Tonka Fall League Notes

The best part of watching a little fall league basketball is seeing what players have taken another big step in their progression. Yesterday at the Minnetonka Fall League there were several athletes who separated themselves from the herd including Robbinsdale Armstrong wing Marquel Curtis who led his team to a pair of Sunday victories.
Curtis Shines
A year and a half ago 43 Hoops coach Chris Carr talked to Minnesota Preps at St. Louis Park about the game of Marquel Curtis. The Armstrong star had just finished up his sophomore year for the Falcons putting up more impressive double-double numbers and the term "little big man" started floating around. Carr was quick to shoot that assumptive term down pointing out the shooting mechanics of Marquel as well as the quick first step after noticing a defender closing out off balance and out of position.
Now, 18 months later, we are remembering the seven year NBA veteran's statement about Marquel's skills. Especially after his scoring performance yesterday against Wayzata.
There is no doubt that Marquel is going to average a double-double once again this year. He's just too much of a physical player with too much of a motor not to attack 100 miles per hour. But the Falcons can get a lot from his outside game too.
Yesterday Marquel showed off (in sequence of his shooting attempts) a three point make on the right wing, a 14-foot pull-up attack going left from the left side of the floor, a right hand 15-foot pull-up jumper going right, a right wing left-handed attack to the elbow pull-up make, and then a right handed baseline pull-up from ten feet. This wasn't the entire game, these played happened in about seven minute's time.
The consistency of Marquel's perimeter game may have been in question 18 months back. A year and a half later you definitely can put that to rest because we've seen nothing but perimeter success for Marquel with Armstrong (fall and winter) and 43 Hoops.
Washington Also Legit
It's amazing to see kids when the light turns on. Whether you are talking about a child learning to read, a six or seven year old learning to ride a bike, a teenager figuring out that his antics are losing him friends, or a basketball prospect go from raw talent to productive, it's fun to watch.
It wasn't that long ago that people were watching Kyle Washington and were just wondering when it was going to click. Washington has the tools: 6-foot-8, arms longer than what Mr. Fantastic can produce, quick bounce, the ability to run, and he tries hard. It was all there and schools noticed, that's why so much interest found its way to Kyle Washington's mailbox. People have been waiting for that light to turn all the way on and guess what? The light is shining brighter this fall.
Matched up with Orono yesterday there were times when Washington was dominant. Orono would attack the rim getting by a Red Knight defender but Washington was there on a regular basis to clean up a defensive mess blocking a handful of shots including a couple that were near the top of the box. Washington matched the height on his blocks with quick bursts to the box for two handed high snatching rebounds that were grabbed about a couple feet over everybody else's head.
On the offensive end Washington showed a soft touch hitting three quick jumpers (as well as a three point play and that info is per Kevin Alsteens) giving Benilde-St. Margaret's a quick 15-4 lead over Columbia Heights. That jumper was also on display at the elbow against Orono as was a couple nasty two handed jams and a low post jump hook. That jump hook was complete with a staggering left shoulder turn that bumped off the opposing defender before a soft jump hook was finished. What made the move even more complete was the fight for position as Washington was able to seal deep in the paint only feet from the cup.
If Washington continues to progress like he's progressed this fall than the sky is definitely the limit. There are a good number of 2012 athletes in Minnesota who have basketball offers but none of those athletes have a ceiling as high as Washington's. Six-foot-2 guards who can shoot extremely well and create their shot are a rare thing as are skilled posts at 6-foot-8. But none of these skill sets are as rare as a skilled 6-foot-8 athlete who can run as well as get quick lift and do it physically. Washington's combination of skill, size, and athletic ability makes him very unique and if he continues to work and progress that light is going to shine brighter than just about anybodies.
Benilde-St. Margaret's defeated Orono 53 to 42 and beat Columbia Heights 82 to 57.
Rodney is Rolling
Defending state champion Minnesota Transitions will be your preseason number one in Class A by the rankings who know what they are talking about and for good reason. Kyle Noreen is the headlining player but Rodney Owens is likely to be your breakout player.
Since moving to Minneapolis from Kansas City last year the raw ability of Owens has been visible. But with Rodney we again have a case of waiting for the game maturation and as MTS moved through the winter and into their state championship Owens matured with the team.
A half a year later we are seeing an even more mature game from Owens as MTS has had reasonable success in the Tonka Fall League (not exactly sure about their record but MTS has won some good games). Yesterday the Wolves faltered down the stretch losing to Minneapolis Patrick Henry 71-68 but they bounced back to handle Minnetonka 67-53.
Early in the second game Owens had Tonka defenders trying to sit down and stay with him but it was unsuccessful as Owens had his way. He was able to stagger the defense with a dribble drive move and then use his athletic burst to get to the lane and rise over Skipper defenders. Owens also knocked defenders off balance with his dribble drive attack clearing space for him to hit a handful of 19 footers and three pointers in what was the most impressive part of his day.
Then in the second half when Minnetonka was taking quick shot attempts the Wolves made them pay with a fast break attack that sealed the victory. Time and time again MTS took advantage of Tonka mistakes and once Owens is on the move in the open floor most players in Minnesota can do nothing about it. At about 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4 Owens is a long athlete who has some explosion to his game and growing consistency (and range) to his jumper.
People are getting tired of the name Joel Awich but you should get used to hearing it because the 6-foot-6 Tartan forward was like pogo stick bouncing around Tonka yesterday. First it was a quick bounce to dunk, then it was a quick bounce to two-handed board high above the rim. Next he exploded off his feet to send opposing post player shots in different directions and this was regardless if that post defender had cleared space with his power or not. Finally Awich was bouncing up in the lane to hit a jumphook that is going to be extremely tough for most Minnesota posts to defend. Tartan beat Tonka 56-51 and then lost to Henry 70-67. Henry grabbed two good wins yesterday defeated MTS and Tartan.
Two other guys who had some nasty dunks yesterday were Eric Robertson of Wayzata and Mark Blacklock of Winona. Robertson's came on the break in a loss to Armstrong as Eric threw down with scary one-handed force that opened some eyes. Blacklock's jams were of the two handed variety in the halfcourt set and you could see all the MIAC coaches in the gym either take note or start discussions with somebody after seeing the finishes. Winona is going to be a contender again in the Big Nine as Blacklock has a couple 6-foot-5 teammates who are pretty good players themselves.
Defensively Sanjay Lumpkin did some impressive things Sunday. People aren't going to stop Jordan Smith from hitting jumpers for the entire game but you can try and make his life difficult with defense and that's what Lumpkin did on the floor. Sanjay, who looks like he grew another inch, was literally in Orono's face from start to finish opening up defensively with perfect position, actively using his arms, and always playing physical. If this is the constant defensive effort that Sanjay gives than you can expect his recruitment to take another step up.
Minnetonka sophomore Mike Fernando won't play varsity this year after transferring but the bouncy power forward scored about a point a minute yesterday and he's definitely one to watch for next year.