I really believe we’re in something like uncharted waters in West Virginia high school basketball right now. I don’t have the stats to back it up (I looked, but couldn’t really find anything useful), but I certainly can’t remember a time when we’ve been this rich in Division I hoops talent in West Virginia.
Sure, there are some other times that stick out in my mind. I know Hot Rod Hundley and Jerry West, possibly the state’s two best ever, played within a few years of each other. O.J. Mayo and Patrick Patterson came right before Pierria Henry. Jason Williams and Randy Moss (who could have played D-1 hoops) were on the same team and played against Gene Nabors. I could go on.
While we don’t currently have the sure-fire future lottery picks or NBA players, I can’t remember a time when there were so many Division I hoops prospects across the state and in each grade. (If there is an era of which I am not aware, please let me know.) I can pretty easily get to 10 players that have either D-1 offers or strong interest in the sophomore, junior, and senior classes, and that is not counting a few in the Eastern Panhandle that I’ve not yet seen. There is also an 8th grader at Shady Middle, Bryce Radford, that just accepted an opportunity to go and play at Oak Hill Academy. Combine all this with the depth of girls’ talent in the state (1 is a freshman at Notre Dame this year, 3 seniors committed to play at Marshall, 1 junior is committed to play at Michigan State, etc.), and I really do believe this is a special time for hoops in WV.
(Disclaimer: I think just about every time is special for hoops in WV because I love it. It would be hard for anyone to deny this is a special time for talent, though.)
Here is my assessment of some of those prospects that I have personally watched multiple times. There are some others I know have garnered some interest that I hope to see this year, plus a couple of freshmen that have garnered Division I offers or at least strong interest. (List of offers is either from Verbal Commits or ones I know from word of mouth.)
Levi Cook, Forward/Center, Huntington Prep
In general, I’m not including Huntington Prep players, but as I’m sure you all know, Cook played his freshman and sophomore season at Liberty (Raleigh) High School. From the first time I saw Levi, I was impressed with his skill for a big man. He didn’t just get a bunch of points and rebounds because he was tall, but he really knew how to play the game. He has great passing skills, and he continually makes the right play when he catches the ball in the post. He was not a standout last year at Huntington Prep, but playing against that top competition was what he really needed. Cook was committed for well over a year to WVU, but late in the summer he decided to open his recruiting back up. He could still land at WVU, but he will definitely end up at a major program.
Offers: WVU, Marshall, Northern Kentucky
Dikembe Dixson, Guard/Forward, Mingo Central
Dikembe made a splash last year when he and his cousin, Montrell, moved to Mingo Central in the middle of the season. For some, I suppose that fizzled out when Mingo Central lost a series of close games late in the year and failed to make it to a regional final. It shouldn’t have, though, because the Dixsons are really good, and Mingo Central will be really good this year. Dikembe is very skilled on offense. He is an above average shooter from the outside and quick off the dribble. He struggled a little last year against physical defenses that packed the paint and forced him to be almost exclusively an outside shooter. (That was partly due to not having a ton of other weapons. That will not be the case when he has Montrell eligible this season.) With his skill and athleticism, he’s almost impossible to stop 1-on-1. I expect his point average to be somewhere in the high teens or low twenties this season.
Offers: Cleveland State, Marshall, Bradley
Montrell Dixson, Guard/Forward, Mingo Central
I think Montrell is the best prospect out of this whole bunch. He is an absolute freak athlete with long arms, and he uses that to attack both the rim and the glass. When I saw him play at a camp in Parkersburg this summer, he stood out in a group of really, really good high school players. He dunks more than just about any player I’ve seen in live game action, and he does it off the dribble, on putbacks, on oops, and just about any other way you could think. He is less skilled on offense than Dikembe, but he can also find ways to score without needing to have the ball in his hands all that much. He’s also a good defender and impossible to keep of the boards. As he continues to develop his shot and off the dribble, he will have an endless list of big offers.
Offers: Missouri, Cleveland State, UNLV, Bradley, Alabama
Tavian Dunn-Martin, Guard, Huntington
When I first saw Dunn-Martin play, I wasn’t exactly blown away. He’s very short, and largely because of that, I wasn’t sure he’d be able to become a major impact player in AAA. I was very, very wrong. I initially wasn’t a fan of the way he took some off-balance shots, because that often breeds inconsistency. The more I watched him, the more I realized that: A) Those shots went in A LOT, and B) This is what he needs to do to get his shots off. This isn’t unlike short guards in the NBA like Chris Paul or Allen Iverson who can actually make their size an asset by the way they can get shots off. Then the state tournament happened, and Dunn-Martin was the best or second-best player on the AAA state champion (I’d probably say Nicks was the best, but you could definitely talk me into Dunn-Martin) who hit some absolute daggers in key moments. Then this past summer, his recruiting took off as hit lit up the AAU circuit, scoring 44 points against one of the better teams in the country. He’s very quick, and excellent ball-handler and playmaker, and he can be an absolutely lights-out shooter. I expect him to have a huge offensive season, which he’s already hinted could be his last in WV before heading to a prep school.
Offers: Central Florida, UMBC, East Tennessee State
Chase Harler, Guard, Wheeling Central
Shortly after he committed to WVU, I saw Harler compared to the likes of former Mountaineer shooters like Patrick Beilein and Alex Ruoff. I must say that’s not the type of game I see in Harler. He is certainly a streaky shooter (he hit several big outside shots in the state title game), but I don’t see that as the best part of his game. He is very athletic, really tough, and a great competitor, and I love his relentlessness in attacking the rim. He is also a hard-working and very good defender. The WVU comparison I’ve liked best for him is Mike Gansey—someone who hits outside shots but that’s not necessarily his calling card. He is already so good, but he still seems a little bit raw to me, which is scary. I think he can be a really nice player in Morgantown. My favorite tidbit about Harler that I think is very telling of his competitiveness and skill: In OT of the state championship game as a sophomore, he had 30 points and his next highest scoring teammate had 6.
Brandon Knapper, Guard, South Charleston
The word I’ve both said and heard the most about Brandon Knapper: smooth. He has a beautiful stroke and is in complete control of the game when he has the ball in his hands. He’s one of those rare players that somehow seems quicker with the ball in his hands that he does without it. He went through about a 10-game stretch last season where he was absolutely unguardable, capped by him dropping 40 points on Woodrow Wilson. If he bulks up a little (and he has plenty of time to do so), I think he can be great in the Big 12.
Elijah Cuffee, Guard/Forward, Poca
Cuffee is a fascinating player to me. I can’t tell you how many times last year it seemed like Cuffee was having a mediocre game and then I looked down and he had 22 points and 12 rebounds. He is an excellent rebounder and can score in a lot of ways, and he is also a very good defender. He’s also a very smart player, and not once when I watched him last season did I think I was looking at a freshman. (Same with Frampton) He finds so many ways to impact the game without being flashy. He is in a guard’s body right now for the next level, and he will need to continue to develop his outside shot and ball handling. I’m not sure how high his ceiling is in comparison to others.
Offers: Marshall, Liberty, Longwood
Luke Frampton, Guard, Poca
Luke Frampton is such a smooth and versatile player. At 6’4”, he has great size for a guard. At times, he would bring the ball up the floor while also guarding the other team’s big man. He was probably the defensive stopper, or at least the most versatile defender, as a freshman on an excellent defensive team last year. (Bluefield didn’t extent its lead in the semifinals last year until Frampton, who was guarding Anthony Eades, went to the bench in the third quarter with foul trouble.) He has a really nice stroke and is a good passer. He’s a very complete player that I expect to continue to get better. It’s possible that he has the highest ceiling of any of these players with the exception of Montrell Dixson.
Offers: Marshall, James Madison
Isaiah Francis, Guard, Greater Beckley Christian
Francis probably entered last season with the most hype of any of the players in his class. (Scoring 50 points in a middle school game will have that effect.) He didn’t have an outstanding season from a scoring perspective, but I think that helped him as a player. He played with two other very good guards that carried more of the scoring load, and this allowed Francis to become more of a pure point guard and complete player than just a scorer. He seemed just a touch overwhelmed at first, but by the end of the season, he had become a very good defender and passer. Now that Javonne Staunton-Bailey has graduated, I expect Francis to be much more of a scorer alongside Elisha Kidd. He also has elite athleticism.
Offers: None Known
Jarrod West, Guard, Notre Dame
The son of the former WVU player of the same name, West burst on the scene in the state quarterfinals when he hit big shot after big shot as the Irish took down Tucker County in overtime. West is a good ball handler and a lights out shooter, and he showed an ability to perform on the big stage. Having a father who was a major college player can only help in preparation and recruitment. He hasn’t garnered quite as much interest as some of the others, but I think his recruiting is on the verge of taking off either this season or next summer.
Offers: None Known
There are so many talented players throughout the state right now. My advice to you is to go and watch them. Heck, if you catch a game between Mingo Central and Poca, you will see at least four Division I players. Go out and watch some games and appreciate our talent.
Update: 11/10/14 10:45am
As expected, some readers have started sending me some players that have either offers or interest from Division I schools. (I really do appreciate those and please send any others my way.) One of these is Greater Beckley Christian’s Elisha Kidd, who reportedly has interest from Cleveland State, Liberty, and ETSU. (I’m glad to hear this because I think Kidd is the most underrated player in WV.) Another is Phil Bledsoe of Wheeling Park, who I am told has an offer from Navy.
Though I didn’t know about their interest and offers, I wouldn’t necessarily say I “missed” these kids. I have written about them multiple times and am not surprised to hear of their offers, but I wasn’t necessarily trying to be totally comprehensive with this. I included the players that I either knew had solid, multiple D1 offers or I was sure would be on their way to several offers. We have several other players, such as Kidd and Bledsoe, that will likely end up playing for D-1 programs. There could easily be as many as 6-8 more of these statewide. I think that only supports the argument above that we are loaded with hoops talent right now.