The annual Texas USSSA State Championship is an invitation-only tournament that attracts the best teams from the city of Austin and its surrounding areas. Every great team has great players, and I traveled down to Akins High School in South Austin to catch a few of the games and check out some of the talent. With so many good teams it’s hard to select only a few of them to write about, but these are the guys that stood out most.
Cameron Blue, 6’4” Senior: This guy was one of the most underrated players on the court. He wasn’t the go-to-guy for his team, but he seemed to do great things with the ball every time he touched it. His ability to change his shot while in the air and finish despite being hacked is admirable at the least. The floor was like a trampoline for him, as he sprung into the air and pulled down rebounds over some of the bigger players, including his own teammates. The only weakness I saw was his lack of discipline on defense. Any time a player pump faked, Blue was three feet in the air swatting at nothing. It’s a minor setback that should change with good coaching. What surprised me most about Blue was the fact that he could step behind the arc and knock down a three with a defender challenging his shot. His versatility and hustle made him one of the best players in the tournament.
Deon Mitchell, 6’0” Senior: There is no hesitation when I say that Mitchell is the best playmaker I’ve seen at his age. His ability to use his peripheral vision and fire no-look passes to open players was a joy to watch. He plays hard at the offensive end and as a coach you can trust him to protect the ball in clutch situations. Penetrating the lane was a success for Mitchell over and over as the defender had to choose whether to stop him from passing or laying it up, and either way Mitchell would make the decision that placed the ball in the basket. He does have a few negatives, however. When he gets really into the game, he starts dribbling too much and turns the ball over. He runs his mouth at some of the other players and the referee caught him doing it in one of the games, and Mitchell received a technical foul. There were also a few instances where Mitchell would have an open lane to the basket on the left side and instead of finishing with his left hand he’d use his strong hand and get his shot blocked. Although he can anticipate well on defense, he’ll overestimate his speed and end up on the losing end of a gamble. His strengths do outweigh his weaknesses, and I could see him playing at a mid-major college at the next level.
Jalen Harris, 5’10” Senior: Lights out shooter. Plain and simple. He’s not even six feet but I saw him grab rim in warm-ups pretty easily, and his vertical definitely helps him avoid shot rejection when he’s driving the lane. He is so comfortable behind that three point line that it’s basically automatic every time he chunks up a trey. Despite only shooting a few times, Harris had at least 15 points in his first game because he lit up from beyond the arc. Aside from his height, Harris’s biggest weakness is shooting off the dribble. On fast breaks he needs to set up on the wing and let another guard drive and kick it out. Every time Harris pushed the ball in transition his shots were off. He was the best spot up shooter in the tournament but he needs to work on his decision making on the offensive side of the ball. He has the range to play basketball at an elite school, but he’d have a much tougher time getting the shots he wanted against taller, quicker DI players. All in all, his scoring ability should take him to Division II basketball at the least.
DeAndre Byrd, 5’10” Senior: An animal on defense, Byrd forced more turnovers than anyone else I saw in the tournament. Quick as lightening, great anticipation and the ability to pressure even a good ball handler into making a mistake are just a few of the traits Byrd has to offer. The thing that impressed me most was his ability to recover quickly after getting beat on the first step. There were some quick guards out there that would get a step on Byrd and think they have an open jumper, only to find Byrd in their face a half second later. His hustle and determination to get possession of the ball wowed me, and when he started to score repeatedly I was even more impressed. His shooting mechanics are a bit unorthodox and I wouldn’t give him the ball to shoot a game winning three pointer, but he can find ways to the basket and rebound well on the offensive glass. He definitely needs discipline; however, as once he started missing shots and his team fell behind, he threw fits and even earned himself a technical. His height and lack of shooting ability limit his future, but if anyone out there wants a lockdown defender then Byrd would be a great selection.
Quincy Boyton, 6’5” Junior: Young, so still a lot of room for him to grow. That said, Boyton was very impressive on both sides of the ball. He’s thin as a rail and quick for his size. His lean frame is perfect for shot blocking and he displayed plenty of that in the tournament. He has good anticipation on defense; he reads the guards’ eyes well when they try to make entry passes to the post. Boyton runs the floor well, getting back on defense in a hurry and running his lanes on fast breaks. He needs to bulk up if he wants to be a post player and work on his jumper if he wants to be forward. His temper needs some attending to, as he whined when a ref called something against what he saw. Certainly prone to technicals, but hopefully with age comes maturity and he’ll be poised by the end of his high school career.
Dylan Cox, 6’4” Senior: I was able to see Cox play multiple times since he goes to my old high school, and I can already see improvement in his game since last season. Playing in District 16-5A is not much of a challenge and it’ll be even harder for him to improve more next year since he’ll be playing in 4A. Hopefully, for his sake, he’ll avoid playing down on everybody else’s level next year. Today I saw Cox do some really good things-he makes smart passes, hustles on the boards and unselfishly makes the extra pass that usually leads to easy baskets for his team. His two-handed dunk on a fast break today attests to his jumping ability and when he sees a ball on the ground he’s sacrificing his body and going after it. His work ethic should cancel out the weaknesses I saw if he continues to push himself to be a better player. Another unorthodox shooter, Cox had a fair share of wide open opportunities and he only made a couple of them. He favors his right hand heavily and when playing stingy defenders like Byrd he’s going to have a great deal of trouble protecting the ball. Cox is already talking to Davidson and Princeton, two great fits for his style of play: smart and efficient.
David Hahn, 7’1” Senior: There’s no typo here. Standing seven feet, one inch off the ground, Hahn was by far the biggest disappointment of the tournament. When I saw that walking tree my eyes lit up-is this the next Tyler Hansbrough or Cole Aldrich? Absolutely not. After airballing multiple shots in warm-ups, I kept my fingers crossed that he at least had a hook shot or some post move to rely on. Nothing. His coach didn’t even start him. The next tallest player was half a foot shorter than him and yet he still failed to put the ball in the net more than twice. He didn’t seem to take it seriously, either. Every time he missed (frequently) he would just laugh and trudge his way back on defense. Unless he develops his game over the summer, I wouldn’t go anywhere near this kid.
Mark Brown, 6’3” Junior: To end on a high note, I give you Mark Brown. After seeing his flawless shooting mechanics at the free throw line I decided to focus my attention on him. The very first series Brown played that I paid close attention to went like this: Brown hits jump shot-hustles back on defense- steals the ball-passes to open man (who misses easy lay-up)-grabs the offensive rebound-lays it up. Four points, a steal, and a rebound in a matter of seconds. He hustles on defense and constantly pressures the ball handler. He was the game high scorer in both games I saw, hitting shots inside and out. He’s much too thin right now but he’ll add muscle over the next year and likely dominate even more. No team had an answer for him and if he keeps working on his game no team will. Definitely a guy to keep an eye on next year-I can see this guy going DI with ease.
This tournament attracted a great bunch of players from the Austin area. I saw a lot of impressive athletes play some very exciting games, and the list of players I mentioned have very bright futures ahead of them. If they put all their effort into it, I have no doubt we could see some of these guys on TV one day.