Tomorrow afternoon in Las Vegas at the Adidas Super 64 Al Harris and the 43 Hoops 17 and Under team will begin the final stretch of their 2009 summer season. After a strong showing at an NY2LA event in Milwaukee half of the 43 Hoops players are looking at potential division one scholarships and the end of July period will be key to their futures.
Coach Al Harris sat down with Minnesota Preps just before taking off on the final journey of the season.
Ryan James of Minnesota Preps: Heading into the final stretch of your season where do you feel your team is at?
Al Harris: We are doing pretty well right now. We are coming off of a ten-day trip where our record was 10-4. I think we had a hiccup out in Cincinnati but we regrouped, went to Chicago where we took care of business beating some good teams in Chicago including the Illinois Wolves. Then we took on the All Iowa Attack and lost to them by about ten points I believe. That was a tough game that we lost in the last ten minutes. From there we went on to beat Velocity Red out of Illinois who has a couple division one athletes. Then we finished up in match play as the only team to face the Rising Stars when they were at full strength and that includes all seven of their D1 guys. They have a couple guys top 100 in the nation. And we beat those guys in an overtime game.
Our team then took that same chemistry out to Milwaukee and played well getting second place in the tournament losing in the finals to Team Detroit by three points. It was a six-point game either way throughout the contest and I feel we are doing good heading into the end of July.
MN Preps: What is next on the schedule for your team?
Harris: Next is the trip out to Las Vegas. We start playing on the 22nd and we leave for the tournament on Monday (yesterday). Our pool is quite tough and basically our next goal is to come out of our pool in first place.
MN Preps: In terms of players improving there may be some programs who have done as good a job but I would have to say that certainly nobody has done a better job at improving their players than from what I've seen from your kids? And the number one player that comes to mind for me is Elliot Owusu.
Harris: The number one guy who is the most improved guy is Elliot Owusu. This guy is playing outside of his mind right now as far as I'm concerned. There are some schools that are either mid or low major division ones who are looking at this guy. Elliot is guarding the best offensive player on the opposing teams and considering the teams that we have been playing against Elliot is usually defending a division one basketball player. And at time he's been guarding guys who are ranked in the top 100 prospects in the nation.
Elliot faced Zach McCabe in Milwaukee and we beat then in what people called an upset. We beat All Iowa Attack by almost 20 so I don't know how that's an upset but that game was right before the quarterfinals. And in that game Zach only scored eight points and he had been on a terror from Chicago to Milwaukee but with Elliot guarding him most of the game Zach was limited. From there Elliot went on to guard a couple top athletes from the King James All Stars and the Illinois Kings. Then in the final Elliot faced Trey Zeigler and he was up to the task against him as well. Overall Elliot is playing very well averaging about 12 points a game with around eight rebounds.
Another kid who is really improving is Clay Horne. Clay has stepped up to the level of competition. He's playing well using that 6-foot-7 athleticism and doing well on the defensive end. Clay is also shooting very well and attacking the basket.
My three big guns Vinard Birch, Jordan Reetz, and Brett Ervin are taking care of business like they should.
MN Preps: At this point how is Brett doing coming off of his injuries?
Harris: Brett is at full strength right now. He doesn't have any pain in his shoulder nor does he have any pain in his ankle. Brett is definitely in shape right now. I wish a lot of people from this area would have went out to Milwaukee to watch the kid play. He was definitely one the most dominant forwards in that tournament and that includes the likes of some big time athletes from some of the best all-star teams.
MN Preps: How has the game of Vinard Birch progressed through the summer, what kind of looks is getting, and is he still rattling the opposition's point guards?
Al Harris: Vinard is taking advantage of his opportunities. He's taken the attitude of how his coach is in that he should always compete with a chip on his shoulder. He always has to play with something to prove as there is always going to be somebody that doubts you. Vinard is the type of kid who has been doubted as people say he can't shoot the basketball. But then against the All Iowa Attack he came out and made four jumpshots in a row and that pushed our run putting us up by 20 at the half. And mark my word on this, I haven't seen any kid in the nation stay in front of Vinard or go by him. That includes Ray McCallum who Vinard held to eight points in the championship game. This is a player that is ranked 42nd in the nation. I'm not saying Vinard needs to be ranked that high in the nation but if he's not a division one player I don't know what is. This kid is a floor general, he handles his team, Vinard definitely dictates the tempo, he plays on both end, and his weakness is shooting behind the arc but what kid at this age doesn't have a weakness?
MN Preps: What was the Milwaukee tournament like and what did you guys do to make a run to that tournament championship. Also, how did that championship game against Team Detroit go?
Al Harris: It was a very tough tournament. When you have the likes of the SYF Players, the DTA All-Stars, Team Detroit, King James All-Stars, ITN All Stars, All Iowa Attack, Playground Elite, it was definitely a loaded tournament. Almost every team that we played had at least one division one caliber player on their team. The teams that we played all had at least two kids who had D1 offers. We were the only team that didn't.
I think the reason we played so well is because our kids played so well together as a team. I can't tell you how many coaches there as well as college coaches tell us that as far as what they have seen this summer we are one of the top ten defensive AAU teams in the nation. The way we play defense is unheard of in AAU basketball as defense is forgotten. Defense makes us play at a high level as we play together and play hard. Offensively we execute and a lot of these teams are not as organized and as well prepared as we are.
In that championship game we were hurt in the end by Trey Ziegler. That guy has like 12 D1 offers and is listed high in the nation. He can do a lot of things on the floor and he had a very good championship game. Trey made some late free throws to put them up three and we came down and called a time-out. We set up a play for Jordan Reetz and it worked as defenders ran into each other but the shot just came up a little bit short. So we lost by three points.
MN Preps: Is it valid to say that right now you have about five guys who are getting division one basketball consideration and the rest of the group is getting strong to decent division two attention?
Al Harris: That would be correct as I'm looking at the five guys who likely have the opportunity to play division one. I would say that Brett Ervin, Vinard Birch, and Jordan Reetz are definitely division one players, Clay Horne has the chance as he is the kid on my team with the highest level of potential as my phone has not stopped ringing about him. Clay already has a division two offer from Minnesota State-Mankato and he can likely get as many D2 offers as he wants. So I'm thinking he can be a D1 player. Elliot Owusu because of his academics and athletic ability, the way he's defending and because he's getting more and more skilled offensively I don't think he'll go division two. I think he will go division one. It just depends on what he is interested in in relation to his high level of academics. A big thing is that Elliot wants to get his school paid for. He doesn't want to have to deal with loans so he could go D2. Elliot has Western Illinois, Mt. St. Mary's, SIU-Edwardsville, Cornell, American, and places like that really looking hard at him. Unless he has a poor last ten days I really think he'll go D1 and I doubt that he will happen (meaing he doesn't think there is a chance Owusu struggles down the stretch).
MN Preps: Right now what schools are looking hard at Brett Ervin?
Al Harris: Hot on Brett's trail right now is Valparaiso. I also just received a call from Cornell about Brett, Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan, Southern Indiana who is D2 talked about offering him, Drake talked about him, Northern Iowa has talked about him, those schools are watching him close and interested. Right now I don't think it's a matter of knowing if Brett can play its more about some of them seeing Brett as an option when some other guys are off the books. They may have had a top two or three guys that were the options but many are committing and I think at that point Brett will get even more interest at that mid-major level. But Valpo is hard after him and they will watch Brett close this week in Vegas.
MN Preps: And what is recruiting looking like for Jordan Reetz?
Al Harris: Jordan is definitely going to be a division one basketball player. There is a lot of talk about teams not being sure if Jordan is as good horizontally as they want him to be. But I keep telling coaches that this kid is a very skilled basketball player. The kid flat out shoots, he unofficially made more three-pointers than anybody at the Milwaukee tournament, I mean the kid made at least 21 threes in that tournament and shot over 50 percent from beyond the arc. Jordan is getting to the basket, he's defending athletic basketball players on the defensive end. I don't know what more they want to see because you know that they won't get to see this in his high school season as he's going to destroy his competition in high school.
Jordan has the one D1 offer from Northeastern, he could get an offer from Montana shortly, Eastern Kentucky asked about Jordan, and he can go anywhere he wants in D2. I just want to see if D1s are going to stop playing with him and give him what he deserves. I'll go on record and say what is the difference between Chanse Creekmur and Jordan Reetz? They look almost the same on the floor and Chanse has like nine D1 offers. I'll give you that Chanse might look a little more fluid with his jumpshot and look a little more pure and can drop a little lower defensively. But as a coach if you don't feel Jordan can defend at that level than neither can Chanse Creekmur, Cole Stefan, and I mean, what are they asking for? What they all can do is stroke the basketball and like those others Jordan is definitely a division one basketball player.