Monday, September 5, 2016
NH Elite 9th Grade Team Makes Statement in 2016
NH Elite went head to head with some of the top competition in not only the region, but in the country. Of their four losses, 2 came against NY Rens EYBL who is one of the top teams in the country and sponsored by Nike. Those were both close games, with NY Rens winning 44-41 and 53-42. The other two losses came to Nike sponsored Expressions Elite (56-44 in Finals of Zero Gravity National Championship Game) and to Boston Spartans (51-50 in NH Elite's first game of the season).
7 of NH Elite's 10 players are from NH. All 7 of these kids should be on the radar of college coaches. They include Zac Bennett (Brewster Academy), Marcus Peterson (New Hampton School), Jack Schaake (Winnacunnet High), Alex Tavares (Portsmouth High), Jake Ross (Exeter High), Ben Allen (Winnacunnet) and Ty Vitko (Dover).
NH Elite is coached by Dustin Freeman, an assistant coach at prep school powerhouse Brewster Academy. Some of their signature wins were over DC Blue Devils in NH AAU State title game 68-54, beating NY Jayhawks, Connecticut Select and New Heights (sponsored by Under Armour). They beat BABC, NE Playaz and Middlesex Magic all in the same tournament before falling to Expressions Elite in the finals of the Zero Gravity tourney.
"The NE Playaz team they we beat includes DYondre Dominguez, a rising sophomore who is already getting D-I interest" pointed out Coach Freeman.
In the Zero Gravity tournament, Peterson was named the Most Outstanding Player for the 9th Grade Division, while Bennett made the All-Tournament First-Team. Peterson and Bennett formed a dynamic duo in the back court all spring and summer long for the NH Elite. Last winter as opponents, Peterson scored 25 points to lead Prospect Mountain to a win over Peterson's Newfound Regional team. Peterson dropped 44 points in defeat.
"Zac Bennett is our point guard" said Freeman. "He's 5-foot-10, moved to NH from Illinois after 7th grade. Excellent on ball defender, lateral quickness, team first, tough and relentless. Has really improved his shooting and ball handling and is getting much better offensively. Marcus Peterson was Most Outstanding Player at ZG Nationals where he had big time games vs BABC and New England Playaz. Very good athlete and shooter. He scored 47 points in only his third varsity game last year as a freshman."
Both Bennett and Peterson are going prep. Bennett is an incoming sophomore at Brewster Academy, while Peterson will repeat his freshman year at New Hampton, reclassifying to 2020.
"I'm not out trying to push my kids to prep school, unless they need it" said Freeman. "Zac and Marcus are going there to get better. They'll be in the gym, practicing with the prep teams, playing against kids like Makai Ashton-Langford (just committed to UConn), getting better. Them living in close proximity to Brewster and New Hampton was also a factor."
This was the fourth year this group of kids has played AAU together.
"Jack Schaake is a 6-foot-5 wing" Freeman said. Excellent team defender and a sneaky good athlete. Had some highlight reel dunks this spring, including one dunk over DYondre Dominguez (who is 6-foot-7) from NE Playaz. Has good footwork and patience on his post moves. Has played the wing since 6th grade for us and can play inside/out with the best of them."
Freeman hopes to keep this group together and help them further develop as players.
"Alex Tavares, a 6-foot-2 wing is the glue to our team" Freeman explained. "Does all the little things well. Rebounds with 2 hands, uses shot fakes incredibly well. Hardest worker on our team. Is in the gym more than anyone else and wants to be great. Has really improved his 3-point shooting and mid-range game this summer. Will likely slot into a starting spot at Portsmouth HS after playing meaningful minutes in state title game last year."
NH Elite's style of play was playing 5 out, drive-and-kick on offense and man-to-man defense.
"Jake Ross is a 6-foot-1 wing who had multiple games this spring with 7 or 8 threes. Had 7 threes vs New England Playaz and 8 against DC Blue Devils in the NH State Title game. He's a sneaky good athlete who gets to the rim when you close out too fast on his shot. Will be a solid minute guy at Exeter. Probably a starter. He's our best shooter."
Rounding out the team's local players are Allen and Vitko - two more seacoast kids who look to make an impact at the varsity level this year as sophomores.
"Ben Allen, a 6-foot-3 wing is a team first kid and is another glue guy" Freeman mentioned. "Plays a lot of point forward for us and finishes with both hands at the rim, defends well within the team concepts, and can make the open 3. Had multiple games where he made big time plays in the clutch. Will be a rotation guy at Winnacunnet as a sophomore. Ty Vitko, a 6-foot-2 wing is an excellent shooter with time and space. Had several games where he made 5 to 6 three pointers. Had never played AAU before this spring and learned a lot about the physicality of the game and the toughness needed to play at a high level. Will be a great scoring option at Dover in the 2016-2017 season."
So this NH Elite team definitely has some talent. But the question remains - how is this team from New Hampshire with kids who are unknown for the most part out there beating some of the top teams in the northeast region like NE Playaz and NY Jayhawks? How did a non-sponsored program beat not one but five sneaker-sponsored teams?
"Defense" concluded Freeman. "That's why my team is so good. We play man-to-man, but still hold teams to 30-40 points per game."