|Damon Harge Jr: Class of 2018|
Written by: Prospect-Central
Basketball is a game that has NO age limit. Playing basketball at a high level however, usually does. While these players are obviously not "babies" they are still just children. That's why it is so hard to assess talent this young because the size and skill level of players 12 and under is always changing, always a work in progress and subsequently the play dictates it. With that being said, these five players who are in the 6th and 7th grade are definitely ahead of the curve for ballers in their age bracket and are deserving of the recognition. They are far from the only nice players in the class of 2017 & 2018 however. There are many other young players that seem to have some nice potential as well and will no doubt get the recognition when the time is right.
While these five "baby ballers" games seem to be headed in the right direction, it is obviously to early to think they are anything more than some nice eleven and twelve year old basketball players. Just because they are dominating in the 6th and 7th grade does not by any stretch of the imagination mean they will be doing the same as 11th and 12th graders. There is a long road ahead for these five and that is precisely the reason why it so interesting to track the games of these players (as well as others like them) now. Basketball enthusiasts get to watch and learn how an elite basketball player is made (or not made) and take away the positives as well as the negatives and use it as a learning experience. Whether these players basketball careers pan out or not...no one knows...but the bottom line is they are playing a game they love and that's what it's all about.
CODY RILEY/ 6'7'' 210 / Hidden Hills, CA / 2017
Okay...I realize I just said it's not a "given" that any of these players will still be dominating their class when they are juniors or seniors in high school, but 6-foot 7-inch Cody Riley might just be the exception. What can I say about this man-child besides the fact that his size and athleticism for his age rivals that of any 12 year old basketball player I have ever seen. Cody Riley is not your typical young dominating big man either. While he obviously uses his size to his advantage, Cody also has shown he can actually PLAY basketball. He has some nice skills to go along with his exceptional physique and outstanding athleticism. He can handle the rock very well for his size and his passing skills and vision is pretty impressive to say the least. Cody has also shown soft hands and a gentle touch around the basket as well as the ability to finish at the rim...literally!!! On the defensive side of the ball, he is a one man wrecking crew. Cody's size, mobility and athleticism is second to none for adolescent ballers his age and it allows him to stay in front of players that are smaller than him as well as block any shot that is in his vicinity. Cody Riley plays his AAU ball for the talented Cali Style basketball club and was recently named the "Best Prospect" at the prestigious Basketball Spotlight 12U National Tournament back in August. He also showed his talents off at the Junior All-American camp in August and was awarded "Most-Outstanding Player" in the 7th grade division. It is quite clear Cody Riley has all the tools to eventually become an elite basketball player at the high school level and possibly beyond. I try not to think about the NBA when watching young ballers play, but it's hard not picturing Cody Riley shaking David Stern's hand one day. Nothing is set in stone of course, but the potential is definitely there. The scary thing is, he should only get bigger and better with time.
DAMON HARGE / 5'6'' 140 / Raleigh, NC / 2018
While Damon Harge may be the smallest player on this list, his name might actually be the biggest. Harge is very well known in the world of middle school basketball and rightfully so. When watching this lil speed demon play, it is quite clear that HARGE is most definitely in CHARGE!!! There is not a player in the 6th grade that can check Damon one on one. As if he had the rock on a string, he dribbles a basketball like it was his own personal yo-yo. Along with his outstanding ball handling, Harge possesses blazing speed as well. This deadly combination of speed and handles allows Damon to do whatever he wants on the basketball court. Damon's basketball skill set does not end there however. Harge has some serious range on his jumper and is absolutely lights out from beyond the arch. With all of these tools at his disposal, it's easy to see why he is a dominating force in his age bracket. Last year at the "invitation only" Adidas Jr. Phenom Basketball Camp, Damon set the record for the most points scored in a game with 50. That's a pretty impressive feat no matter how old you are. While Damon is in the 6th grade, he is originally from the class of 2017 (seventh grade). Back in August, Damon and his family moved from Modesto, California to Raleigh, North Carolina and he reclassified to the class of 2018. Damon will play for Christian Faith Center Academy for his first year of varsity as well as the Carolina Rising Prospects for his AAU ball. Since basketball is predominantly a game of size, Damon will be at a disadvantage moving forward in his career due to his lack of height, although he really isn't that small for an average 6th grader. Whatever Damon Harge lacks in size however, he more than makes up for with skill and a tremendous work ethic. I was recently checking my Twitter account (@Paradigmn13) and I started to read some tweets from Damon (@damonhargejr). Almost every tweet said he was either going to the gym to put in work, or just getting back from the gym. One tweet was even at 5:00 A.M. and said "Going to the gym...putting up 1000 jumpers before school." Now that is dedication!!! Damon Harge should be an interesting prospect to keep track of for the future and a name that more than likely will be heard about for many more years to come.
JATIRIOUS SMITH / 6'2'' 170 / Fayetteville, NC / 2017
Perhaps the most interesting aspect about youth basketball is the fact that new players are constantly emerging from nowhere due to their games and bodies rapidly developing. Jatirious Smith is a perfect example. Relatively unknown in the world of middle school basketball, Jatirious has really started to emerge as one of the up and coming players from the class of 2017. Blessed with excellent size for his age and a nice feel for the game, Jatirious has shown the ability to take over basketball games at times due to his length, athleticism and overall skill set. Right now, Jatirious is best at playing in transition. Because of his excellent length and ball handling abilities, he does a very good job rebounding the basketball and taking it coast to coast for the bucket or assist. While Jatirious Smith might not be as well known as some of the other players from the class of 2017, he is slowly starting to change that. This past summer, Jatirious attended the prestigious Jr. All-American Basketball Camp and more than held his own. After every thing was said and done, he left the camp as the #2 rated player from the 7th grade division, behind only Cody Riley. Jatirious has also been playing quite well for his AAU basketball team the CB Spiders out of Fayetteville, North Carolina. In May, he helped lead his CB Spiders squad to a championship at the Converse Elite 12U National Tournament. Like all "baby ballers", Jatirious Smith is in the early stages of his basketball development and still has a long way to go in terms of his overall skill level. That being said, Jatirious is clearly headed in the right direction and has a chance to become an excellent basketball player.
JORDAN RILEY / 6'4'' 180 / Durham, NC / 2017
First things first...Jordan Riley is not related to Cody Riley, although the 6'4'' seventh grader can be just as dominant on the court. Jordan Riley is yet another talented "baby baller" coming out of the state of North Carolina. He is already a well known name within the middle school ranks and when you watch him play basketball, it's easy to see why. Due to his size, strength and athleticism, Jordan is able to dominant on both sides of the ball. He uses his powerful body and soft touch to carve up defenses in the post quite easily. He is also extremely agile for his size and has shown tremendous range and accuracy on his jumper. Jordan currently plays his AAU basketball for the NC Rising Prospects out of Durham, North Carolina and this past summer he tore up the Basketball Spotlight 12U Super Showcase. The Super Showcase is a series of tournaments that features some of the best middle school basketball players from across the country. His most memorable game was a 37 point 21 rebound performance that had him drawing Dwight Howard comparisons from spectators in the stands. After the series of tournaments concluded in late August, Jordan Riley was named "Most Dominating Force" for the entire event. While he is physically more developed than other players his age, Jordan will need to continue to grow in order to truly be a dominant force down low (in high school and beyond). Jordan recently had an interview where he said his dream school was "Syracuse." If Jim Boeheim and the rest of Division I college coaches don't know about Jordan Riley yet, it's only a matter of time before they catch wind of his game. Until then, Jordan will have to continue to dominant the world of middle school basketball.
Gavin Schoenwald might be the youngest player on this short list of "baby ballers", but the 6th grader should't be too out of place on this squad. He definitely does not play like your average eleven year old. Already standing over 6 feet, Gavin possess much more than just size and length. He is very mobile and is able to push the rock up the floor in a blur. Gavin also has a nice touch around the basket and can finish with either hand as well. On the defensive side of the ball...at this level...Gavin is a shot blocking behemoth. With his size, strength and quickness, there is no player he can't guard in the class of 2018. What coaches love most about Gavin's game though, is the intensity he displays every time he steps on the floor. He seems to play with a non-stop motor and relentless effort. Now that I think about it, he kind of reminds me of a "mini" Mitch McGary...lol. Gavin Schoenwald is from Nashville, Tennessee and plays his AAU basketball for the W.A.C.G. All-Stars. Last year as a fifth grader, Gavin and his team won the AAU Division I 11U National Championship. Not many people can say they ever won a National Championship at something, regardless of age. Since Gavin just started the 6th grade, it would be ridiculous to speculate on the type of player he can become. For the time being, I hope Gavin (as well as the other young ballers on this sqaud) can just enjoy the game of basketball without getting caught up in all of the politics.