The depth of Western New York talent seems to be on the rise, and there was no better indicator of that than the 2nd Annual EST WNY Warm-Up. The event, held at the end of April on the campus of Roberts Wesleyan University in Rochester, featured a full house of 81 athletes and an array of collegiate coaches taking in the action that filled up every chair across multiple baselines. Among those athletes were a solid representation of 2024s diving head-first into the recruiting process, and after reviewing the 3v3 & 5v5 game film, it was clear that many of them performed well in front of the coaches – enough so that I’ve chosen to break up ‘The 2024 Report’ into multiple parts.
A first look at some of the current juniors that caught my eye at the WNY Warm-Up:
Ava Anastasi (5’8″, Starpoint 2024; Buffalo Titans): One of the many things I love about 3v3 play… one way or another, we’re going to find out about you. There’s no hiding or getting lost in the shuffle with the enhanced spacing & greater amount of impactful reps on both sides of the ball. After easing in through the opening 5v5 game, Ava took advantage of her 3v3 session and exploded, showing the tools that make her the sort of prospect that will come in ready to make a difference. People can overuse the term ‘shooter’, but Ava actually is one. She catches ready to shoot, displayed good footwork where she did her work before the catch, has a quick release, and showed effortless range. Ava shot it well off the catch, using a rhythm dribble, and also flashed the ability to create separation off 1-2 dribbles & rise up. She also looks ready to go at the next level from a physical standpoint, as she was one of the stronger wings at the event. Good physical tools at her position, a highly translatable skill as a shooter with college range, and the ability to play off the shot & create separation without overdribbling… all valuable as the recruiting process kicks into overdrive for Ava.
Sophia Balsano (5’7″, Kenmore West 2024; XGen Elite): If you’re looking for a pure scorer in the backcourt, very few at the event could get busy like Sophia. She plays the game with a swagger & confidence that draws your attention, and you don’t have to watch very long to see the depth of her bag. She brings three-level scoring ability as a lead guard & has a refined general scoring package. With her creativity off the bounce and ability to change speed, direction, and center of gravity to keep the primary defender off balance, if the person guarding her is limited laterally, she’ll cook them. If that defender is on the smaller/weaker end, even if they’re quick, Soph can bully them physically and keep them on her hip all the way to the rim. She had a stretch where she lit it up in 3v3 play, and I thought she was solid throughout 5v5. In one of her team’s games, she effectively used ball screens to get into the midrange & show prowess as a shooter from 15′-18′. In the other, she hit the paint more frequently and got to the line numerous times. Also noteworthy is that when reviewing game film, the volume is on & I can hear everything from the benches, and her voice was noticeable in hyping up the five on the floor. This isn’t high school or AAU – most of them were probably kids she’s never even talked to before – so that kind of energy is very noticeable. Strong showing overall for one of the Buffalo area’s more skilled guards.
Kyleigh Chapman (5’11”, Canandaigua 2024; NY Royals): As far as I’m considered, very few in any class played as well as Kyleigh did here. She’s no stranger to the EST stuff by now, but even if she was, it probably wouldn’t matter as I’d classify her as a pure hooper whose abilities translate in any setting. Maybe the first few minutes were a sign of what was to come as Kyleigh, not really known as a perimeter shooter, canned a trio of threes right off the rip. She was pound-for-pound one of the strongest players at the event, and she plays the game like a savvy vet whose brain is three steps ahead of everyone around her. Combine those attributes, and she proved to be a load for everyone. She used her body well to carve space on drives, and although it’s well-documented that she’s very left-handed, she showed on numerous occasions that if you open up the right, she’ll take it & finish going that way as well, including a couple that were higher degree of difficulty. Kyleigh played almost a ‘point forward’ type & displayed impressive court vision and some serious zip when needed with passes – a couple flew into tight windows on target to cutters. The brain came into play defensively as well, as she anticipated action & used active hands to force several turnovers, and she had success guarding multiple positions and different kinds of players through the course of the event. She’s always displayed the ‘hooper’ tendencies, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Kyleigh play so aggressively & confidently at one of these events, and in the process, she showcased a unique blend of skills & the ability to do some things on the court that very few others in the gym could accomplish. One of the clear standouts of the night in my eyes.
Ashley Kalvitis (5’8″, Penfield 2024; Buffalo Titans): When players come from such a disciplined & established high school program like Penfield, they generally hit the college level with a strong foundation with the learning curve not being as steep. Ashley fits that bill, but at the same time, I still think she’s only scratching the surface in ways… which is a scary thought. She was another one that soared in 3v3 play, where she was at her most assertive & allowed her skill set to shine. She’s sneaky good off the dribble with her ability to change speeds & keep her primary defender off balance, and it generally seems like movements have a purpose – she’s not making a move just to make a move, she’s making it to get to spots on the floor. Unlike many guards that forget this area even exists, the spots she’s looking to get to are often in the 8′-15′ range. Between getting to those spots, the fundamental ability of playing off two feet in traffic, the athleticism to get lift on the shot with a higher release point, and the touch from that distance, Ashley’s midrange game may have been second-to-none at the event. Mix the fundamental skill she already possesses, the base of knowledge from coming up through the Penfield HS and Titans AAU programs, and the physical tools as a 5’8″ PG with length and a plus athlete, and it’s clear that Ashley comes in ready to compete & able to build through her college years.
Leah Khuu (5’10”, Hamburg 2024; Buffalo Titans): I’ve seen Leah several times since the last time she played in an EST event, but something slipped by me until here… she’s grown. You don’t often see girls shoot up a couple inches in the back end of their high school years, but it appears that Leah has done just that and now stands at 5’10” in the backcourt. She was one of a small group of players that had their surroundings altered over the course of the event in an effort to see her in different settings, and Leah excelled throughout. She stood out during her group’s 3v3 session as a shooter & decision maker, and at one point, she flashed a little more with a behind-the-back separation dribble into an 18 footer, perhaps showing signs of greater comfort using the dribble in 1v1 situations to create. The lefty stroke was effortless with range as she canned 3 threes in that segment of play. Leah operated well in ball screen action & was an unselfish ballhandler, keeping her head up & looking to hit the roll, something she had success with as a taller guard that can see over defenders and not have to go the extra mile to create passing angles. In 5v5, she slid off the ball a little more and scored efficiently as an off-guard. My thoughts about Leah always revolve around ‘solid & steady’. She was that here, but she had her standout moments too, and I think she’s another one with potential for real growth on the court into her early 20s.
Lena Lipani (5’11”, Penfield 2024; NY Havoc): The foundation of post play & back-to-basket skill was built a while ago and has refined over time, but now Lena’s coupling that with more comfort facing up & operating as a stretch forward. With that, she’s developed into one of the Rochester area’s more intriguing frontcourt talents in the 2024 class. She played more at the arc than what I’m used to seeing from her, but she still dove to the block & engaged in the post, especially when she caught an advantageous switch as she showed good recognition and went into ‘freight train’ mode when that was the case. When spacing the floor, Lena showed a decently smooth shooting stroke off the catch and ability to hit the three from different areas on the floor. What caught my eye most during 5v5 was actually her conditioning level, as she was still running the floor hard down to the final minutes. Whether it turned into a scoring opportunity or not, it was noteworthy that she made consistent rim runs and beat her matchups up the floor many times over in the later stages. Similar to Ashley above, she’ll hit the next level with a strong foundation coming from the Penfield program, and the blend of skills as a physically powerful 5’11” forward makes her a player that’ll attract some attention over the next few months.
Silvia Moretti (6’1″, St. Mary’s-Lancaster 2024; XGen Elite): Between her current skill level and potential for growth & physical development, not many at the event carry the level of intrigue of Silvia. A recent Buffalonian by way of Italy, the 6’1″ forward brings the skill-based kind of game often seen in European frontcourt prospects. She saw two different kinds of matchups in 3v3 action and played well against both, displaying as a versatile scorer against single coverage. She played fluidly off teammates and connected on a wing three off the catch, worked off the dribble & flashed the in-between game with pull-up jumpers & a floater, and showed soft touch around the rim. In the tighter windows of 5v5, she displayed as a capable catch & finish big with some mobility, scoring in transition on rim runs & as the roller in ball screen action. I think Silvia’s not even close to her ceiling as a player, and as a legitimate 6’1″ forward with well-trained skill, a natural frame that will only be developed in a college weight room, and the level of potential for added on-court growth, it’s no surprise to see D2s start to enter the discussion, including a recent offer from D’Youville.
Aliza Whitehead (5’10”, Lewiston-Porter 2024; XGen Elite): If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you get the hint of ‘attack the 3v3 courts with the same energy as 5v5’. Aliza did that, stood out, and got herself in a rhythm in the process. The 5’10” wing took a step forward during HS season and looks like she’s taking the next step already, and her game translates well to higher levels. She operated primarily at the wing but also showed she can physically compete as a 4 in smaller lineups. The shooting stroke looks smooth & she shot it well from distance, including five made threes in the 3v3 session alone. She also played off the shot, both in 3v3 & in the half-court during 5v5, and displayed as a natural slasher that can effectively use a couple dribbles and get to the rim or into an area to tap into the floater game. At one point, she showed some growth in that area of her game by creating space with a stepback into an 18 footer. In 5v5 play, Aliza’s fluidity in the open floor was on display as she operated well when the game went into 94×50 mode & served as a transition finisher. Take the physical piece (5’10” at the wing, good frame, ability to play with pace), mix in the fact that she’s continuing to develop into a sniper that allows her to be a weapon in the half-court too, and you have someone that will become one of WNY’s more actively recruited 2024s.
One thought on “EST WNY Warm-Up: The 2024 Report (Part I)”
Sophia Balsano is a joy to coach. She has a great all-around game and is a terrific rebounder. She is a fearless driver to basket and can light it up with the best of them. I have coached against Ava, Leah and Aliza and they are great players. Hustle, determination and skills off the charts.