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April 23, 2013

Hoop Group Pitt: What we learned

MORE: EYBL Los Angeles: What we learned

The first live evaluation weekend in April is usually a great spot for college coaches to gauge how accurate the hype is on prospects they've been hearing about for months. For Rivals, live AAU events give us a gauge on which prospects can survive against elite competition and who can handle the pressure of playing in front of dozens of Division I college coaches with scholarships on the line. We had these two things on our mind in Pittsburgh at the Hoop Group Pitt Jamfest, and after three days of action here is what we learned.

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Bringing in the top talent from the Under Armour circuit as well as the majority of other East Coast powerhouse traveling programs, the Pitt Jamfest had no shortage of high-level talent. However, even with all of the top teams in the field, there was a noticeable lack of quality point guards. While the 2014 class is top heavy with elite floor generals, depth at the lead guard spot in the class could be a concern for high-major colleges who aren't in on the top talent.

As we observed some of the top team's point guards playing mediocre floor games, there were two guards who stood out above the rest in Pittsburgh. They were four-stars Chris Chiozza of Team Thad and the Louisville Magic's Quentin Snider.

A small but extremely skilled prospect, Chiozza is known for his competitive mentality and the heart that he displays on the court. A quieter guard with an assassin's mentality, the Memphis (Tenn.) White Station product is equally efficient as a scorer from long distance and as a distributor. Chiozza thrives in the up-and-down game, shoots it well from deep and is a quick ball handler who is tough to contain off of the dribble.

College coaches liked what they saw out of Chiozza, because the 5-foot-10 junior received scholarship offers from Tennessee and USC on Monday, less than 24 hours after the event ended. With continued good play, the No. 90 prospect in the 2014 Rivals150 should see his stock rise because of a combination of his talent and a potential lack of depth among point guard prospects.

The second elite point guard who stood out was Snider, who checks in at No. 29 in the 2014 Rivals150. Because he has been committed to Louisville since the summer after his freshman season, the only coaches tracking Snider over the weekend were Cardinals assistants, who made their presence known at multiple Louisville Magic games. The local product from Louisville (Ky.) Ballard showed an improved ability to knock down jumpers over the weekend, a nice complement to his solid all-around floor game and mistake-free style.

An elite defender, Snider has the aggressiveness as an on-ball defender, and the quickness, to fit in with Louisville's pressing and hectic style of play once he gets on campus in the fall of 2014.

Elite talent

With Team Thad five-star forward LeRon Black sidelined from the event with an ankle injury, Juice All-Stars shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead had the honor, and pressure, of being the top-ranked player by Rivals from the 2014 class (the oldest age division) in the event. A five-star prospect who falls in at No. 19 in the 2014 Rivals150, Whitehead is one of the most hyped recent players to come out of famed Brooklyn (N.Y.) Lincoln High School and the New York City area. In multiple viewings by Rivals in Pittsburgh, Whitehead thrived.

The 6-foot-4 guard has nice size on the wing with a strong frame, and he has the versatility to play either guard position. By doing a lot of ball handling over the weekend, Whitehead displayed his abilities to get by defenders on the drive and create offense around the basket. He's a creative slasher who finishes well through contact and sees help defenders coming and is willing to dish it. He is starting to shoot the ball consistently off the dribble in the midrange game and in spot-up situations.

His knack for rebounding the ball from the guard position and his strong defensive intensity will continue to make Whitehead elite. The five-star prospect isn't the greatest athlete in the world, but he works hard on the defensive end to move his feet and his size and strength make it possible for him to keep quicker guards out of the lane.

Whitehead mentioned Kentucky, Louisville, Syracuse, St. John's, Florida and Memphis as schools that are making the biggest impression with him. He said he has no plans to make a decision in the immediate future.

Up and coming

Versatility is always something that college coaches value in evaluating a prospect. In Pittsburgh, three bigger wings showed that versatility, and thus excellent potential, placing them among the breakout performers at the event.

Derrick Jones would win the award for the most tweeted about prospect on the weekend, especially after stealing the show late on Sunday with several huge dunks, including a crowd-pleasing 360-degree two-hander. The 2015 four-star forward from Philadelphia was dominant at times playing at the 16-and-under and 17-and-under levels for his We-R-1 team.

Jones helped his team to a championship at 16U, showcasing his high-level athleticism, nonstop motor and a great combination of size and skill with his long, 6-foot-8 frame. On Monday, Cincinnati became the latest high-major school to offer Jones, joining Temple, Kansas State, Xavier, Saint Joe's, Rutgers, Penn State and Villanova on the four-star forward's list.

Next up was the Richmond Squires' 2014 small forward, Devin Robinson. A 6-foot-7 wing with athleticism who can play inside or out, Robinson confirmed all of the suspicions by college coaches and scouts that he is indeed one of the absolute most talented prospects in his class. Robinson can shoot the ball out to the 3-point line, is good in transition and has the length and size to defend multiple positions.

While Robinson mentioned Auburn, Xavier, Rutgers, VCU, Virginia Tech, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Clemson as schools that stand out, expect more programs to get involved with the Christchurch (Va.) High School product as he continues to break out as an athletic wing scorer with size and shooting range.

The third breakout wing with versatility from the weekend came from the champions of the 17-and-under division, Sports U out of New Jersey. That player was Jared Nickens.

To sum up his game in short, Nickens is a pure scorer. The 6-foot-7 wing did a good job on championship Sunday of playing in attack mode. Even though he is a prolific shooter from 3-point range, he showed aggression in attacking the rim that makes him a balanced scorer and a tough cover for any defender. With length, range, athleticism and a smooth handle as he changes pace, Nickens will have a chance to develop into one of the better wings in the 2014 class as he gains strength to add balance to his game in his shooting and his ability to finish through contact.

Over the weekend, Rivals.com's Alex Kline reported that Nickens listed Oregon State, Temple, Providence, Dayton, Seton Hall, Saint Joe's, Oklahoma, Miami, Georgetown and St. John's as the most involved in his recruitment.



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