Jalen Duren, Kennedy Chandler, Felix Okpara and Others Shine at the St. James NIBC Invitational
The St. James NIBC Invitational invaded Springfield, Virginia, this past weekend to kickoff a 10-day event featuring some of the top teams and players in the country.
From usual suspects re-establishing their dominance to newcomers turning in dominant showings it was clear that players were there to make the most of the chance to compete against high-level talent in a pandemic season.
Here are the players that stood out on opening weekend.
Jalen Duren, Montverde (Fla.) Academy, F, 2022
What caught our eye: Duren played like he was gunning for the top spot in the 2022 SI99 rankings which will be released later this year. Duren was a man-child in the paint on both ends of the floor, finishing at the rim was ferocious dunks and reaping the benefits of being an elite rim-runner, while catching shots off the backboard on the defensive end. Duren’s face-up game and efficiency from the mid-range made him impossible to stop all weekend.
Felix Okpara, Hamilton Heights (Chattanooga, Tenn.), C, 2022
What caught our eye: Okpara was easily the most dominant defensive presence this past weekend at the NIBC Invitational. He racked up 12 blocks against Oak Hill Academy on Sunday and changed more than seven. Offensively, his relentless motor creates easy scoring opportunities around the rim, but he’s capable of knocking down the perimeter jump shot. Buy stock in Okpara.
Richard Isaacs, Wasatch Academy (Mount Pleasant, Utah), PG, 2022
What caught our eye: Isaacs has a special blend of speed and quickness, which allows him to get into the lane at will. He’s a gifted passer, knocks down the perimeter jump shot efficiently and uses the floater as well as any guard in the class. Easy to see why Kansas, Oregon, Missouri, Iowa, Gonzaga have all prioritized him.
MJ Rice, Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), SG, 2022
What caught our eye: Rice uses his pro size to impose his will physically on both ends of the floor. He showed the full range of his offensive arsenal in the Warriors’ big win over Legacy Early College (S.C.) on Friday, dropping 25 points and 11 rebounds. What’s underrated with Rice’s game is his playmaking ability. When the offense runs through him, the Warriors are tough to beat. He finds shooters well and creates easy scoring opportunities because of the attention he garners from the opposition.
Bryce McGowens, Legacy Early College (Greenville, S.C.), SG, 2021
What caught our eye: McGowens mixed a good blend of his trademark long range bombs with efficient mid-range shots and he got to the rim when he wanted to. McGowens shot 52 percent from the floor in his 38-point outburst on Saturday, and his defensive intensity seems to have picked up this season. McGowens will mesh into with Fred Hoiberg’s system next season.
Chisom Okpara, La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.), SF, 2022
What caught our eye: Okpara is a big, strong wing who scores at all three levels and is near impossible to stop when he's going toward the basket. He finishes with both hands efficiently on drives and finishes well through contact. Okpara averaged 14 points for the Lakers this past weekend.
Caleb Foster, Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), PG, 2023
What caught our eye: Foster has a great floor game and masterfully controls the pace at all times. His combination of speed, quickness and shiftiness make him impossible to keep out of the lane, yet you have to play up on him because he’s an efficient perimeter shooter. At 6-foot-3, Foster knows how to use his size against smaller guards, is adept and efficient with the floater and picks his spots well on a loaded roster for the Warriors.
Kennedy Chandler, Sunrise Christian (Bel Aire, Kan.), PG, 2021
What caught our eye: Chandler continued to prove why he's the No. 1 point guard in the SI99, running the show masterfully on a loaded roster. Chandler's shiftiness is unmatched and his combination of speed, athleticism and three-level scoring ability make him dominant.
Yerald Mieses, Hamilton Heights (Chattanooga, Tenn.), PG, 2021
What caught our eye: Mieses was a headache of a defensive assignment all weekend for opposing guards, using his speed and quickness to attack the paint and finishing through contact with either hand at the rim. Mieses earned his stripes against Oak Hill and their fully stocked stable of elite guards on Sunday. He keeps pressure on the defense at all times, whether he’s creating for himself or his teammates.
Nolan Hickman, Wasatch Academy (Mount Pleasant, Utah), PG, 2021
What caught our eye: Hickman continues to prove why he’s one of the top point guards in the senior class, using his speed, quickness and elite ball handling ability to impact the game. Hickman’s three-level scoring ability was on full display all weekend, and he’s an elite defender who plays the passing lanes like a gifted cornerback. Hickman will put pressure on the guards in Lexington competing for key minutes next season.
Jalen Ricks, Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), SG, 2021
What caught our eye: Ricks plays with great energy on both ends of the floor and extends the defense with his marksman-like efficiency from deep. He’s a capable driver and showed the ability to stop and pop efficiently in the mid-range as well. Ricks has been steady all season for the Warriors, but turned it up a notch this past weekend.