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San Diego players shine at The League

With Full-Time Hoops relocating from North County to San Diego at the end of the summer, the commute to most basketball hot spots has increased by at the very least a half hour. Last Sunday’s trip to Westminster High School for a session of the Compton Magic League proved to be worth ever additional gallon of gas and minute of drive time.

Etop Udo Ema and DeAnthony Langston, who runs the Real Run League and now heads the Nike EYBL Paul Pierce-sponsored program, the Truth, have assembled some of the finest talent in across Southern California for a month long showcase of players with their high-school teams (well, technically, in fall league there are no “teams,” so the squads play under different monikers, but I digress).

San Diego has been well represented in The League, as several of the area’s top programs - the Drift Team, composed of players from Cathedral Catholic High School; the Knights, composed of Foothills Christian players; the Panthers, Vista High’s contingent; the Cougars of San Ysidro and Balboa Prep’s Force program - have competed against some of the top teams in Los Angeles, Orange County and beyond.

Here are some of the standouts:

Top prospects:

Brandon McCoy - 2017 7-0 215 C, Cathedral Catholic - The leap in development McCoy has made from the final game of his sophomore season until now is dramatic. The once raw post game has made serious strides to the point where McCoy is now a threat to finish with either hand, as he did seemingly at will against Bishop Gorman’s Zach Collins, a fine post player in his own right. McCoy still has the nice face-up touch to about 17 feet to boot. Defensively, he is a formidable rim protection due to his length and quick jumping ability. His footwork in the post, which has come a long way, still needs to continue to get better, as does his tendency to leave his feet on ball fakes on the defensive end. He picked up several early fouls as a result of this. McCoy’s growth as a prospect resulted in him rightfully rocketing up several recruiting websites rankings, and Sunday he re-emphasized that he is, indeed, one of the top post prospects in the nation, regardless of class.

TJ Leaf - 2016 6-10 215, PF, Foothills Christian - If McCoy is the best post prospect in San Diego (since the departure of DeAndre Ayton), Leaf is certainly the biggest matchup problem. The mobile, skilled face-up four poses headaches for opposing coaches due to his ability to handle the ball on the perimeter and willingness to create for others. At times, Leaf plays more of a point forward for the Knights, as they spread the floor with capable outside shooters and allow him to take his usually slower defenders off the dribble and kick to the open shooters as the defense collapses. When defenses put a smaller, quicker defender on him to take away the dribble penetration, Leaf recognizes the mismatch and pounds the ball in the post, where he can score over either shoulder (though favors right hand/ left shoulder action) or recognize the double team and find the open shooter. Leaf also is a very good rebounder, due to his quickness and athleticism. His perimeter shooting was streaky on Sunday, especially from beyond the three-point line, but that might be the only question mark on offense. Defensively, Leaf does an excellent job reading the offense and collecting steals in passing lanes, and has done a better job being consistent on the defensive end, but he needs to continue to develop that consistent effort on that end. Leaf announced recently that his final three college choices were UCLA, San Diego State and Oregon. While UCLA appears to be the front runner for his services, any team would greatly benefit from having the presumptive All-American prospect.

Most savvy

Taurus Samuels - 2018 5-11 162 PG, Vista - Samuels was stellar on Sunday, scoring a combined 64 points and a dozen assists in wins over the Monsoons (Mayfair) and the Conquistadores (Don Lugo). What makes Samuels such a difficult cover is his ability to know when to attack defenses and score on his own and when to find teammates. It's an area where he has grown dramatically from his freshman year. His shooting (albeit with a somewhat slow release) was also on point Sunday, as he hit shots from all three levels and got to the free throw line to boot. Vista will be undersized this season yet again, but with Samuels at the controls, they will give opponents fits.

Cameron Moore - 2016 5-11 165 PG, Cathedral Catholic - Moore had a strong showing against the Gaels (Bishop Gorman), as he shows continued growth with his decision making on offense. The quick Moore uses subtle changes of speeds to fool defenders, and once he gets into the lane he has a keen understanding of where his teammates on the floor. He is also strong enough to finish plays in traffic. The biggest improvement Moore has made since his freshman year is his perimeter shooting. Once a liability, Moore is a very accurate shooter off the catch and has added a nice pull-up jumper to his repertoire.

Luis Salgado - 2016 6-6 182 SF, Foothills Christian - Salgado, known as a big-time shooter, is a very underrated passer and has tremendous court vision. He is the ideal complement to TJ Leaf as he can space he floor, but has improved using ball fakes if defenders attempt to run him off the three-point line, and he makes solid decisions once the second defender cuts off his penetration. Salgado should see his interest pick up during his senior year.

Most improved

Omajae Smith - 2016 6-5 170 W, Foothills Christian - Smith has evolved as a prospect over the years from a defensive minded forward who relied on straight line scoring drives to a "three and d" type wing who spreads the floor with his shooting ability and defends the other team's top perimeter player. Smith thrives in transition, where he fills lanes and finishes plays with authority due to his strong athleticism. Recently decommitted from Cal Baptist, Smith could become a sleeper D1 wing during the late signing period as he continues to improve his handle on the perimeter.

Isaiah Morris - 2018 5-10 155 PG, Vista - Samuels is not the only 2018 point guard on Vista's roster who colleges should be paying attention to. Due to a growth spurt and much improved physique, Morris has really come on as a prospect. Already a competitive, feisty guard, Morris has shown improvement with his ball skills and vertical and lateral athleticism to complement his high skill level. The lefty needs to be more consistent of a shooting threat from three as he continues to develop.

Jack of all trades

Austin Beech - 2016 6-5 170 W, Cathedral Catholic - Beech is one of the more underrated players in Southern California largely because he doesn't have one superior skill. Rather, is is solid at just about every facet of the game: a solid wing defender, very good athleticism, capable playmaker with the pass and a passable jump shooter. He does possess a tremendous frame with great length, and seems to be incrementally improving his skill level with each outing. If he can continue to clean up his handle and his shooting (inconsistent off the dribble), look for Beech to be a player that coaches monitor throughout this final season.

Rising stars:

Jordan Hilstock - 2019 6-2 165 G, Vista - Hilstock, who was recently rated as the No. 23 freshman in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, has made a big spurt in development over the past few months, especially with his quickness off the dribble and his fluidity. He has a great frame and length, and his athleticism has started to catch up with his skill level. Defensively, he has the markings of a lockdown defender who can guard multiple positions in Vista's small-ball lineup. Consistency from the perimeter is the next big step in his development, but as it stands, Hilstock has a bright future ahead of him.

Logan Cremonesi - 2020 6-4 PF, MLK Middle School - Cremonesi is a rapidly improving face-up four with great length and a frame that suggests he's not close to finished growing. He's improved his quickness on his first step, which allows him to get by slower defenders when using a ball fake. Despite being outmsucled by the high school teams he played against, Cremonesi battles on the boards and also did a good job protecting the rim with his length. His left hand must improve, but should with continued development. In a class that has a couple of bigs who have played in national level events, Cremonesi has the upside to ultimately be mentioned with them.

Joel Calhoun - 2020 6-1 SG, Sullivan MS - Playing for Gamepoint 14u, Calhoun has the look of a very high-level two guard prospect. He has a solid frame, and is a strong slasher to his right hand, but what really stands out his his jumpshot, both off the catch and pulling up. He gets great elevation and has a smooth release. Calhoun struggles handling the ball with his left, but if he can shore that up, add him to a list of very good prospects in the 2020 class in San Diego.

Tyson McWilliams - 2020 5-9 G, San Elijo MS - McWilliams has a long, lanky frame and does a good job mixing up speeds off the dribble. He is an accurate spot-up shooter, but he needs to become a better finisher off the dribble, which should come as he gets stronger, which will allow him to absorb contact better. Additionally, he needs to continue to improve his mid-range game, whether pulling up off the dribble or finishing with a runner or floater.

Deven Dahlke 2020 5-10 G, Potter MS - Dahlke is a physically impressive combo guard prospect who has a very strong frame and great length. He is a jack of all trades who can handle, score and defend well, but needs to improve his assertiveness to really display his gifts.

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