Harlan: Jam Fest puts bounce in Western Pa. basketball talent
An all-star lineup from Los Angeles traveled across the country this week for the Pittsburgh Jam Fest, an AAU basketball event that drew hundreds of out-of-state teams to gyms around this area.
The California team's roster included a son of Milwaukee Bucks coach Larry Drew. Yet, miles from home, the L.A. Rockfish lost their second-round game to a collection of juniors mostly from the WPIAL.
“They came a great distance to take a loss from a Western Pennsylvania team,” said Adrian Batts, who is the varsity coach at Jeannette and leads this WPIAL-based AAU lineup named Team Bounce. “They probably think there are only football players here.”
Batts says that with a laugh, hoping that characterization finally has begun to fade. He notes how three WPIAL recruits will be on Pitt's roster next season, and how Arizona's T.J. McConnell (Chartiers Valley) and Iowa State's DeAndre Kane (Schenley) advanced far into the NCAA Tournament this year, along with several head coaches with local ties.
“Everyone's now well aware of Western Pennsylvania basketball,” Batts said. “(College recruiters) know they missed a lot of good players because of the stigma we get that we're only a football area.”
Scheduled on a weekend when college coaches can watch, the Pittsburgh Jam Fest was expected to draw dozens of recruiters. Batts counted 15 coaches from Division I teams in the stands for Friday's game at South Fayette, along with a number of others from smaller schools.
The tournament is run by the Hoop Group, which holds a series of events along the East Coast. This one had five age divisions.
Team Bounce entered the 80-team U17 Platinum bracket along with the Pittsburgh Nets, another local lineup, which lost in the first round to a team from New Jersey. Team Bounce's winner's bracket run ended Saturday with a third-round loss.
The finals are Sunday at North Hills and South Fayette. The brackets are updated at hoopgroup.com
Among the top recruits on the Team Bounce roster are Hempfield's Kason Harrell (6-foot-3), Chartiers Valley's Matty McConnell (6-0) and Jeannette's Julian Batts (5-11). The three junior guards who averaged at least 22 points last season all have Division I potential.
All three were in double figures Friday when McConnell scored 25 against the Rockfish.
“They showed that they could play with the top guys in the country,” Batts said. “The more we win, the more (college coaches) will get a chance to see them play.”
Also from the WPIAL are Bethel Park's Joey Mascaro (5-9), Elizabeth Forward's George Prota (6-10), Gateway's Daylon Harris (6-5), Steel Valley's Dom Keyes (6-6), and Vincentian Academy's Ryan Wolf (5-9).
The Kiski School's Dante Lombardi (6-0), son of IUP coach Joe Lombardi, is on the team as well, along with Kieron Smethers (6-4), a junior from Wellsboro.
“There was a lot of mid-major coaches watching our game,” Batts said. “They're all getting a look this weekend, and I think they're pleased with how these guys are playing. From this event, one of these guys will get a scholarship somewhere.”