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Breakout freshmen, sophomores from prestigious Pangos All-Midwest camp

The pandemic didn’t stop the Pangos event, which was held again in La Grange last weekend. Many of the top freshmen and sophomores in Illinois — and throughout the Midwest — were on display. 

Simeon’s Jalen Griffith (2) takes the ball past Morgan Park’s Adam Miller (44).
Simeon’s Jalen Griffith (2) takes the ball past Morgan Park’s Adam Miller (44) in a game last season.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

In recent years the Pangos All-Midwest camp for freshmen and sophomores has been one of the best and earliest evaluation tools to get eyes on top, young talent.

The pandemic didn’t stop the Pangos event, which was held again in La Grange last weekend. Many of the top freshmen and sophomores in Illinois — and throughout the Midwest — were on display.

There was sloppy play with forced shots, turnovers and zero defense. But that’s to be expected when you combine this type of format — unfamiliar players thrown together in an open gym concept — with the rustiness that comes with months off of formal competition due to the pandemic.

As expected, players in the Class of 2023 in Illinois impressed. As I noted in a piece I wrote earlier this month, the current sophomore class in the state is as deep of a group as we’ve had in several years.

Here are a whole bunch of thoughts and observations from the recent Pangos event in La Grange.

▪︎ Every year there are players who simply look different, move different. They are the ones who play the part of an elite talent moving forward, no questions asked.

A few out-of-staters filled that role this past weekend at Pangos, but none more so than Baye Fall from Denver. The 6-10 sophomore, who emigrated from Senegal more than a year ago, provided more than a few “wow moments” and is clearly among the top handful of prospects in the country in the Class of 2023.

The closest player Illinois had to looking like that type of prospect was Kenwood’s JJ Taylor. The No. 1 ranked prospect in the state in the Class of 2023 had his moments of looking the part.

▪︎ Illinois and coach Brad Underwood and his staff are jumping on board quickly with a bevy of scholarship offers in the Class of 2023. The latest came when Illinois offered Bradley-Bourbonnais’ 6-8 Owen Freeman and Hinsdale Central’s 6-7 Matas Bazelis.

These two offers add to the ones already extended to Kenwood’s trio of Taylor, Darrin Ames and Davius Loury, Bolingbrook’s Donaven Younger, Young’s Dalen Davis and Joliet West’s Jeremy Fears, Jr.

▪︎ Speaking of Buzelis, the combo forward continues to enhance his reputation even as he has yet to play a single varsity game. A late bloomer physically who will need to continue to add weight and strength, he’s a top 10 prospect in the Class of 2023. With his length, versatility and budding skill level at his size, Buzelis’ game will continue to evolve and become more creative over these next three years.

▪︎ I detailed the up-and-coming talent at St. Rita in a story earlier this fall, but what the Pangos event did was just validate that the young players in the program are legit.

After watching James Brown several times as an eighth-grader last year, it’s no surprise the 6-8 freshman is the top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2024. Big and skilled, Brown was arguably the most impressive Class of 2024 prospect at Pangos. He was one of three freshmen at Pangos named to the Top 30 Cream of the Crop All-Star Game.

Sophomore shooter Kaiden Space impressed, along with the enticing talent of 6-6 Morez Johnson. Yes, Brown has received a lot of the hype, but the big-bodied Johnson is very skilled and just beginning to scratch the surface. You can’t help but be enamored with the size and skill both Brown and Johnson bring to the table at this young age.

▪︎ It’s time to start talking about Young’s Dalen Davis

There are some bigger names in the sophomore class, several who have received a lot of attention and notoriety in national rankings and with college coaches, but Young’s Davis needs to receive his due when talking the state’s best young prospects.

Although he’s had much less fanfare, the City/Suburban Hoops Report has had Davis among the top three prospects in the class since he entered high school. He was steady, impressive and, at times, pretty dazzling over the course of the weekend at Pangos, particularly with his shooting and the calm and poise he plays with.

▪︎ While every guard tends to play with the ball for five, six or seven seconds each time they touch it in exposure events like this, it’s refreshing to find those who still are pass-first guards. So thank you, Tevonta Jackson.

The Springfield Lanphier sophomore point guard regularly tried to find teammates. Those are far and few between in today’s game, especially in me-first events like this, but keen basketball observers (and college coaches) will take notice. There is a long list of talented guards in the class, but don’t forget about Jackson who is a true point guard with size for the position.

You can throw Simeon’s Jalen Griffith in that category as well. He is tiny but effective with his basketball speed, instincts and ability to get into the teeth of a defense. His role will grow exponentially this season with the Wolverines.

▪︎ On the other end of the spectrum, Ames is wired differently. He is an offensive force. The offensive tools the 6-0 lefty guard showcases are ones of a dynamic scorer. While those are only enhanced in an event like this, Ames plays with offensive aggression and can really knock down shots. He is going to get his shots and score his points for coach Mike Irvin at Kenwood.

▪︎ There is a ways to go when it comes to consistent production and putting his game all together — he will certainly have that opportunity this season at Kenwood — but the upside of Loury, a 6-7 sophomore, is through the roof.

▪︎ He hasn’t played any varsity basketball yet, but the Hoops Report remains higher on Oak Park’s Sam Lewis than anyone. The 6-5 sophomore will be heard from and is a bundle of talent ready to emerge. He has a blend of smoothness and upside which is why he’s ranked so high in the Class of 2023 by the City/Suburban Hoops Report, yet remains a bit of an under-appreciated prospect in the class.

▪︎ Earlier this month I listed I listed Homewood-Flossmoor twins Wes and Miles Rubin as super sleepers in the class. Again, their emergence won’t happen overnight as the 6-7 forwards are just beginning to scratch the surface, but Pangos was an opportunity for them to be seen. They remain the part of the ultra-intriguing prospect with developing games and untapped potential.

▪︎ Brother Rice sophomore guard Ahmad Henderson can really play. Based on his play over the weekend, the 5-9 mighty mite deserved to be playing in one of those all-star games on Sunday. Henderson is going to be real challenge to defend for opposing teams in coming years, especially when the perimeter jumper is falling.

▪︎ A couple of new names on the Hoops Report radar following the Pangos event: Bogan 5-10 sophomore guard Yarell Greer and DePaul Prep 6-0 sophomore guard Maurice Thomas.

Both had their moments at Pangos and opened the eyes of the Hoops Report.

▪︎ Look for Orr’s Ahmere Carson to make an impact sooner than later. The transfer from Morgan Park showed strength, toughness and the ability to play with a physicality in the backcourt over the course of the weekend. Plus, he will defend.

▪︎ St. Ignatius has a really good group of young players. Richard Barron, a big-bodied 6-4 sophomore wing, already has something to hang his hat on: perimeter shooting. Barron received a taste of varsity action a year ago and has that size and stroke on the perimeter to make a much bigger impact as a sophomore.