Saturday, November 21, 2015

Books and Buckets WIth: Jax Levitch

ZS: Which schools have been most active in your recruitment and who is expressing the most interest right now?

JL: Rutgers and Delaware, for sure, have shown the most consistent interest right now. It is mainly those two.

ZS: How was the visit to Rutgers and which aspects of the school were you most impressed with?

JL: It went really well. I'd have to say the most impressive aspect of the school, the best thing they had to offer, it would have to be the coaching staff. 

They have experience at all levels.

 I don't have any other visits scheduled currently.

 Right now, I'm just focused on the season and getting better.

ZS: You grew up watching a lot of top-tier Louisville teams. Terrance Williams, Earl Clark, Edgar Sosa, Russ Smith, you've seen them all go through...

 Which were your favorite teams and why?

JL: Believe it or not, my favorite U of L team would have to be last year's.

 Terry Rozier was so fun to watch. They still made a great run in the tournament despite Chris Jones being kicked off.

 I was fortunate to have the opportunity to play pick up with them in the summer. 

Playing against Russ Smith and other former players gave me a real, first hand idea of how it is at that level.

ZS: Toughest guy you've ever guarded?

JL: Would have to be Keyvaughn Allen.

ZS: Having an older brother constantly on your case must have its pressures and its benefits.

 How has your brother (Louisville guard David Levitch) helped shape your game and push your development as a player?

JL: It's been all guidance. No pressure at all to be truthful.

 Everything he has done has been in effort to get the best out of me.

 What I love is just seeing him work hard and continuously prove people wrong. His IQ has brought him a long way. 

Also packing on 30 pounds since he's been at U of L has helped translate his game to that level of play. Watching him work and grow has been inspirational, it really has.

ZS: Which elements of your game have you worked to refine since coming to Elev8 (Fla.)?

JL: I've worked on rebounding a lot. With our bigs (Leroy Butts, Sam Alabakis, Levi Cook, Kasper Christiansen) being injured a majority of the season thus far, I had to come in and rebound. It was crucial for me to step my game up in that compartment and really start hitting the boards harder than ever.

ZS: Which factors led you to the prep route?

JL: I wanted better opportunities than I had before and that's really what brought me to Elev8.

ZS: Best facet of your game?

JL: My shooting. I feel like I have deep range. My release isn't slow but it could be quicker so that's another area I'm just working on every day.

ZS: Favorite Classes and potential college major?

JL: My favorite classes throughout high school have been business and economics classes. So, if I had to choose my major today, it would definitely be something business related.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Hustle Heavy Henderson Ready For Woodlands

Every team in Section 1 could use an effective, oft-hustling junkyard dog. There's no argument about that.

In most cases, a certified Mr. Hustle is as critical to a winning formula as the prolific scoring go-to guy, the 3-point specialist, and the lockdown defender.

For Woodlands, junior transfer Kaellen Henderson now appears tailor-cut for the garbage man role. Crashing the boards with sustained relentlessness, pursuig 50-50 balls, diving on the deck for a loose rock, and using his length to block and manipulate shots, Henderson aims to offer immediate results for the Falcons.

"I have to prove myself, because I just transferred from Stepinac and everything is still new to me," said Henderson, who played alongside two elite scoring threats in Ky Guerra and hotly-pursued high major target Jordan Tucker last year.

"I've realized the coaches need me to be reliable with my shooting, my ability to handle the ball and make key decisions, and keep a high basketball IQ. These are important factors for me. I'm looking to be a beast when driving to the basket and trying to create my own shot."

Using his physicality first and foremost, Henderson has worked diligently at sharpening up his 12-15 footer. He's also made strides to increase his interior passing and create plays in the paint.

"Kaellen may not be a big scorer but his defensive effort, his aggression, his focus when boxing out and snaring key rebounds, it is all critical for a team that is championship driven," said Aldo Redendo, NY Pride founder and head coach/trainer.

Redendo coached Henderson throughout the summer, pushing his evolution as a fundamentally sound forward who can make an impact as a two-way player.

"He's a hard worker and he's still growing as a long 6-foot-4 forward," Redendo said. "He's one of those high-motor guys who does all the dirty work. Other areas of his game have improved drastically over the last four months. The little things, the important things that win games, those are what Kaellen brings to the court. He really embraces that garbage man role with a passion."

Woodlands is currently in rebuilding mode. The Falcons graduated a two-time All-State guard in 6-foot-3 Jamil Gambari. The loss of several key pieces has forced Bob Murphy's team to re-load.

If his improvement continues, Henderson has the chance to be a scrapper similar to former interior banger Justin Tapper. Tapper starred alongside Mike DeMello and Tucker (then a freshman) at White Plains High School. DeMello, a prolific scoring point guard now at Pace University, trained under Redendo leading into his senior year with the Tigers.

"Coach Aldo really brought my confidence up a lot," Henderson said. "He's helped me get good NCAA looks from schools such as SUNY New Paltz and schools in that league. My goal would be to play college basketball. Right now though, I'm only focused on Woodlands and proving myself. We want to win a championship this year, that is where the standard is set."

Monday, November 16, 2015

Cali-bred Watson Keeping Goals Set On Division-I

Kharyem Watson entered Elev8 as an unsung and underappreciated gamer out of Tracy, Calif.

Now, the hyper-athletic 6-foot-3 guard has the privileged opportunity to make up for some lost time.

 Remember, he has only a six-month period to do so.

Thus far, the time has worked in Watson's favor.

Possessing a 40-inch vertical, Watson is fueled by an innate ability to blow by defenders and play above the rim consistently.

 This, coupled with his knack for operating offense and getting his teammates involved, has rendered him a catalyst for Elev8-Black this season.

Pouring in 20 points against recruit-rich Monteverde Academy (FL), a performance underscored by dazzling displays of athleticism and thunderous dunks, was an eye-opener. It was quite indicative of just how under the radar he's been soaring.

Not for long.

"Coach George (Johnson) gives me advice on my shooting and how to be a better shooter and coach Shane (Maynard) he advises me to stay under control and really teaches me to be a leader. It's helped a great deal. I'm just looking to progress and get better every day I can."

Workmanlike and unassuming by nature, Watson has never been too enamored with his stat line. His focus, he said, is on winning and improving his shot, to the point where his mid-range game is as consistent as his aggressive slashing game and hard-to-guard forays to the rim.

Watson On Team Identity

Right now, we play small ball and space the court out a lot. We like to speed the game up, get out in transition and get a lot of shots up. Defensively, we play 2-3 but we put pressure on the ball throughout.

On His Role

I can handle and run the ball up the court, it's really whatever the coaches ask of me. Anything needed to get the win, I'll do. I like to attack the basket and create plays for other people, that's really a part of my game that I pride myself on whenever I take the floor.

On NCAA Interest

Before this year, I was talking to Cal State-East Bay and Cal State-Dominguez. My grades have improved a lot this semester. That, and given how I play, I believe I can play at a low or mid-major D-I program. Of course, that means I have to keep working at this pace.

On His Identity At The Next Level

In college, I'll have to play the point. This is definitely my preference, although I really have no problem playing the two as well. I love to play off the ball and really keep attacking the basket.

On Preparation And Getting Better

I've played against a lot of top-level players like Noah Blackwell, Gabe Vincent, Ivan Rabb, Paris Austin, and then I also played for Canada Elite. So, I've had my fair share of battles. Credit to my AAU coach Phil Williams, he pushed me a lot and helped me get better. My uncle Chuck Lockhart, he helped keep my head straight. Here at Elev8, my coaches just want me to be a leader and adjust my game in the best ways possible.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Maitre, Feliz Star In West Oaks' 84-71 Defeat Of Fort Lauderdale

It was, by far, the toughest phone call Richardson Maitre ever made.

There was nothing easy about calling a Cleveland State coach to de-commit, albeit the 6-foot-2 West Oaks Academy (Orlando, FL) guard knew re-opening his recruitment was the right call.

"I was having second thoughts. Anytime you start to have second thoughts, you know something just isn't right or isn't certain," said Maitre, who dropped 20 points in West Oaks' thorough 84-71 road thrashing of Fort Lauderdale High on Saturday.

"It was hard to make that call, but I really thought about my decision."

Richardson certainly played with the savvy of a man hungry for a high-major offer Saturday. Displaying a pull-up game, quicker shot release, and a knack for creating plays on the run, the 17-year-old turned in an efficient account of himself.

Ole Miss, Wichita State, Rutgers, and several others have now tuned into Maitre, out of Canada.

"I'm confident in myself, I'm confident that coach (Kenny) Gilliam will help me get better and get to the best school possible," Maitre said.

"Coach Gilliam, coach Harold (Lilly), and coach Diana (Neal), they'll just keep raising my work ethic and my character so that I'm prepared. They just want to push me and make sure I keep getting better."

Nobody was better than Andres Feliz Saturday. A hard-driving and well-built guard headed to South Florida, Feliz attacked the rim to the tune of a game-best 24 points. He added five assists.

When FHS scratched and clawed to within 12, Feliz snatched a board and went the length of the floor for a layin.

He got loose in transition for a scoop in, pumping West Oaks' lead to 74-55 lead with 5:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. After a cutting Carlos Paez scored to bring the lead back to 13, Feliz chased down an offensive board and turned in a traditional 3-point play with 1:01 remaining in the fourth quarter.

"Once (Feliz) starts to turn it on, everybody turns it on," said Maitre of his teammate and closest friend.

"He started off slow but then he started to pick it up and there was no stopping him after that. We're the leaders of this team, it's our responsibility to step it up when we need to."

Maitre envisions himself as a point guard at Division-I level, though he and Feliz share both guard positions under Gilliam. With 7-foot-3 center Chol Mariel now at Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville) and West Oaks left with a dearth of bigs, the system is predicated on a more uptempo attack.

"Not having Chol doesn't really hurt us because we have a lot of guards," said Maitre, who played for Team Africa in Adidas Global Nations in L.A. this summer.

"We're more uptempo, more fast-paced. The system is little more structured and detailed. We have to be on the move all the time."

In Canada, Maitre said soccer is the way of the world. Basketball takes a backseat as far as the country's favorite pasttime.

Through watching a handful of his cousins on the Division-I level, including Montreal product and former Baylor guard Kenny Chery, Maitre made basketball not only a top commitment but a lifestyle.

"As a young gun I looked up to all of my cousins and had the opportunity to take advice from them whenever I could," Maitre explained.

 "Kenny was really the biggest influence because he played my position and he really took me under his wing. He's been with me since I was young."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Hot-Shooting Levitch Expanding Role On Prep Scene


This is where Jax Levitch belongs.

Sure, he's roughly 1,033+ miles from his Louisville stomping grounds at Elev8 Prep in Delray Beach, Fla.

 In Louisville, hoops is akin to religion.

 It is a never-taken-lightly tool for community engagement.

And so Levitch's family, devout Louisville fans, have long been consumed by the perennially-tough Cardinals.

It's certainly rare for Levitch to be absent at the KFC Yum! Center, where he grew up traipsing the sidelines.

From the electrifying finishing of Terrance Williams to the blur-like quickness of Edgar Sosa to the scoring spurt-ability of rugged guard Russ Smith, Levitch has seen it all up close in the damn near Spike Lee seats.

As a 6-foot-6 left-handed 3-point dagger man, Levitch is bordered by even more high-profile talent at Elev8.

The big guard has established himself as a veritable kickout threat, a cerebral 18-year-old capable of spreading out a guard-loaded lineup.

 For Elev8, Levitch's penchant for sticking shots under amplified pressure is a necessary component.

That's because this  team, deeper and more multi-layered than ever, now entertains championship aspirations.

Yes, you may have heard of Delray Beach's vibrant Atlantic Ave. nightlife, scenic boat houses, beach-side condos, tiki bars, and even the vast number of sobriety homes and halfway houses.

Far exceeding the tropics, especially for a shooter of Levitch's magnitude and range and knockdown responsibility, is the city's new hardwood homes.

While Delray is a long ways from Rucker Park or Dyckman, a basketball culture is slowly growing.

Not only is it a sun-soaked paradise, it's paradise for a 1200 shots per day worker.

Located smack in the middle of a football hotbed, there is the outdoor court at the nearby Teen Center.

There is the oft-flooded court at L.A. Fitness on Linton Ave.

On a given night at L.A. Fitness, you'll find a group of grown men engaged in a heated 5-on-5 battle.

They play with ferocity, as if a national championship is at stake.

Every loose ball is chased thoroughly.

Every shot is contested.

A questionable foul call can elicit intensified barking or even belly-aching.

There are outdoor courts and a newly-minted 94x50 hardwood at Lifetime Fitness in Boca Raton.

Levitch surely is not looking to write a book for tourists intrigued by the game.

What he is seeking, however, is a shiny souvenir on which to culminate an illustrious career.

There were 11 offers on the table for Levitch.

 Taking the Prep route provides Levitch the opportunity to pack on muscle and showcase his outside touch on a broader scale, as Elev8 plays a national schedule.

He's worked to utilize the augmented strength defensively.

"He took about eight charges in our first game," said teammate Sandro Noel, himself sifting through a bevy of Division-I offers.

"He's a smart player. Beyond his shooting, he knows the game real well. He's got that cerebral quality to him."

Levitch has budding interest from Rutgers,  Delaware, Florida Gulf Coast, Texas State, Bowling Green, and myriad others.

Should his role piloting the perimeter game increase, so will the interest.

Family Matters

Levitch's brother, David Levitch, is a rail-thin 6-foot-3 junior guard at Louisville.

He scored 1900+ points during his stay at North Oldham, where he buried 220 three-point field goals in four years.

Partly at his spindly 150-pound frame and partly at his lack of Division-I offers (Stetson and Bellarmine expressed interest, every other potential suitor was Division-II), David Levitch opted to walk-on at Louisville.

While he saw minimal action as a freshman and played sparingly as a sophomore, his grit and effective long-range stroke garnered Rick Pitino's respect.

In August, David Levitch became one of just few walk-ons in program history to gain a scholarship.

The Elev8/Louisville pipeline is multi-layered.

Levitch learned of Elev8 through former Louisville guard and family friend Luke Hancock.

Hancock, who etched his name in U of L record book lore with a stellar shooting performance in the 2013 NCAA finals, played under Elev8 coach Chad Myers at Hargrave Military Academy several years ago.

Meanwhile, former Elev8 Player Development head honcho Cody Toppert worked consistently with L-Ville product Terry Rozier (Boston Celtics) during NBA pre-draft and beyond.

Toppert, currently with the Houston Rockets organization, helped ready Rozier for the rigors of the NBA game.

You ever see that old Tom Cruise flick, "All The Right Moves?"

This season,  Levitch must subscribe to the theme of making "all the right plays."

"He's leading the team in charges right now," said Myers, whose squad is off to a 3-0 start.

"He's become more adept at guarding the ball, he's really done a great job of defensive rebounding. He may not be the most athletic kid on the court. Yet it's his IQ, his toughness, and his shooting ability which translates to the Division-I level."

Rutgers, Delaware, and Bowling Green have been in most persistent pursuit of Levitch. He'll likely decide after the season.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Redendo Looking To Make Impact At Lee Academy

Brandon Redendo doesn't have all that many friends his own age.

Why is that?

Throughout his career, the 5-foot-11 gym rat barely ever played age appropriate.

He was typically in the gym, gauging his grit against older, established former Section 1 players such as Mike DeMello (White Plains/Pace), Matt Ryan (Iona Prep/Notre Dame) and Walter King (Stepinac, Lee Academy/Maine).

"Those are all my boys, I learned a tremendous amount from them," said Redendo, now a sophomore point guard at Lee Academy.

"Working with them really taught me a lot. Anytime you are in a position to learn from guys like that, you can make changes and adjustments in your game. With Mike (DeMello), I learned a lot about toughness. He taught me about stepbacks and how to really pick apart a defense. I owe those guys a lot."

Redendo appears to be learning well.

A quick-strike 3-point shooter, he's got the tools to emerge into a threat from well beyond the confines of the arc.

He's improved drastically at engineering the transition game, doling out ambidextrious passes, increasing his basketball IQ, and accepting positive criticism.

The latter two are imperative for any young player in a privileged position to learn.

At Lee Academy, Redendo is flanked by Division-I talent.

 He'll have the opportunity to pack muscle onto his spindly 148-pound frame. He'll play a schedule rife with nationally-ranked teams.

"Brandon increased his game tremendously in the one year I coached him," said longtime Our Lady Of Lourdes head coach Jim Santoro, who coached Redendo in 2014-15 and returns a wealth of experience for 2015-16.

"He can knock it down from any spot on the floor. He has no problem pulling up from anywhere. He improved by leaps and bounds, he got a heckuva lot better from the start of the season to finish."

If you weigh the handle, the deft long range shooting, the ability to score in clusters, what's this kid's best attribute?

"I would say his ability to get himself into tight situations and then importantly get himself out of it with his ball handling and his body movement," Santoro said.

"Brandon would see a double team coming and somehow get himself free and manage to make a play. We have a strong team coming back (at Lourdes) but with him, we'd be that much stronger. We wish him the best (at Lee Academy).

The focus of Redendo's game has changed these past few months.

Planting himself in the weight room and becoming more engaged defensively, including a new knack for taking charges, has given Redendo more of an all-around package.

The IQ and shooting has always been there, since the time he was a pint-sized neophtye.

"I've been watching a lot of Steph Curry lately and I know the reason he's had the success he's had is because of his shot speed," Redendo said.

 "He can get his shot off so quickly and pull it at any given time. I'd like to increase my shot speed, to the point where I can get a shot off in 0.4 seconds."

Named to the 2015 16U All-Gymrat Challenge team, Redendo cemented his niche as a pure shooter capable of spotting up or coming off the screen ready to pull-and-pop.

His ball handling and serenity in navigating a pressure cooker enabled him to play both guard spots throughout.

Redendo recalls his younger years, when he watched guys like Steve Nash with a hawk-like gaze.

 Reading the pocket passes, the pick-and-rolls, and admiring Nash's ability to find the right space for his shot and create off the dribble, Redendo's love for the game blossomed.

"He can shoot it," said Matt Ryan, one of Section 1's most memorable 3-point assailants.

 "He's got he handle on a string."

Can he evolve at the higher level of Lee Academy?

Can he grow at the same pace as the guys he once patterned his game around and learned from, en route to developing a beyond-his-years IQ?

"Brandon has a great feel for the game he's a Steve Nash clone," said head coach Kyleek Alford, who recently coached Redendo in the Jim Couch Invitational.

"He shoots the ball well and his court vision is excellent. A little more weight and he'll be a force. Being one of the youngest sophomores in the game, he held his own. He brought a lot of flair to it with his behind-the-back and no look passes."

And he's still growing.

"The best thing that happened to him was he reclassified and went on to play at an elite school," said Lou DeMello, the former Rice High coach and House of Sports AD, now at Masters School in Dobbs Ferry.

"He'll be in the gym against a number of Division-I guys. He'll be on an around-the-clock schedule which would enable him to improve his game."

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Mid-range Minded Felder To Lead Saunders


If a picture is worth 1,000 words, video is worth perhaps 10,000 jump shots.

At least that's how Saunders High senior Derrick Felder could see it.

Felder, one of Section 1 and New York State's top-tier guards, enters his final varsity campaign 52 points shy of the 1,000-point milestone.

 He's established himself as a candidate for Westchester County's Mr. Basketball.

Developing a consistent mid-range game and increasing his range beyond the arc has been instrumental in accelerating Felder's scoring.

"I watched a lot of our videos and noticed that as the competition rises, the defenders are getting bigger," said Felder.

"You have to be able to shoot over defenders, you have to get the shot off quicker. Watching this, it motivated me to get into the gym and put in the extra hours. Mid-range is my bread and butter right now."

Playing against former Yonkers studs such as Isaiah Ward (Palisade Prep) and Chris Ranglin (Gorton) this summer reminded Felder of just how important an 18-footer and beyond is at the next level.

Saunders, which lacks a J.V. program, now contains a wealth of sophomores.

They'll sustain the uptempo attack, albeit they must master the youth movement.

The team will feature supplemental pieces for the hard-driving, seasoned Felder in Anthony Miller and Nick Nolan.

Last year, Miller proved himself as an all-conference performer and key piece in Saunders' hallmark transition game.

 A gritty defender, Miller is capable of shouldering the offensive weight should Felder catch a double team or box-and-one.

Nolan is also one of the team's better athletes and pest defensively. He had his hands full in several games last season, guarding Rickey McGill of Spring Valley (now at Iona) and Mount Vernon's Marco Morency.

With deft long range shooting and the skill-set of a guard, senior forward Vaughndrus Lenon could present matchup issues.

"We're pretty young this year, we've got a lot of sophomores," said Felder.

"A lot of sophomores are going to have to play like seniors."

Felder has inherited some ownership of this year's team.

A better way of saying it, is that he's earned it.

He's the kid who scored 27 points and tore down 19 boards against Cardinal Spellman as a sophomore.

He's the kid who lit up Carmel for 37.

Felder scored 18 of his 22 points after a foul-plagued first half in Saunders' season-ending loss to Mount Vernon, in the 2015 Section 1 semifinal at the County Center.

It's fair to say he has a price on his head throughout Section 1.

"It's definitely going to be different in April, when I walk into that gym and realize for the first time in four years, Derrick Felder won't be here," said Saunders head coach Anthony Nicodemo, who along with a young staff has helped alter the perception of the once-laughingstock Yonkers program.

"He's not the easiest kid to say goodbye to. D.J. has led our team in points, assists, rebounds, and steals in three years. You just don't see that very often."

Previously, you didn't see Yonkers teams thrive very often.

Nicodemo, like many who have entered Yonkers before him, had a handful of people persuading him not to take the job.

The words of warning were constant.

Conventional wisdom would indicate that with the rate of transfers, lack of facilities, budget issues, and lack of feeder programs, Yonkers wasn't exactly the easiest city in the world to play.

Or the easiest city in which to win or win consistently.

You see, Yonkers was once a place where young talent went to all but sign their own basketball death warrant.

The city has had its fair share of memorable players. Guys like Bernard Toone, Joe Willis, Michael Linden, and Devon "Kobe" Baker are wistful reminders of what could have been.

Saunders has been ressurrected. Former Ardsley forward and 1,000-point scorer Sean Stahn has quickly built up the program at Palisade Prep.

The city again carries a torch proudly for hoops.

"I think if anything we've had to do things a little bit differently," said Nicodemo, who orchestrates a 12-month program which includes summer leagues and consistent weight room work.

"Sean is the best example of coaching against change, getting the kids to buy in early and really change the culture, basketball-wise."

Coaching has played a significant role in the shift.

"Dedicated, intelligent coaching is the most important factor, along with parent support, leading to any success in scholastic sports," said longtime reporter/editor (The Journal News, Daily Voice) Danny Lopriore, a Gorton graduate himself.

"Yonkers sports teams enjoyed success in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s as coaches like the DeMatteo brothers, John Volpe and others led programs for more than 20 years. The other factor that leads to long-term sports success is the continuity of local youth sports feeder programs and the connection to high schools, evident in Mount Vernon, Ossining, Irvington boys and girls basketball, Yorktown lacrosse, Rye football. Yonkers suffers from that right now, as local programs lack funding and support."

Sanuders hopes other schools follow suit. They know, as well as any other program, you can't change the world by the weekend.

How's this for progression? In 2003, Mount Vernon dumped off Saunders in a wall-to-wall 115-25 pummeling. It was the blowout heard around the Section.

After coming within 10 points of the reigning Section 1 champs and perennially potent Knights last season, Nicodemo's strength of schedule is all in preparation for Mount Vernon.

"Everyone knows how much Bobby (Cimino) has done with that program," said Nicodemo.

"It took basically an NFL pro and a three-quarter court shot to beat them (in 2013). Everything we do all year is in preparation for what we hope is a game on Feb. 28th at noon in the County Center."

Nicodemo and his assistants witnessed natural slashing ability and fearless attacking in Felder when he was a freshman, before he could even shoot a lick.

 Now he's one of the Section's most prized guards, a game-changer who has helped revitalize a left-for-dead program.

"He takes a loss about as tough as any kid I've ever coached," said Nicodemo.

And though the Saunders staff and teammates consoled Felder following the Mount Vernon loss, they've reminded him the road ahead doesn't get much easier.

As the reigning undefeated league and city champs, Saunders will open up against New York power Long Island Lutheran on Dec. 6.