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always looking for the NEXT SPORTS PHENOM
always looking for the NEXT SPORS PHENOM




by James Nichols


     You all's main man James Nichols, who owns and runs the Real Basketball Report and owns and runs Team Unique was over at Howard University this past weekend for the Rising Stars Challenge, run by Al Schell & Saladin Reese (who runs Serious Hoops).

     This was a high quality tournament featuring several highest quality eighth-grade to fifth-grade teams from the DMV and New Jersey.  There were even a few fifth-graders in the building who showed out.  At events like these, I usually try to identify twenty girls who stood out to me for whatever reasons.  Because I didn't get to see as many teams as I wanted during the two-day event, I only identified eighteen girls who got me hyped.  One note: as a general rule, showcases are much better than tournaments; players in showcases play with fewer restrictions, thus with better flow, whereas in tournaments players play with more restrictions, because the head coaches talk to much to the players during the games, and usually coach scared (scared to lose) a sad state of affairs.  Of course, I ranked the girls from on to seventeen in terms of each's impact on the weekend's event.  The MVP of the entire tournament-2022 for NOVA 5-7 Alayna Arnolie. She displayed the best flow and was the most dominant player all weekend.  She never rushed the game and was always in the right spot on the court, playing with highest IQ on both sides of the ball.  Points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks.  Got to the basket at will (in traffic and finished), unerring mid-range jump shot, and once her three-point shot got on she was lethal weapon. How many girls that young play the passing lanes properly on defense? She played hard AND efficiently, and was always a step ahead of her opponent. She could start for most DMV high-school varsities right now.  Her 5-8 twin sister Grace ain't bad.  Once she straightens out her ball-handling and quickness deficiencies, she'll be okay. But Alayna is a different breed of baller.  2023 for Team Takeover 5-2 Madison McDaniel. This player had the tightest handle all weekend. Ankle-breaking crossovers, behind-the back dribbles, give-the-dribble-and-pull-it-back, and whatever else she could come up with.  I never saw anyone stop her from getting to the basket. Left and right finger rolls, left and right floaters off of the glass.  Driving low and hard to the basket, exploding to the rim and finishing with contact.  Lots of and-ones and making at least 90% of her free throws. Superior quickness on defense with lots of steals.Would like to see her get a better three-point shot by the time she gets to high school.  Team Takeover's best point-guard since Mikayla Venson. 2023 for Marissa Coleman Prime Time 6-1 Randi Griffin. She was the best post player in guard-oriented event.  As a matter of fact, she ran the court better than 95% of the players in the tournament, often the first one up the court on the break she ran straight to the block and knew what she WANTED to do with the ball.  But her lack of experience kept her from making at least ten layups a game. Shoots a lot of free throws.  A hellacious physical, athletic rebounder already. Looks like she's going to end up around 6-3.  2023 for Maryland Lady Tigers 5-10 Aryss Mactoon.  The hardest playing and most athletic player of the event.  Did she ever lose any effectiveness when she got tired? If she ever develops a handle she will get to All-State potential-she showed no left hand-she'd go left but go back to her right in traffic. Alarmingly, she only shot about 20% on the ten plus free throws she shot each game.  She got a 20  point, 10 rebound double-double each game I saw.  And was about 5 assists short of a triple-double in each of those games.  When is she going to develop that shooting-guard level jump shot. 2023 for Team Takeover 6-1 Sahnya Jah.  A classic small-forward.  Another one with no handle yet. So athletic and strong, that no opponent could stay in font of her and stop her from getting to the basket. Had a bit of an unorthodox left-handed dribbling style, but got to the rim level every drive to the basket.  Not that talented an outside shooter yet, and only about a 50% free throw shooter.  How many seventh-graders are already on the rim? The matchup between her and Mactoon was a sight to see.  They pretty much cancelled each other out because of each's ball-handling deficiencies.  2023 for Team Takeover 5-8 Jade Tillman. My God, this girl plays so hard, so physical.  A human pinball, and has no problem tackling an opponent. I never saw her lose a 50-50 ball.  Goes after contact on offense, accepts contact on defense. Gets a lot of layups and free throws-shooting around 80% from the free throw line.  If she could shoot yet from the outside and had a better handle, she'd make a quality point-guard for high school in about three years.  Must cut down on the foul trouble. 2025 for Team Takeover 6-0 Kennedy Hall.  The most interesting player to watch in the entire tournament.  A 6-0 fifth-grader who is already a track star, winning sprint races in her age group already.  A high-end sprinter from front-to-back and from side-to-side. Team Takeover full-court presses a lot.  This girl was at the front of their press, and no team could break it. Lanky, long, active, lots of steals and deflections.  Looking forward to watching her develop a skill set on offense.  One of the few players I'd pay for right now.  2022 for Team Takeover 5-11 Kennedy Clifton. A lefty who is so frustrating for me to watch play.  An elite level talent right now.  Should be a dominant player, but doesn't seem to bring it every game for a full game.  Can shoot and get to the basket with no problem.  Would probably benefit from some old-school Team Unique fussing-I'd get her so mad at me that she'd do what demanded of her just to shut me up.  2024 for Maryland Belles 6-2 Kennedy Umeh.  The most enthusiastic player I saw all weekend, always cheering on her teammates.  Big feet, and looks like she's going to end up 6-4 or 6-5. Has no post game yet.  Runs the court very well already, and shoots a lot of free throws, shooting around 70%.  Go see her when you get a chance. Another one I'd pay for right now.  2023 for New Jersey Sparks 5-2 Hannah Hidalgo.  The third-best point-guard I saw all tournament.  Quicksilver fast, and could start and stop on a dime.  Lots of layups in the open court.  Shot close to 100% on her free throws.  Smaller and thinner than McDaniel, she seemed to have some problems with physical play, especially when she matched up against McDaniel, who got the best of her-especially when McDaniel was gong to the basket.  BUT Hidalgo's team DID win the game! 2022 for POWERMOVE 5-11 Nekhu Mitchell. Great size for a small-forward, long, lanky, and athletic. Didn't look great at anything, but looked pretty good at everything.  A very good rebounder  and defender. Looked like she could shoot a little bit, but needs to be way more aggressive as a scorer to match up to the potential.  Looked like she could defend all five positions on defense at McDonogh, where she's rumored to be attending this upcoming school season. I hop they don't stuff her into that post hole.  2023 for Potomac Valley Vogues 5-8 Kennedi Rooks.  Similar to Jade Tillman, athletic, physical, and hardcore. Took no prisoners on the court.  A better natural scorer than Tillman-because Rooks is a better perimeter shooter right now.  A points, rebounds double-double machine.  Extremely unselfish, as well. Needs to be tracked as to how she fills out and gets taller going into high school.  2023 for Marissa Coleman Lady Prime 5-11 Jadyn Donovan.  Very athletic runner who gets in the middle of a lot of plays on both sides of the ball.  The most consistent scorer I saw all tournament.  Showed mid-range and three-point shooting range. Looked like she had good enough handle in traffic.  Was she a good enough scorer for this event, or will she be able to develop an acceptable scoring mentality for high school?  2022 for POWERMOVE 5-10 Cori Barnes. Very athletic, and played very hard.  Was stellar defender and rebounder. Defended the 2/3/4 positions very well.  What was fascinating to me was that I saw her make seven three-pointers with no hesitation over two games. She may evolve into being a natural shooting-guard for high school. 2025 for SPARTANS 5-8 Emma NuQuay.  Yet another fifth-grader worth paying for. In her Sunday game I watched her get a points, rebounds, assists, steals quadruple-double.  Physical, aggressive, athletic, and a very high IQ. She never seemed to force a play, but was rarely out of place to MAKE the right play. A great mid-range shooter, a lot of layups, and made almost all of her free throws.  Roughouse player, will dive on the floor, and get all of the 50-50 balls. A fellow evaluator called her a little girl Ashley Owusu-to me Emma is better passer right now.  2022 for Potomac Valley Vogues 5-10 Fiona Hastick. The most frustrating thing about evaluating players like this is trying to figure out just how athletic they really are. Are they doing extraordinary athletic things, are they ultra-athletic jumping, quicksilver things.  Or just running around showing off?  Fiona was athletic for the average Vogues player.  She ran, jumped, and quicked very well, and was always in front of a play at both ends of the court.  Most impressive was she shot and made several three-pointers with no hesitation, like a high-school small-forward should. 2024 for Marissa Coleman Lady Prime 5-7 Lalia Reynolds.  A premium runner for a little girl, at both ends of the court. Shot a whole lot of three-pointers with no fear of tanking them.  Drove to the basket like the rim was her property.  Would like to have seen her shoot more free throws for as aggressive and assertive as she was.  She should get much better at it as she grows into her thinnish physique.  So that was eighteen players I evaluated at this highest-quality tournament.  Thanks to Tink Butler and Saladin Reese for the hospitality.  I would love to know what you all think of my evaluations.  You can contact me at nicholsj085@gmail.com.  Holler back! 



James Nichols is the co-founder of the Real Basketball Report and Team Unique.  Over a 15 year period his organization has contributed to getting hundreds of players into college.  Team Unique has produced multiple All Americans and USA Basketball participants over the years any many of his players are currently playing professionally or coaching at the college and high school level.