With the NCAA’s recent announcement that sports would return to normal recruiting calendars on June 1, expect shoe circuits to isolate their elite hoops travel teams in the coming weeks.
For now, events like the Southern JamFest, which runs from May 21-23 in Hampton, Va., can bring the best teams together, regardless of shoe affiliation, to pit the best players against each other.
Here are a handful of the top players we’ll be watching this weekend.
Jalen Duren, F, Team Final (Penn.), 2022: Duren was arguably the most dominant full-time paint scorer in easily the toughest league (National Interscholastic Basketball Conference) in the country, averaging 16 points, 12 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game for Montverde (Fla.) Academy, who won the GEICO Nationals title. Duren, who earned SI All-American Second Team honors this season, has an exceptional blend of strength, skill, shooting ability and agility that make him nearly impossible to stop in the paint.
MJ Rice, SG, Team Loaded (N.C.), 2022: Rice is arguably the most physically imposing guard in the country, with elite three-level scoring ability and athleticism. Rice, a consensus top 10 prospect, carried Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) this season, averaging 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists a game for the Warriors. He’s been even more dominant with Team Loaded this spring, averaging 25 points a game.
Judah Mintz, CG, Team Durant (Md.), 2022: Mintz is an athletic, do-it-all guard who competes with a high motor on both ends of the floor. This season, he averaged 16 points for Gonzaga College (Washington, D.C.) and has been dominant on the circuit all spring.
Dariq Whitehead, SG, Team Durant (Md.), 2022: Whitehead was one of five players to average in double figures for the GEICO National champion Montverde Academy Eagles this season. On a team stocked with eight high major Division I prospects, Whitehead’s production got dialed back, but he’s reminding the country why he’s considered a consensus top 10 prospect this spring.
Jayden Epps, PG, Team Loaded (Va.), 2021: Epps has had one of the most productive years of any player, regardless of class. His stock soared in the fall when he led the Seen Circuit, an elite fall league in Virginia, in scoring at 26 points a game and he's continued his dominant tear this spring. Epps is a Pitbull of a floor general; super shifty, athletic and quick, with an accurate trigger from NBA range and blow-by ability to keep the defense off balance.
Justin Taylor, SG, Team Takeover (Washington, D.C.), 2022: Taylor was primed and ready to have a breakout summer last year before the COVID-19 pandemic derailed sports; now he’s showing the country why his stock is on the rise, averaging 17 points a game this spring.
Kwame Evans, SF, Team Durant (Md.), 2023: At 6-8, Evans is one of the most versatile players in the 2023 class with elite playmaking ability to go along with a high basketball IQ. Evans can score at all three levels and his length gives defenders fits on both ends of the floor.
DJ Wagner, PG, NJ Scholars, 2023: Wagner is a high-octane floor general with elite athleticism, superb vision and exceptional ability as a three-level scorer. His shiftiness with the ball makes him nearly impossible to stay in front of and he’s got pro pedigree as the son of former McDonald’s All American and NBA guard DaJuan Wagner and grandson of NBA great Milt Wagner. DJ led Camden to a state title this season, averaging 21 points, seven assists and seven rebounds a game.
Tyler Nickel, SG, Team Loaded (N.C.), 2022: At 6-6, Nickel is a capable scorer from anywhere on the court, and he's adept at creating his own shot and has the size and length to effectively guard multiple positions.
Cam Whitmore, SF, Team Melo (Md.), 2022: At 6-7, Whitmore has great size on the perimeter to go with his diverse skill set which makes him a headache for the opposition. Whitmore is an elite athlete who efficiently knocks down perimeter shots, rebounds, defends multiple positions and competes with a high motor on both ends of the floor.
Dug McDaniel, PG, Team Takeover (Washington, D.C.), 2022: McDaniel is a speedy, pass-first point guard who is masterful at creating for himself and his teammates. Though he's a skilled passer, McDaniel is a gifted scorer, controls the pace at all times and hounds opposing guards on defense.
Tyrell Ward, SF, New World (Md.), 2022: Ward is an athletic wing who is masterful at getting to the basket and efficiently knocks down perimeter jump shots. He's super agile and plays with a high motor on both ends of the floor.