5 takeaways from Hoophall West, including Evan Mobley and the struggles of Hillcrest Prep

Photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic

With Hamilton Heights’ (Chattanooga, Tennessee) win over Hillcrest Prep (Phoenix) on Saturday night, Hoophall West has come to a close.

Stars such as Evan Mobley and Jalen Green shined, while local Hillcrest, which entered the week as the No. 3 team in the country, leaves with a host of questions.

Here are five takeaways:

Evan Mobley has strong control of his body 

In zone defenses, the guards traditionally play up top and the bigger guys play low. That’s just how it works.

Evan Mobley is not a traditional player. When Rancho Christian (Temecula, California) was in the zone defense, Mobley was at the top of the arc. He helped get in the way of passing lanes and is a long enough player to jump to different areas when needed.

He did the same type of thing in man defense. He hovers closer to the lane than his man, but with his 6-11 height and 7-5 wingspan, he’s just two steps away from pretty much anyone on his side of the floor. Without brother Isaiah Mobley, a 2019 graduate now at USC, Mobley is the defensive key.

“I’ve grown a lot on the outside perimeter game,” he said. “My brother was usually handling on the outside so I’d be on the inside so we’d have a high-low, but this year he’s not there so we had to mix it up.”

In the full-court press with some trap over halfcourt, Mobley would stay down low to get in the way of anyone who got by. On one such occasion, he rose up to block but didn’t send the ball away. He caught it with both hands, a very smart play and important skill for elite shot-blockers to have. It was ruled a goaltend, much to the crowd’s dismay, but it was a 50/50 call as the ball was right around the top of its arc. But the skill itself is more important than the result.

At last year’s Hoophall West, there were times Mobley looked like he was still getting used to his body. No longer. He seemed to be everywhere at once and always in control. Mobley’s use of his body size has become his biggest strength.

All that, with the versatility on offense to be a ball handler, break full-court press, and grab offensive rebounds and absorb contact down low. Mobley finished with 22 points on 7-for-7 shooting from the field and 8-for-13 from the free throw line.

Dylan Anderson should model parts of his game after Mobley

Dylan Anderson, a five-star sophomore at Perry (Gilbert, Arizona), is a power forward with some guard skills. He wants to be a small forward. He’d like to develop his game into something similar to Giannis Antetokounmpo, but with a better shot.

As he aims for that pinnacle, he should mimic some of Mobley’s practices.

Anderson has the ability to be a very good three, but with every strength comes an area of improvement. He has good passing instincts, but lacks the touch to complete passes in tight windows. He has a smooth stroke, but needs to make the shots with more consistency from mid- and long-range. He recognizes his length and uses it to his advantages, but he’s probably strong enough to power over people more often than he does. He can ball handle and drive, but it’s not as refined as many of the top wings.

All this is nitpicking. Anderson is a 6-foot-11 sophomore who can shoot, dribble and defend. He is well ahead of the curve. But taking a look at how Mobley became a versatile offensive threat who uses his length to his advantage would behoove Anderson as he continues to grow into a formidable player.

Difference between Sierra Canyon and SPIRE at Hoophall West

Last year, LaMelo Ball’s SPIRE Institute (Geneva, Ohio) came to Hoophall West and created a maniacal atmosphere with standing-only room in the crowd.

Perhaps the organizers remembered this as they planned for the 2019 marquee matchup. As the game prior to Sierra Canyon (Chatworth, California) was in the second half, the lined form. Over 100 people waited in the lobby outside the gym, slowly trickling in as security found seating as the previous game ended and Sierra Canyon began to warm up. Fans in the gym couldn’t leave to use the bathroom – well, they could, the security guard at the door told them, but they’d have to stand in line and wait again for re-entry. Most people decided they could hold it.

The game itself was also quite different. SPIRE was the LaMelo show – a team that played with the flash of its marquee player. Ball was heavily involved, sending the crowd into a frenzy every time he went up for a shot or layup. It was not a normal team – and that’s not a bad thing. SPIRE was one of the most entertaining teams in the country.

Sierra Canyon, on the other hand, plays basketball like a perfectly normal school – albeit, a very talented one. Fans paraded in to see Bronny James, but he only had five points on four shots. He’s a big name, but still a freshman, he’s not the star.

Basketball fans know James and Zaire Wade, the latter of which sat due to injury. Casual viewers likely know five-star seniors Ziaire Williams and BJ Boston (Williams is ineligible until Dec. 29).

But five-star sophomore Amari Bailey stole the show. Though he’s not a marquee name, he’s not underrated, head coach Andre Chevalier said.

“Amari’s top-five in the country in his class, he’s already on the NBA list, he’s not overlooked,” he said with a laugh.

Bailey’s athleticism is simply outrageous, whether he’s driving for a dunk or blocking a layup. He was the primary ball handler on a team with several players capable of doing so. He set the pace for the team, and when the transition game finally started to work in the second half, Sierra Canyon pulled ahead.

Bailey, ranked No. 6 on ESPN and No. 10 on the 247Sports Composite, is one of the few important players who isn’t a transfer. Another, Terren Frank, was similarly important. His presence in the post helped create second-chance points and gave the Trailblazers an option if a shot wasn’t there.

In that, there’s the difference between SPIRE and Sierra Canyon. SPIRE had other stars including Rocket Watts, but fans came and saw the LaMelo show. Fans came for the Bronny show, but instead, Sierra Canyon played a normal game of basketball. Both were fun and entertaining. They were just different.

Jalen Green is improving as a scorer

Jalen Green might be the best scorer in his class. With his elite athleticism and sharpshooting, his weapons allow him to take on — and typically beat — any defender.

But he’s more than a shooter and more than athletic. Green is finding new ways to score.

One of the plays that stood out from the Prolific Prep (Napa, California) win over Hillcrest Prep wasn’t actually a bucket by Green. It was his posting up of a smaller defender and calling for the ball. He didn’t get it, but he did get fouled.

Now that he has more help around him than he did on San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno, California) last year, he can look for ways to score off ball and step away from primary ball handling if the situation calls for it.

“Just working on my game, adding to my craft every day,” Green said. “I’m just trying to look for different ways to score.”

Green put up 33 points in Hoophall West for the second year in a row. At a school like Prolific Prep, he’ll get to test himself against better competition than in the past. So far, it appears he shines in the spotlight. It will be exciting to see him match up against fellow five-star players throughout the rest of the year.

What’s wrong with Hillcrest Prep?

Losing to Prolific Prep by 17 and trailing by as much as 27 was a bad look, but it didn’t seem particularly worrisome. So often in basketball, the team with the best player wins. Jalen Green was the best player. It was Hillcrest’s first game against a good opponent. The Bruins may have been shellshocked.

But coming out lethargic against Hamilton Heights and losing 67-52 … this is only two games, but as it’s the only two games against good competition, question marks have appeared.

It could just be as simple as Hillcrest Prep hasn’t learned to play as a team yet. New coach, an almost entirely new roster. Adjusting takes time.

That’s what five-star juniors Keon Edwards and Mike Foster said after the game.

“Everybody knows that, take one of us individually and put us somewhere else and we’d be the guy, so playing with five of us is kind of a challenge,” Edwards said. “We’re all trying to figure that out.”

Foster had similar sentiment.

“The hardest part of having a good team is playing together. so we gotta learn how to play together,” he said.

Foster said he needed to keep his head up as he drives to the rim. Sure, he missed a couple passes, and he needs to be a more consistent finisher.

The team needs to cut down on turnovers. Foster said the team had 21.

Edwards’ role on the offense has been pretty minimal. Should the Bruins get him more involved?

But it’s more than that. Edwards said the team wasn’t cocky. However, after the team scored over 100 points in six of the first eight games, it looked as though Hillcrest may have gotten full of itself and over-eager to show off on the national stage.

After getting crushed on national TV, a great team needs to come into the next game with energy and dominate. But the Bruins fell flat again.

The emotions certainly aren’t under control yet. Twice in the first half, point guard Dalen Terry shoved an opponent more aggressively than a normal basketball play. He also got hit with a delay of game call in the third quarter.

If Hillcrest is to compete against these national teams, emotion can’t affect the production on the court.

This takeaway: While Hillcrest has an argument for most talented roster in the country, it’s clear the team isn’t on the same page. There’s not yet reason for real concern, but if the Bruins can’t prove Hoophall West was more fluke than trend next week when they take on Terrence Clarke and Brewster Academy, it will be an issue.

Head coach Mike Bibby, who enters his first year at Hillcrest after winning four straight championships with Shadow Mountain (Arizona), has to be wondering what needs to change with his roster full of Div. 1-bound athletes.

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