basketball Edit

NHSHF: O'Connell vs. IMG Academy

The Bishop O'Connell Knights have a stiff National High School Hoops Festival road; they face IMG Academy's Ascenders. Tip off is 345p, this Sunday.

For event information, scroll to the bottom. A review of both IMG and O'Connell follows immediately:

Bishop O’Connell (MD)

When head coach Joe Wootten was asked to define this year’s Knights, he quickly offered several descriptions, stating “I would say I would say balanced. I would say big. And I think eventually we can grow some depth on our team as well. I think it’s young depth”. Though overall Wootten believes “I think we need to gain experience”, he is pleased with “a more mature approach” brought about by an “eager group of guys in terms of the older, juniors and seniors”.

Schemes: When it comes to scoring, “We chart paint touches” shared Wootten, “hunt the paint and post feeds…that’s going to be big”. The Knights also “want to get out in transition” in addition to cleaning the offensive boards.

Defensively the Knights mix it up, sometimes giving nominal pressure, other times falling back and deploying half court man and zone. They desire to help one another in whatever defense is used.

Xavier Johnson has made himself into a national level recruit.
Xavier Johnson has made himself into a national level recruit. (

A few players of note: Leading O’Connell is 6’8”, 240 pound forward/center Nate Watson. A Providence College-bound senior, Watson is a load around the tin, where he scores and rebounds. Wootten added of his banger, “The biggest thing he’s developed over the last year is his jump shot…15 feet and in” while also bettering free throw shooting.

Xavier Johnson must also be identified; standing 6’1” plus and weighing around 175 pounds, the junior point guard has “just got speed you can’t coach” opined Wootten. An emerging floor general, Johnson is touch, competitive, and has worked hard on outside shooting.

Per Johnson, “Arkansas is starting to get in the mix” of his recruiting, while “Nebraska, NC State, Providence, Tulane, Towson, Manhattan” have all offered. Georgetown, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame plus others are showing interest.

X-factor: Wootten identified two guys, Quinton Mallora-Brown and Matt Lewis, both upperclassman, as needle-movers many might overlook.

Mallora-Brown (junior, 6’9”, 210 pound forward) so far “has been double digit points, double digit rebounds in the two games and scrimmages” shared Wootten, who believes Mallora-Brown is “gonna be big” this season. Schools will take notice

Lewis, more of a known commodity, is a 6’4, 195 pound senior guard Wootten believes is poised for “a breakout year”. Having previously been “just a catch and shoot guy”, Lewis “has gotten much better off the dribble”, thereby causing defenses problems. He has signed with James Madison.


IMG Academy (FL)

When people hear IMG Academy, they automatically conjure one of the best high school basketball teams in America, a crew with multiple future high major, Division I players. That thought is correct.

But the team is much more than talent; head coach Vince Walden suggested IMG’s success “has been a result of our relationships…Kids know you are trying to get them better, then the buy-in comes”.

Walden noted “Hard work doesn’t guarantee you success, but it gives you a chance”, yet repeatedly indicated as a unit IMG puts their collective nose to the grindstone, adding his young charges “are good kids who compete”. It’s his job to ensure they enjoy playing, compete, improve and “are prepared, have an edge going into college as a freshman”.

Schemes: Walden said of his Ascenders, “We can score in transition off…If we can get out and run, our team is built to where we can apply pressure at all positions”.

Emmitt Williams flat out competes.
Emmitt Williams flat out competes.

Continuing, he indicated “Spread out guys and let them play” is an offensive mantra. Though “I think we, especially at this level have a tendency to over-coach a bit”, IMG still desires “structure, which gives angles and opportunities”, he said. Walden and his staff at a certain level “Try and stay out of their way”, creating “a mixed bag” as “you want them to have discipline and structure for the next level, but you want them to have the freedom to get better”.

But it’s on the defensive end where Walden focuses most. “If I can get those guys to be tough on the defensive end, something good is going to happen. To make that happen they must be “present, attuned and tough”.

A few players of note: Discussion starts with Trevon Duval, the 6’2”, 189 pound pound point guard widely thought to be the best at that position in 2018, currently deciding between Seton Hall, Baylor, Duke, Kansas and Arizona. Visits to those schools will take place this spring, with a decision produced afterward.

On the court, Duval is a high flying performer that scores and defends. “He’s talented. But he’s also a good kid, he’s a worker” said Walden of Duval who came to IMG this season “with a lot of stuff, his dad and other coaches taught him”. Additionally, Duval “is an intellectual, studies the game” stated Walden, one who “Has competitive character. Is just not one of these potential guys”.

Burnishing Duval’s mental game stays “in line with what the big goal is, The League”. Yes, Duval has a legitimate chance of being in the NBA.

Emmitt Williams (6’7”, 220 pounds) is “Long, athletic and plays with the physicality of a winner, but also a man who is hungry to make something of himself” noted Walden. A rebounder who “goes and gets it”, Williams also “Scores in the paint” while providing “tremendous basket protection”.

FSU, UF and Miami have all offered Williams, along with LSU. Pitt, Kansas and Iowa state are showing interest.

Isaiah Stokes is another big – 6’9”, 255 pound – frontcourt Ascender , a senior who signed with Florida. “He’s very skilled, has a high basketball I.Q.”, shared Walden.

X-factor: As deep as IMG is, Walden identified two players, Keyontae Johnson and Silvio De Sousa as guys who are necessary to win consistently.

Johnson, a 6’5”, 212 pound junior wing is athletic, long and excels in the classroom. “He’s figuring it out” said Walden, "Been getting better and better”. Providence, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and ODU have offered.

De Sousa stands 6’8”, 241 pounds as a junior power forward and is an interesting synthesis, so to speak. “If I could measure him against my own team, he has a skill set close to Isaiah and some of the physical gifts Emmitt has. He’s right in the middle of them” opined his coach. This includes the ability “Shoot out to three, bounce it a little” and increasingly, through hard work, guard smaller players.