Recruiting landscape on full display at 2018 Slam Dunk

Players get a range of attention from all levels of college programs
December 31, 2018

Top talents from all over the country shared their stories and aspirations to take their games to the next level in the basketball world while participating in the 2018 Slam Dunk to the Beach tournament at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes Dec. 27-29.

A slew of talented basketball prospects showed off their skills during the three-day festivities. There were 24 players ranked by 247Sports, and 10 were ranked inside the top 100 in their respective classes.

Among them were No. 7-ranked senior combo guard Khalil Whitney from Roselle Catholic (N.J.), No. 50 junior guard Symir Torrence from Vermont Academy, and, most notably, third-ranked sophomore forward Jonathan Kuminga from Our Savior New American (N.Y.). Kuminga broke the Slam Dunk scoring record when he dropped 40 points in a 76-70 loss to Gonzaga Dec. 28, as the 6-foot-9 player displayed impressive handles and shooting range, going 8-for-12 from deep.

The 16-year-old Republic of Congo native already has a polished, all-around game that should have college and NBA scouts salivating. Kuminga said he’s enjoyed the recruiting process as he has drawn tons of interest from top schools. Yet when it comes making the final decision, the factor most important to him is simple.

“I’m just looking to play at a big-time school at a major Division I, and that’s it,” Kuminga said bluntly.

Kuminga emphasized his readiness to play at the next level despite having a couple more years to go. If there’s anything his electric windmill dunk on a fast break Friday night can say, it’s clear he’s ready for the next level.

At a similar level is Roselle’s Whitney, who became the fifth Slam Dunk player to commit to Kentucky in the past five years. The Chicago native will officially sign back home in April to pay homage to his roots.

“All my family is [from] Chicago. I love those guys to death,” Whitney said. “I come out and play every game dedicated to those guys.”

The 6-foot-7 wing said it was his dream to commit to Kentucky, not only to emulate the success of some of the recent one-and-done Wildcats like John Wall and Anthony Davis, but also because of the environment he got to experience.

“I pretty much knew what the environment was going to be like in the gym; you know those guys go pretty hard and push themselves,” Whitney said. “That’s just the difference – they push each other. Coach Cal’s one of the best coaches of all time, and I have a lot of respect for him.”

Already a versatile scorer at the offensive end, Whitney said the sky’s the limit if he keeps working hard, as he seeks to turn himself into an NBA all-star someday.

Unfortunately, not all high school basketball players can be five-stars with an already-refined game on the recruiting spectrum. While not all high schoolers will have John Calipari chasing them on the recruiting trail, many of the Slam Dunk participants have several mid-major schools expressing interest.

That holds true for Gonzaga’s four-star forward Terrence Williams, who has schools like Virginia and Stanford interested. The 6-foot-7 junior said his recruiting process intensified greatly since his freshman year, as he received around 15 offers at midnight on the very first night college coaches can call prospective athletes.

“It’s a great opportunity, you know. I’m blessed,” Williams said. “But sometimes I get stressed. That’s what I can say about it with a lot of coaches calling me. It’s going to be a tough decision when it comes, but I’m just blessed to be in this opportunity where I can choose.”

Although distressing for many, the recruiting process also comes easily for others, like three-star Albany Academy point guard August Mahoney. The 6-foot-2 lefty sharpshooter committed to Yale this past summer in a self-described easy decision, which was made clear after his second unofficial visit to campus, where the coaching staff and players alike welcomed Mahoney with open arms.

“I knew that I wanted to go to a school not only for basketball, but also for their academics,” said Mahoney. “There isn’t a school in the country that’s better than Yale.”

With other schools like Vermont, Penn, Boston University and his hometown Albany interested, Mahoney said bigger schools like Illinois were also after him, but his desire to be more than a role player pushed him toward the Bulldogs. He’s also taken that kind of realistic mentality to aspirations after college.

“I’m not sure if I want to play professional basketball like overseas or maybe if I reach my goal to play in the NBA, but I’m a math guy, so anything in the finance world or statistics world,” Mahoney said. “Yale’s the place to be. Build connections, because they have the best connections in the world and best alumni. I’m in a great spot. I just have to trust the process, keep my head down and keep working.”

While most recruits have enough to worry about when making these college choices, Bishop Loughlin’s (N.Y.) Champagnie twins have double to think about. The high-flying dynamic duo impressed in both their games with an array of powerful dunks. Although Justin is ranked higher than his brother Julian, as a four-star by 247Sports, he’s not looking to leave his brother’s side any time soon.

“We’ve played together our whole lives, so there’s no reason to stop now,” Justin said. “We’re better together.”

With other athletes prioritizing the size, atmosphere, environment or relationships they’ve cultivated when selecting the school for them, the Champagnie brothers have the financial aspect on their minds.  

“The main goal right now is to get to college for free,” Julian said. “That’s the main goal right now, and after I get to college, I’ll start to look ahead and plan for the future.”

While the fans were surely appreciative to witness the emphatic dunks the Champagnie brothers threw down, Justin touched on what it meant to him to play at Cape’s marquee event.

“I mean, it means a lot to play in this tournament,” he said. “A lot of people came through here and became successful. So, I just want to leave my mark as well.”

When asked what advice to give teams participating in next year’s Slam Dunk to the Beach, the five-star Kentucky commit Khalil Whitney kept it simple.

“Come prepared. Try to dunk the ball as much as possible.”