I’ve been doing this for close to a decade at this point. Although it certainly isn’t a lifetime and there are people that have been in this game for much longer, it’s plenty long enough to learn a thing or two. Here’s some ‘free game’:
You get out what you put into these individual showcase events.
I don’t think anyone’s performance at an event of this nature can really ‘hurt’ them, but if you come in & go through the motions (or have a bad day at the office and don’t try to make up for it with other facets of play), it doesn’t really do anything for you. If you come through, compete at a high level from start to finish, stay focused & locked in, and play well, these events can give you a boost in the eyes of coaches/evaluators in attendance. Do it a few times (especially in the fall, a busy time of year for individual showcases), and it can change the trajectory of your recruitment. I’ve seen this story repeat itself on plenty of occasions.
Among the impressive display of talent at the 2022 edition of EST Fall Showcase was a select group of players putting forth the sort of showings that could ‘make things happen’ at a different level for them going forward. Some of them are lesser known to coaches/evaluators/the regional basketball world; a couple others are recognized but inexplicably underappreciated to this point. Regardless of the situation, these players made the most of every minute on the court at Riverfront:
Sophia Balsano (Kenmore West/Full Court Hoops 2024): This wasn’t my first time seeing Sophia perform well; in fact, the last couple times I watched her play had probably been her best to that point. She continued the trend in the afternoon session, putting forth a pretty complete showing & further establishing herself as someone to pay full attention to out of Western New York. Her group had no shortage of height, length, and athleticism, and given how active everyone was on the defensive end in the later group, that could spell trouble for a 5’7″ downhill-oriented guard like Balsano. Well… not here. Sophia separated herself as one of the few players in the session that could really break a defender down & create scoring opportunities in 1v1 situations. She brings a functional combo of skill & strength with the ‘bag work’ and surehanded handle to gain an advantage on her defender & ability to keep them on her hip, hold her line, and work through contact around the rim. She also effectively keeps defenders off balance by changing speed & center of gravity well. Maybe the most impressive part of Sophia’s day was that she was every bit as effective – if not more so – in the tighter windows & lanes of 5v5 play. Especially in her team’s first game, she gave them a jolt on the offensive end while on the court. There’s value in a player that can take the ball & just make something happen when the situation calls (play breaks down, clock running down, need a good shot), in large part because although many think they can be that person, not many really can do it. Even in a setting where points didn’t come easily at times, Sophia showed she’s got that gene in her.
Reece Beaver (Southwestern/XGen Elite 2024): I called someone after the event and said ‘I guess Reece just doesn’t miss at Riverfront‘. She made the trip from the Jamestown area a year ago for the morning session & lit it up as one of the day’s top overall performers. This year, it was the PM session that she made her playground. Typical of many that stand out in these environments, it’s in Reece’s nature to make the most of every minute on the floor and compete with pride & energy. Business as usual in that sense here, as she was locked in for the entirety of the event. I loved how she set the tone on the defensive end in 3v3, showing willingness to dig in along with ability to stay within arm’s length & contain the basketball against a couple shifty guards. Although she was also solid on the offensive end during that portion, it was 5v5 play where she started to get loose from a scoring standpoint, showing college range on the three, ability to hit with a defender in her airspace, and willingness to play off the shot & attack. She gave her 5v5 team a shot in the arm from the jump with 8 points in a three possession swing during their first rotation on the court, helping to set the tone for what turned into an impressive stretch for the entire group. Two-way impact, ability & comfort playing on the ball but capable of playing an off-guard role and willing to do so, consistency throughout the event and effort & motor that didn’t die off – as a coach, I’m happy to take that combo. Scholarship level prospect and one of my favorites in a really nice 2024 class.
Zarriah Eldridge (East Rochester/Rochester Premier 2024): A starter on 2021-22 NYSPHSAA Class C semifinalist East Rochester, I had the opportunity to watch Zarriah on a few occasions in the scholastic ranks along with a couple more during club season with Rochester Premier. I had the opportunity to have little sis Aniyah (2026) at June’s middle school event, but this was Zarriah’s EST event debut… and she clearly made the most of it. I was a fan of the skill & ability she showed and perhaps an even bigger fan of how she approached the game & her teammates, something that was even apparent on game film. She settled into the event during her team’s first 3v3 game and was a clear standout the rest of the way. The 5’6″ guard has a strong build & uses it well to cut drives straight downhill when she gets a step, and if she got to her right hand here, she finished at a high clip. Once she saw her first perimeter J fall in 3v3 play, very few people shot it as well from the arc as she did, and she hit them both off the catch & off the dribble. Similar to Sophia above, Zarriah displayed as one of a limited number of players in the afternoon that could really go off & make a play off the dribble when needed. In the process, she looked to get others involved and seemed to relish their positive plays every bit as much as any she made herself. Big fan of that energy, and big fan of how Zarriah played at this event.
Makana Gardner (Newark Valley/Elmira Fusion 2024): I use the terms ‘performance’ and ‘showing’ a lot in these articles. For what Cha put together in the morning session, I think I’d prefer to call it a ‘display’ or perhaps her ‘magnum opus‘ to date. Many players left strong positive impressions; no one left a better one than Gardner. The 6’3″ forward put it all together in an impressive outing here with a great display (there, I said it again) of everything she brings to the table. The world was her oyster in 3v3 play, where she took advantage of space & more touches to show flashes of everything on the offensive end. That included but wasn’t limited to post moves & right/left hand finishes, offensive rebounds (both in & out of her area) and putbacks, comfort operating with her back to the basket or facing up, and impressive court vision & ability to hit cutters out of the post. She didn’t get as many touches in 5v5 but still had stretches offensively, including a couple chances to flash the jumper with midrange & perimeter makes. Then… there was the other side. Her defensive prowess & improved mobility stole the show as much as anything on the offensive end. She effectively protected the rim & swatted away several shots while staying disciplined & not fouling. She got caught on switches against D1 level guards on numerous occasions, who all tested her off the dribble, and she never got beat. In 3v3 play with FIBA-enhanced rules that force faster pace & quick thinking, she impressed athletically on several instances where she had to cover major ground to defend. Her conditioning level has also progressed to the point that she could play long stretches without losing an ounce of steam. Anything you could’ve asked Cha to show, she did. IMO, she’s ridiculously undervalued at this stage & maybe upstate NY’s most ‘underrecruited’ 2024. To Division I coaches that may have been ‘looking for more’, let me be your eyes – she showed all of that & more here and will undoubtedly be an asset at the next level with growth potential into her 20s.
Kaylee Marvin (Gananda/XGen Elite 2024): Kaylee has been on my radar for a couple years now & is already respected as one of the Rochester area’s better frontcourt players, but if this event was any indication, she may be in the process of hitting ‘the next level’ in her game. The 6’1″ forward is a commanding presence in the post and well-trained in the offensive fundamentals, such as working for position early, presenting with a wide base and hands ready, and footwork in the post with no wasted steps. She embraces back-to-basket play and everything that comes with it, including the physicality, and she possesses the strength to win those battles more often than not. She really stood out early on in 3v3 play, where she won the battle in key individual matchups by consistently being a force and showing the complete array of pieces in her game. Along with post moves & finishes, she scored out of the P&R game, offensive rebound putbacks, and even a college range three. Kaylee continues to show gradual development and should be considered a name to follow for schools in the market for a post player in 2024.
Kathleen McRobbie-Taru (Cicero-North Syracuse/I-90 Elite 2024): If Cha (above) was the most eye-catching ‘stock riser’ type in the AM session, it’d be hard to pick anyone besides Kat in the afternoon. Her versatility has been a prime asset for a while now – ask anyone who had to gameplan against her Northstars last winter & realized how sneaky tough of a matchup she could be. This Kat is a different one though, one that’s hit another level in development, confidence, and willingness to take control & put her stamp on a game. The 5’11” utility player did a bit of everything and saw time at the wing, as more of a 4, and even the occasional ballhandling duties, and she spent time defending all of those spots too. What was most eye-catching at this event was how she showed value as a ‘three & D’ type player. Nobody shot it better or hit more perimeter Js on the day than Kat, who got the engine running in 3v3 & carried it forward to 5v5 play. She showed purity with the stroke, speed on the release, and consistency with the mechanics & result. On the other end, she served as an effective rim protector that swatted away more than her share of attempts, both as a primary & help defender. With Kat’s physical tools, versatility, blossoming skill set, two-way impact, and potential for added growth, it’s pretty clear to see her emerging as another scholarship level prospect in 2024.
Maggie Coleman (Abington Heights (PA)/NEPA Elite 2025): Every time I’ve been in the 570 for an event since Maggie has been old enough to participate, she’s been there. This is indicative of her gym rat nature, and that nature has helped her develop tremendously as a player over that timeframe. I’ve had the thought that she’s passed many in her class with her progression, and that’s something she put on display in the AM session. The 5’7″ guard is a deadeye shooter, one of the best in the gym using any measurable statistic or evaluation concept. Mechanics are picture perfect & consistent, she gets into her shooting motion & releases quickly, midrange is present along with range to the college line, and she shoots it well both off the catch & off the dribble. That’s always been there, it’s just continuing to come along with reps, time, and physical development. What’s perhaps most noteworthy is – as Mark Williams, who held it down with the skill work all day, would call it – the ‘tool box development’. My first times watching Maggie play a couple years ago, I wouldn’t have classified her as comfortable with the dribble. Fast forward to now, and she has the ability & willingness to put it on the deck and make a play in 1v1 situations, and she can even slide over & play a lead guard role if needed. Maggie was aggressive & confident on offense, looked to turn the corner off the bounce & showed some explosiveness if she got to her right hand, all while still splashing away from the arc. Big sophomore year on deck for Maggie at the HS level, and she’s laying the foundation to make herself a coveted target at the collegiate level going forward.
Peyton Dincher (Jersey Shore (PA)/Next Level Strong 2025): Tucked in the depths of north central Pennsylvania lies Jersey Shore, home of my favorite ‘new find’ in July. Peyton really caught my eye at two different events with her Next Level Strong AAU club, and I was both happy she was set to play in this & intrigued as to how she’d do in this environment. After all, I had only watched her in a controlled system & this can be a much more open style. Well… the kid’s just a hooper. Ok, noted. Really impressive EST event debut for Peyton, a 5’9″ guard that checks many boxes of traits that translate well to future levels. In a group that featured several Division I prospects while she was on the floor, she made her presence felt consistently and in various ways. I thought she displayed in July as a knockdown shooter that could do other things as well; here, she was a well-rounded player that showed she could shoot it too. She was an opportunistic scorer that did it with the jumper, timely off-ball movement with cuts & layups, creativity off the bounce to get to the rim & finish, and transition opportunities along with the half-court effectiveness in 5v5. Even though she didn’t score a lot once her group hit the 5v5 court, I thought she was as impactful on the floor as anyone. She displayed comfort with the handle, court vision in transition, ability to create for teammates, and presented herself as an above average individual/team defender & solid rebounder from the guard spot. She has basketball feel, looks & carries herself like a hooper, and the game speaks volumes. As she refines her game, adds strength, and continues to gain experience against high level competition, look for Peyton to continue her ascent. Clearly a scholarship level talent that I would get familiar with sooner rather than later.
Mallory Heise (Hilton/XGen Elite 2025): It’s a little odd saying that a 2025 that already holds a Division I offer (from Marist) could be called a ‘stock riser’ but hear me out. As someone that has been a proud driver of the Mallory bandwagon for 2-3 years now, this was a different Mallory – one that, shall we say, found her voice. It looks like she’s taken the next step & is turning into an alpha type with the confidence & court presence to match. No one had a better showing during 3v3 play in the afternoon session, where she put it together and set the tone at her court. She’s had potent midrange game for a while, but she came out of the gate showing extension of the range with a handful of threes. She was willing to attack the rim & able to turn the corner in both 3v3 & 5v5 play. She competed on the defensive end and was a solid 1v1 & team defender, containing the dribble and always being in the right spot rotationally. All that aside, it was the court presence & willingness to be assertive and be a leader in this environment that was most eye-catching. I have a sneaking suspicion that if this track continues, not only will sophomore year be a big one for Mallory in the scholastic ranks, sophomore AAU season could be a “blow up” time for her.