Playing with elite basketball players - you’ve got Roach, you’ve got [Brandon Slater] and other people on the team that are sleepers that people really don’t know about but play hard. It feels great playing with them and playing defense and stuff.”

BRANDON SLATER ADJUSTS TO NEW ROLE

A Villanova commit, Paul VI wing Brandon Slater has emerged as one of Paul VI’s senior leader following the graduation of star point guard Aaron Thompson (Butler).

“I’ve played the most minutes on the team and I’ve been here the most,” he said, “so everybody just looks up to me, whether its energy, whether its positivity or just picking somebody up. They always look for me, so I’ve a big job on my shoulders. They look to me like I’m their big brother, and I’ve got to lead them no matter how bad I’m playing or how good I’m playing, I’ve got to keep the same intensity.”

That was evident in the loss to Oak Ridge. Slater didn’t shoot well (4-of-10 and 0-3 from 3-point range), but he made plays all over the floor for the Panthers, finishing with 15 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 highlight-reel blocks.

With his recruitment already wrapped up, Slater said he’s turned his attention to honing his all-around game.

“Im looking to improve everything,” he said. “I still need to get better on my shot, I need to get better with my rebounding, defense and ball handling. So, it’s everything for the next level. I’m nowhere near a finished product, so I need to get better with everything.”

JALEN SMITH EMERGING AS SENIOR LEADER

Another player thrust into a leadership role is Mount St. Joseph 2018 forward Jalen Smith. While the University of Maryland commit is no stranger to being a go-to guy - he was the Baltimore Sun’s Co-Player Of The Year last season - this is his first as the emotional leader following the graduation of his future Terrapin teammate Darryl Morsell.

“It’s tough,” He said. “ I’m pretty much taking Darryl’s old spot, and I’m friends with them but I’ve got to be hard on them sometimes. I’m getting used to it. I’m like, the go-to person now, so I’m pretty much on the court every second of every game. It’s tiring but I’m getting used to it.”

The Gaels had a rough day in a 74-58 loss to Smith future Maryland teammate Aaron Wiggins and Wesleyan Christian (NC), but it wasn’t due to any failure on Smith’s part. He finished with 25 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks.

The 6-foot-10, 200-pound Smith said he’s added 10 pounds since the summer, and is focusing on improving his perimeter game. He’s already increased his shooting range and consistency, but wants to work on beating defenders off the dribble.

CASEY MORSELL ADDING TO HIS GAME

St. John’s 2019 wing guard Casey Morsell has rocketed up recruiting boards in the past year, with the likes of Florida, Georgetown, Penn State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest among the schools offering scholarships since the spring.

It’s easy to see what coaches like about the 6-foot-3 Morsell. He’s long-limbed with good scoring instincts and an overall feel for the game. He’s also eager to evolve, particularly on the offensive end.

“I’m just adding stuff to my game,” he said. “As time goes on, it gets harder and harder to score because of the scouting reports and stuff like that, but I’ve got to keep pushing and keep adding different things to my game to make me effective.”

Another positive factor that Morsell has working in his favor is a family member who has also gone through the recruiting process. His older brother is former SJC standout Mike Morsell, a junior guard and 1,000-point scorer at Towson.

“He actually watches a lot of my games on my Krossover and just points out little things that I’ve got to do better,” the younger Morsell said, “and that definitely makes me effective out here. And plus, just playing with college guys consistently makes me play harder and compete. So he’s definitely helped me.”

Casey Morsell and the Cadets fell short in a 72-65 loss to an IMG Academy (FL) team led by former St. John’s coach Sean McAloon. Morsell finished with 16 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists.

Morsell said he’s planning to cut his list of college suitors down in the spring.

“I’m definitely looking for somewhere where I’m wanted,” he said. “The next things is definitely where I can see myself fitting in to the way that they play and the culture that they have and definitely life outside of the court. You spend as much time off the court as you do on it, so you’ve got to be impressed with all those aspects.”

MYLES DREAD SHEDS “TWEENER” LABEL

For much of his high school career, the question looming over Gonzaga (DC) 2018 guard Myles Dread centered on his future position.

“I know I’m not going to be playing the 4 and 5 in college - I’m only 6’3 ½,” he said, “so I’ve got to work on my shooting and my ball handling, and I try my best to display that every night.”

Mission accomplished. Playing strictly on the perimeter, the Penn State commit shined in the Gonzaga DC Classic, leading the Eagles to the tournament title on their home floor.

 

In a 73-58 opening win over St. Maria Goretti, the 205-pound Dread showed his full perimeter arsenal, knocking down five 3-pointers in a 19-point performance.

“I’ve got to make some better decisions out front - I’ve been turning the ball over a little too much - but when I’m being aggressive like that I’m going to make plays, and its not as easy as I thought it was,” he said. “But now that I’m out front I can see the game from a different perspective and its a lot more fun playing out front. So I’ve just got to limit my turnovers and I’ll be fine.”

Tweener?

“Not anymore,” he said. “I’m a shooting guard.”

RAHSAAN EDWARDS STEPS INTO KEY ROLE

Coming off of a strunt summer with Team BBC, St. Maria Goretti (Md.) 2019 guard Rahsaan Edwards knew he’d play an increased role this year following the graduation of star guard Elijah Clarance (Illinois State).

The initial returns look positive, as Edwards netted 10 points in an opening loss to host Gonzaga at the Gonzaga DC Classic.

“Elijah last year, he played a big role for us, so that’s kind of what [the coaches] are expecting,” Edwards said. “They want me to ease my way into it and not come in and force it. Last year my role was to play defense and get stops, and this year I can score the ball much better, too. So, I have to find that balance of scoring and playing D. That’s the thing I’m focusing on now, and they’re holding me accountable for everything that I’m doing. But I feel like I’m stepping into it pretty good.”

Edwards said he wants to work on being more productive when his shots aren’t falling, as well as his pull-up and defensive consistency.

RJ BLAKNEY READY TO BREAKOUT

St. Maria Goretti (Md.) 2019 wing RJ Blakney already boats a solid amount of Division I scholarship offers, but if his start to this season is an indication that list is bound to balloon.

Blakney put up a team-high 19 points in an opening loss to Gonzaga, impressing with his explosiveness, defense and improved jumper.

“I’m a transition type player,” he said. “I like to go up and down and defensively I like to get steals and get out and look or score. It’s easy for me to do that and knock down shots or get to the basket and draw fouls.”

The 6-foot-4, 185-pounder - who ran with Team Melo during the summer - currently holds offers from Long Beach State, Mount St. Mary’s, Old Dominion, St. Bonaventure Tulsa and Virginia Commonwealth. He said Maryland, Central Florida and Xavier are among those who have shown interest.

Blakney is an explosive athlete with good length and an improving perimeter game.

“During the summer I put a lot of work in to knocking down shots and I’m still working on it,” he said. “it still can be a lot better, but it’s a work in progress with that.”