#RockyTopInvitatational – Top Bangers

GATLINBURG, TN – A tremendous field traversed the surrounding Smoky Mountains to converge on a little village in Tennessee, but with big goals in mind to improve as basketball players and gain exposure from the finest circuit in the Southeast.

From OTR’s Rocky Top Invitational, an event growing in stature in the region, we look next at Top Bangers I saw from the weekend (Georgia guys have high schools in parentheses).

By: Keith Agran

Jelani Thurman | AJ Bouye 17U | 2023 (Langston Hughes, pictured at top)

As Wu-Tang Clan used to say “Protect Ya Neck” and that’s the thought I have when I see Thurman barreling toward an unfortunate defender, the same was true as he made impression after impression during Hughes’ run to the 6A semifinals, a D1 football recruit as TE/WR it’s scary that basketball is his 2nd sport when he can go on runs where he dominates the floor, was a top 3 rebounder I saw all last regular season and that continued in Gatlinburg, will catch and finish with a serious flourish around the rim and has a mean streak and fiery disposition you love for as guy his size, with Chapel Hill’s 6-7 Kelvin Hunter making for one of the more entertaining and effective travel team frontcourts in the ATL-Metro.

Jordan Ross | Pro One 16U | 2024

Immediately drawn to the activity level as Ross was a workhorse for a really good Pro One bunch, 6-6 with a good frame he was a beast in close as there wasn’t much that could be done other than fouling to keep him from buckets around the basket, sowed some downhill work off the dribble as well and that together with a developing jump shot from 15+ adds to the tantalizing package for one of the best 16U’s I saw all weekend.

Amir Taylor | Game Elite 15U | 2025 (Grayson)

After starting a good portion of the season for Georgia 7A power Grayson as a freshman it’s easy to see why eyeballs are drawn to courts where this Game Elite 2025 bunch is playing, Taylor is a big draw in more ways than one, the power and finesse combo has been on display since his 8th-grade summer last year where in June Team Camps he was terrific playing with some other young Rams on the come, with 3 seasons of high school still left and body maturity still in progress it’s potentially the full package at 6-8 which he can and will bring to the table.

Bruce White | Charlotte Royals 16U | 2024

Lunchpail guy who wasn’t 100% healthy but that hardly showed at all as he went to the glass at 6-6 hard at both ends and had sticky hands on the catch and finish in tight, impressed with the program overall all weekend for the Royals and White’s work on a deep 16U roster certainly affirmed the talent level, more work on the jumper to deeper ranges will open up more doors for him.

Antonio Williams | Upnext Elite 16U | 2024

Also enticing was frontcourt teammate Derrell Bateman who dropped 23 pts in the same game I discovered Williams, Bateman puts in the work in a sound, workmanlike manner yet it was the potentially explosive nature of Williams’ athletic skill that caught eyes, the way he got up and down the floor and attacked the rim with such spring was the kind of athletic package that you grab and hone once he gets on campus, you just don’t find a ton of 6-5 guys who can affect the game on athletic ability alone.

Beau Baker | R5 Elite 16U | 2024

Casting a large shadow out there Baker rumbled his way to rebounds and deuces with a consistent feel for rim-running and playing on the block, great to see a young 6-7 player embracing the nuances of the post-game and knowing what to do when he gets it down there, better feet than his sturdy frame might indicate and nice timing on the defensive end as a rim-protector, high upside mid-major guy.

Cal Liston | Wood Elite 16U | 2024 (Lassiter)

Great to see the emergence of Liston on the scene as he’s found a home with Wood that should continue to help him thrive, has a non-stop motor and sheer will to play hard that is rooted in emotion and fire, that level of hustle is both contagious and yet can lead to unsound play at times but it’s an item that he’s clearly working on and should improve as he matures, still you never downplay hustle of this level too harshly and the combination of really efficient jump-shooting out to 18 feet together with the tireless work around the basket and the 6-5 junior-to-be is on an upward trajectory.

Sean Rose | Team Synergy 17U | 2023 

Perhaps not your classic banger with a lean, slithery frame, but the work in near the basket was certainly impressive at 6-6 with all kinds of spring off the deck, ate up shots all weekend as a defensive stopper and ran the floor like a gazelle, stepped out past the arc some as well which will certainly expand his appeal, on a really good Synergy team that featured college-level guys up and down the roster Rose (#23 below) is a frontcourt gem to watch out of Charlotte Latin School.

Jaiun Simon | Game Elite 17U | 2023 (Pebblebrook)

It’s been a consistent ascent for Simon dating back to last summer when his play in June Team Camps in particular began to assert itself, it’s developed further away from the basket where the dribble package and shooting range has brought in a lot more high-level eyeballs, at 6-6 with tremendously agile movement and great variety in his repertoire it’s easy to see why he’s one of GA’s most rapidly rising 2023’s, set to be part of another talented Pebblebrook team in what may be the best gauntlet of teams for GA’s highest classification in years.

Keith Agran has lived in Georgia since 2011 and joined OTR as a National Evaluator in 2021. He previously scouted for Prep Hoops dating back to 2019 and has both a championship-coaching background on the HS-level and daily newspaper writing experience, both from New Jersey. You can reach him at keithagran1@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @BracketSage.