Above The Rim: Grind Session World Championship

After spending the weekend at The Grind Session World Championship in Owensboro, Kentucky, Whistle 2 Whistle got one last look at Grind Session teams as they concluded their respective seasons. In a four-day, single-elimination tournament, Grind Session teams battled it out to be dubbed World Champions.

It was a star-studded event, featuring names such as Aspire Academy’s five-star center Charles Bassey and rising junior De’Sean Allen-Eikens. Also playing in the tournament was Hillcrest Prep’s five-star sophomore Kyree Walker and Prolific Prep’s McDonald’s All-American Jordan Brown. Bella Vista’s Terry Armstrong, Athlete Institute’s Luguentz Dort, and Orangeville Prep’s Ignas Brazdiekis were other highly ranked and notable players that took the floor.

In what was an unbelievable weekend of basketball, with an enormous amount of talent in one gym, Victory Rock Prep (FL) beat out Aspire Academy (KY) for the championship. Throughout the tournament, teams relied on depth to push them through to the next round, allowing some players to step up and elevate their game, thus earning them a spot on Above The Rim.

Rick Issanza – Bella Vista Prep (AZ) – Class of 2019 – Center

At 7’1″, Rick Issanza obviously has the size to catch the eye of opposing teams. Only playing basketball for two years, he’s been a project for the Bella Vista staff that is clearly paying off after his performance at The Grind Session World Championship.

In two games at the World Championship, he recorded 18 points and 13 rebounds, with 13 of his 18 points coming in game one. He was able to score the ball off offensive rebounds and alley-oops over smaller defenders, showing to have good hands for his size. With improvement on his footwork and low-post offense, Issanza could be one of the most highly sought after prospects at his position next season. Defensively, he blocked four shots in two games, utilizing his length to be a rim protector, and grabbed the bulk of his rebounds on that side of the ball.

Denver Jones – Tennessee Prep (TN) – Class of 2020 – Combo Guard

Jones is a high IQ sophomore for Tennessee Prep that stepped up big for his team with the absence of star junior guard Antavion Collum. He recently reclassified to the 2020 class after transferring to Tennessee Prep from Buckhorn (AL), and has taken full advantage, picking up an offer from Western Kentucky almost immediately upon his arrival at his new school.

The 6’3″ guard has already caught the attention of a few Division 1 schools, but still doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his ability to score the ball. Being ousted in the first round, Jones was only able to showcase his skills for one game, but finished with a stat line of 17 points and 11 rebounds. He relentlessly attacked the rim and displayed great creativity in the way he was able to flip shots over taller defenders. His bulky frame and strength also allowed him to finish through contact when attacking the basket and he even stepped out to knock down a deep three from behind the arc. Jones played with a high motor defensively, almost to a fault at points where he was caught gambling in the passing lane, but made up for it with his effort on the boards. He seemed to be in the mix on every shot that came off the rim and crashed well to finish with 11 rebounds.

Tyrieke Blakeney – West Oaks Academy (FL) – Class of 2019 – Combo Guard

Blakeney was instrumental in helping his team to the quarter-finals of the World Championship, especially in their first round overtime win over Athlete Institute (CAN). He was a great scoring compliment to star junior guard Tyrell Jones and was a vocal leader for his team in their two-game run.

Blakeney hit shots from all over the floor at the World Championship, as he proved to be a threat from deep, mid-range, and scored points attacking the basket. In game one, Blakeney exploded for 22 points to help his team pick up the win. He shot 8 of 15 from the field and 2 of 5 from behind the arc in that game, scoring most of his points attacking the rim off the dribble and pulling up from mid-range. In his second and final game of the tournament, Blakeney scored 15 points and shot 2 of 6 from behind the arc, while also grabbing 6 rebounds in quarter-final loss to eventual champions, Victory Rock Prep (FL).

Stephan Gabriel – Hillcrest Prep (AZ) – Class of 2019 – Wing

Stephan Gabriel entered the World Championship unknown to most in the gym as this was his first appearance with Hillcrest Prep, but he had everyone on notice after his big second game performance.

After scoring 14 points and grabbing 4 rebounds in a game one win over Lincoln Academy (GA), Gabriel showed up in a big way for his team against Aspire Academy (KY). Gabriel came off the bench for 26 points in his second game, displaying an elite amount of athleticism as he brought down the house with a posterizing dunk in transition. Already stronger than most at his position, he used his size advantage to score most of his points around the basket, shooting 10 of 13 from the field. He even stepped out to the three-point line and knocked down his only long-range attempt of the tournament. Gabriel also recorded 2 rebounds and 3 assists in the game.

Jawaun Newton – Aspire Academy (KY) – Class of 2018 – Combo Guard

Another player who debuted on The Grind Session was Aspire Academy’s Jawaun Newton. The recent addition from Texas played a big piece in Aspire’s run to the championship game before losing to Victory Rock Prep (FL) in the finals.

After struggling in game one, also his first game with the Aspire Academy team, Newton found his confidence and proved to be a serious scoring threat on a team with a limited bench. Against Hillcrest Prep (AZ), Newton scored 11 points and shot 2 of 8 from three-point range, while also grabbing 5 rebounds in the game. In his next game, against Our Savior Lutheran (NY), Newton scored 9 points and hit one three-pointer, but his effort on the defensive end was instrumental in helping Aspire pick up the victory and move on to the championship game.

During that game, Newton also took the hardest spill I saw all season after a scramble for a rebound left him awkwardly in the air before falling hard enough that his head bounced off the floor. Despite the frightening spill, Newton never came out the game and displayed a great amount of heart and toughness. In his final game, the championship matchup against Victory Rock Prep (FL), Newton again delivered a 9 point effort, this time knocking down two three-pointers. His athleticism allowed him to get up and over opposing players on the defensive end of the floor, as he fished with another 5 rebound effort.

Kolton Mitchell – Victory Rock Prep (FL) – Class of 2019 – Point Guard

In the same building his father won a championship in college, Victory Rock Prep’s Kolton Mitchell had a great showing in his four games on the way to a World Championship.

In a convincing game one victory over Trinity International (NV), Mitchell was the second leading scorer on the team as he chipped in 11 points. Most of those came from Mitchell attacking the rim in transition, where he has become noticeably more aggressive throughout the season, and he also knocked down his only three-point attempt. He found ways to get it done all over the floor, as he also tallied 3 rebounds and 4 assists in the game. In his second game, this time picking up a quarter-final victory over West Oaks (FL), Mitchell finished with 12 points. Again, he attacked well in transition and got to the free throw line where he knocked down all three of his attempts and went 1 of 2 from three-point range to add to his total.

In the semi-final matchup against Prolific Prep (CA), Mitchell’s scoring effort fell off, but he made a ton of hustle plays down the stretch to seal the victory. He finished with 4 rebounds, one of which was an offensive rebound off a missed free-throw attempt in a tight game that gave his team another opportunity at the stripe and extended his team’s lead to a two-possession game with little time left on the clock. He also dished out 4 assists in that game and proved to be a willing passer all weekend. Again, struggling to get things going offensively in the championship game against Aspire Academy (KY), Mitchell continued to be the glue guy for his team on their way to the win. Diving on 50/50 balls, hustling for long rebounds, and starting the break were just a few of the things that didn’t show up on his stat line, but were big pieces in getting his team going throughout the game.

Jonathan Dos Anjos – Victory Rock Prep (FL) – Class of 2018 – Wing

The unsigned senior wing really played more of a two-guard position for Victory Rock Prep in The Grind Session World Championship, but he was his team’s most electric player all weekend and made big plays to give his team a spark when needed.

Dos Anjos opened the tournament with his worst scoring effort all weekend, only tallying 4 points in the easy victory over Trinity International (NV), but showed up big for his team on the boards as he grabbed 9 rebounds in the win. From there, the extremely athletic guard/wing improved from his last game, getting his scoring total up to 8 points in the quarter-final victory over West Oaks (FL). He attacked the rim with little regard for opposing players and looked for contact on the drive, where he scored 4 of his 8 points from the stripe. Dos Anjos also recorded 5 rebounds in the second round win.

Against Prolific Prep (CA) in the semi-finals, Dos Anjos struggled to get the offense going, only scoring 7 points, but was a key piece in helping his team advance to the World Championship final. In that game, against Aspire Academy (KY), Dos Anjos turned his best performance of the tournament, recording 16 points and 9 rebounds. He got things going from the jump, as he scored his team’s first field goal on an and-one dunk that was the highlight play of the tournament. Throughout the event, Dos Anjos displayed elite athleticism and a high-motor, which shows with his rebounding efforts, and was another key piece in helping his team recapture the title of World Champions.

Honorable Mention

Bryan Greenlee – The Rock (FL) – Class of 2019 – Point Guard

Daishen Nix – Trinity International (NV) – Class of 2020  – Point Guard

Devan Cambridge – Believe Sports Academy (TN) – Class of 2019 – Shooting Guard

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