Today is Part two of our Minnesota Comets Invite/Minnesota AAU preview as we look at the teams that are making up pools E through H this weekend. Remember, younger player games begin Saturday morning with 17 and Under play starting later in order to accommodate the several seniors-to-be who are taking early morning ACT tests.
Minnesota Heat Elite
This three team pool may provide the most intriguing first round match-up as WOTN and Heat Elite are expected to be two of the better squads out there this year. Especially if Wear Out the Net has Marcus Alipate for more than just this weekend's tournament.
Wear Out the Net combined with the MSB Roadrunners this year and together they have put together a team that has one of the better backcourts on the circuit. The skilled Alipate will run with Eagan's Ben Sicoli (10.5 points and 6.5 assists a game last year), Roseville's speedy David Stanley (15.7 points a game for the Raiders), and Owatonna's Vaughan Thada who led the Huskies to state this season. That group of four will provide a quality backcourt rotation or give WOTN the opportunity to play "small" as Sicoli and Thada are both 6-foot-3.
Also on the wing is Roseville's Lucas Brown who already has D2 offers plus interest from several D1s. With the frame, athletic ability, and skill to get a good look at the hoop whenever Brown is intriguing. So are is his 17.2 points a game this season. He should get the bulk of the minutes at the three although if they go small Brown is strong enough to get some run as the four in a small line-up.
Up front WOTN isn't too bad either with Eagan's Matt Hentges, USC's Kyle Bauman (a 6-foot-8 sophomore to take note of immediately), and Northfield's Otto Pfefferle. Hentges is an extremely active four man with bounce and toughness, Pfefferle is a big with good skill at 6-foot-7, and Bauman has the WOTN guys excited about his skill package.
The crowds should be deep when WOTN faces pool favorite Minnesota Heat who won state at the 16s level last year. The best way to describe Willie Vang's group is "a tough well oiled machine". They may not shock you with their size or wow you with athletic ability but the Heat will beat you down with execution and toughness.
Drew Preiner of Tartan is their poster boy of toughness as the young man is willing to play defense, dive for loose balls, pull up to shoot quality jumpers, and then attack the hoop to gather and finish. And often you may see that in one back and forth series! Drew's brother Luke Preiner, Riley West from Lakeville South, and Jon Christensen from Lakeville South also play with an unrelenting toughness.
The Heat has shooters too. Rob Daul of Hill-Murray has hit many of memorable triples for coach Vang, Max Watts from Chaska is known for the bunches of jumpers he can sink in a short span, and now the Heat Elite added Alex Kreuser who can fill it up himself. That's three three-point weapons in addition to the shooting the Preiners provide. But wait, big man Spencer Pankonin has range himself and he's 6-foot-8! This big man can knock some down and when he pulls defenses away from the bucket the rest of the crew will pick teams apart with execution. It led them to a state title last year and it should do them well again this year.
The third team here is Old Skool who should be led by Apollo point guard Ibrahim Abukar and Rogers guard R.J. Dean. Both players distribute the ball pretty well and play controlled games.
Minnesota Fury Blue
Minnesota Select II
Minnesota Comets Gold
In one word the Fury Blue team is athletic. With Terez Van Pelt of Park Center (14.2 ppg), top notch defender Anthony Lee of St. Paul Johnson, K.J. Bluford of Armstrong (10.7 ppg), Rodney Owens of Minnesota Transitions (13.6 ppg), and 6-foot-6 T.J. Okafor of Champlin Park they will get up and down. Van Pelt has some eye-opening handles plus explosion that will make defenders sick and he's a kid who should make a big name for himself this spring. Bluford and Owens are talented slashers while Lee and Okafor will rack up the steals and deflections.
The Fury has more than just the athletic ability as Michael Emge of Faribault, Cale Girten of New Prague, and Matt Hovila of Bloomington Jefferson give the team sound skill. Emge is an all-Big Nine player who really emerged this year while Girten was the second leading scorer for a good Trojans team at a dozen points a contest. Hovila is a kid that some may not know yet because the top Jaguar scorers in front of him overshadowed Matt some plus Jefferson didn't have a good year but Hovila can play. Finally, Martin Smith will provide inside girth just like he gave St. Paul Central this season as their starting five.
Are you ready to pick the Fury for this section? Hold up just a second. First you have to hear about the ECI Prospects who are led by North Dakota golden boy Joe Hanstad. This is the player who competed with Net Gain in 09 and while making his trips to the Twin Cities last year he made stops at the University of Minnesota because he may have that level of talent. Hanstad will team with Josh Rodenbiker in the backcourt while the frontcourt should be tough.
Matt Borowicz of Stephen-Argyle is a player that teams from all over Minnesota wanted to grab. He is a lefty who gets deep post position plus he has great hands. The 6-foot-7 big man will be a factor from start to finish and he has a solid frontcourt partner in Jesse Crosby.
Minnesota Select II won't go quietly as Sebeka's John Clark (Joey Cuperus is actually taking Clark's place with the first Select group to give them more rebounding) and St. Louis Park senior Alex Koch give this team a couple active scoring forwards. Clark has great length, he's very active, plus he can hit mid-range shots off the bounce. Koch is a tough rebounder who also has shooting range and he's coming off another strong scoring year for the Orioles. Select will also get shooting from Minneapolis Southwest's Matt St. Anthony, full court defense from Sibley Warrior Bobby Wills, and activity from Handful Pour of Cooper.
The Comets Gold has an interior that should be tough as 49ers in the early century. Six-foot-7 Dylan Moorlag from Milaca and 6-foot-5 Isaac Winters from Sauk Rapids will make this team competitive. At the guard position Comets Gold has two points from strong teams in Brady Johnsrud from Minnewaska Area and Dylan Reese from Hancock.
MN Fury 3
The tournament favorite has to be 43 Hoops coming in simply because last year they finished as the top 16s group although the Pump upgrades put them right there although the cast on Moats does hurt this weekend. Chris Carr just has a lot of talent to work with.
Up front you have Rivals 150 member Ross Travis plus his high school teammate Jake White. Jake has been more consistently productive gobbling up regular double-doubles but when Travis is healthy his combination of size, athletic ability, and skill really has no match in this state. At 6-foot-7 Travis played a lot of point for Chaska this year as he was their best ball handler plus their most explosive player. White was their toughest player battling on the glass and finishing from everywhere on the floor despite what defenses put in from of him. Add in Apple Valley's Thomas Schalk and you have a trio that will have division one college coaches following 43 everywhere they go this summer. Schalk's length, skill, and active game has sparked his recruitment and it doesn't hurt that this is just the tip of the iceberg as potential is written all over this kid. Then 43 has Zach Romashko from Blaine and high percentage scorer Jerrod Berven from Osseo to back them up. Romashko led the Bengals with 18.1 points a game while Berven's active athletic ability will be a big addition to 43's frontline.
You want shooters? You got it! Jordan Smith and Jameson Parsons are two of the best shooters in the state of Minnesota. These are kids who can make a close game a double figure lead with just three shot attempts in only three possessions. Plus Smith has a superb pull-up jumper and an improved game off the bounce while Parsons has worked to become a master at creating space for his shot. With or without the ball it's very tough to stop Parsons from getting a good look at the bucket. Then you have Marquel Curtis as another wing who is as tough as they come and simply hard to stop from getting his looks. Curtis is so crafty and agile that a defender can be in perfect position to slow his game down but Marquel will find away to create a look. The shot may be tough to knock down but Curtis is a trusted finisher.
In the backcourt Chris Carr can use several to take care of the ball but Estan Tyler, Freddie Young, and Raijon Kelly should take care of it most often. Tyler gives a coach everything. Ball-handling, creation, shooting, leadership, defense, and offensive rebounding are all a part of the package and he can do it in the halfcourt set or in transition. Young is as quick as they come so he will pester on both ends while Kelly is a crafty combo guard who led Cretin-Derham Hall to another nice season.
The toughest challenge for 43 will come from the Minnesota Wrath. The Wrath is full of Eden Prairie and Waconia kids and if you were to start an AAU team that's not a bad high school pair to go to for talent. These programs lost a combined nine games this year and they provided the Wrath with a combined seven players. Waconia talent includes Ben Kortuem who was a double figure scorer and will be one of the top three point shooters in state next year.
Eden Prairie talent includes Jack Klukas, Conner Nord, and Dylan Stewart. Klukas is heady guard who you can trust with the basketball plus he was the third leading EP scorer this season. Nord came on big towards the end of the season playing actively around the cup to fight for putbacks. And Stewart was one of those EP kids off the bench who didn't offer a let down but did work hard through all his minutes. These are well-coached unselfish players who can wear teams down.
South Dakota Heat
MN Comets Elite II
Southern Minnesota Hornets
MN Heat 4
You want size? The SD Heat has it. It looks like 7-foot-2 Josh Monroy from Pierre, South Dakota is on his way to St. Cloud for the weekend. Right now it's pretty unclear as to what will show from South Dakota this weekend as it may be a mix from several of their teams. Potential players include Taylor Newton of R-T-R, Casey Schilling of Ellsworth, Jalen Voss from Worthington, Wyatt Krogman of White River, South Dakota, 6-foot-8 Chris Zylstra from Rock Valley, Iowa, and Mitchell Foth from Sully Buttes, South Dakota. Their website has the White team coming up which would mean Krogman, Zylstra, and company but word is that there are likely to be some fill-ins.
The SD Heat battle with SSC Comets Elite will be another one to circle. Nate Golden from C-M-C is primed for a big spring as his smooth game that includes skill and length will have college coaches looking closely. Golden proved this year that he can hit from behind the arc and Nate can attack and finish in traffic despite being a pretty thin wing.
Caleb Johnson has played every position in his high school and AAU careers but with this team he should go back to playing the point ats a 6-foot-3 gritty guard. In addition to utilizing Golden, Caleb also has Cody Milbrath who has size and shooting range as well as Ben Thiry who can hit pull-ups and runners. Both Milbrath and Thiry were impressive at state this season and their versatility playing with Golden will offer coach Ben Seevers much wing support. Another Seevers wing who played at state was Hutchinson's high point man on the season Adam Hjelter.
The SSC will not be as big inside as they will be active. Aaron Zimmer is a bouncy four from Foley who will play at the rim and Jordan Gieske of Sartell is one of those workers who gets on the nerves of other teams because he just loves to play. Zimmerman standouts Brandon Giese (15.1 ppg) and Blake Ehley (10.4 ppg) round out the squad and they will be in the mix of things as often as anybody. The Comets Elite II is a deep crew that will come at people in waves.
The fourth Heat group is a mix of junior varsity players and some guys who played roles for some north metro teams. Joe Fermstrom and Jordan Hickox were Chisago Lakes starters while Derek Sprang and Marcus Carrigan were role players for Irondale. Coon Rapids has Malcolm Farley playing with the Heat and he was a key contributor for them.
The Southwestern Hornets will have a strong representation from the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown program who lost only one game this season.