Few want to face Impact Elite on the state’s grassroots circuit, as their team runs counter to the star-reliant AAU model and for years has been taking apart bigger-named programs and their sexier recruits. Add the Mustangs (Woodruff) to the list of victims, as Grand Rapids-based Impact Elite beat the Flintcentric squad going away in the 17U final of the Camp Darryl/Bankhoops.com Classic Sunday in Kalamazoo. It was consecutive crowns for this group, as they won the 16U title in 2014.
What makes Impact Elite’s success particularly enjoyable is that it comes amidst a 2016 class full of players who left success at smaller programs only to find that the grass isn’t necessarily greener with the “name” teams. But there’s certainly some dirt on the lawn. IE’s core group has stayed together for years. They don’t have much height, there are no D1 prospects, but don’t confuse that with hard-to-watch basketball. They’re well-coached by Ryan Stevens (the coach at Grandville Calvin Christian the past 18 seasons) and Steve Harvey (the former coach at Forest Hills Northern for 14 seasons); share the basketball; and can all shoot. Given Impact Elite’s egalitarian ethos, there was no tournament MVP selected from the winning team. Here’s who did made the 17U all-tournament team:
- CDBA/Bankhoops.com Classic 17U MVP: NA
- Aquavius Burks 6-3 Jr Mustangs (Flint Beecher)
- Zack Niewkoop 6-7 So West Michigan Lakers (Wayland)
- Martell Phillips 6-2 Jr JDIA (Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills)
- Kyle Woodruff 6-2 Jr Mustangs (Holly)
Impact Elite’s most intriguing prospect 6-5 junior Spencer Peterson, an athletic while big-bodied inside-outside matchup dilemma who didn’t play last season for NorthPointe Christian after transferring from Forest Hills Northern. He forms what amounts to IE’s post pair along with Keegan George. The physical, high-motor 6-3 junior from Spring Lake shared the court with a similarly sized and skilled prospect from the Mustangs in the final, Flint Beecher’s Aquavius Burks. Impact Elite surrounds those playmaking forwards with small college combo guards Forest Hills Northern junior Steve Harvey, Grandville Calvin Christian junior Braden Stevens, Hudsonville junior Riley Costen; all-around Rockford guard Andy Heider; and athletic junior guards who will likely be more heavily recruited in football, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer’s DeAndre Oakes-Owens and Calvin Christian’s Tony Dewitte.
Joining Burks from the Mustangs on the all-tournament team was 6-2 Holly junior Kyle Woodruff. Even when on Friday night ACB/Bank Hoops held him without a 3 for the first time of his AAU career, Woodruff showed his expanded offensive game able to get things going from the line and offensive rebounds. Martell Phillips didn’t play last season at Ottawa Hills. The Harden Beard Jr. Class played so hard it was like he was trying to fit those 20 missed opportunities into one weekend tournament. Phillips led at upstart Just Do It Again squad that opened bracket play with a resounding upset of ACB/Bank Hoops en route to the semifinals. Another JDIA standout was 6-4 Hudsonville junior Adam VanLaar. He’s evolved from an athlete who played hard, to a true wing who can shoot or drive.
The final all-tournament team pick was West Michigan Lakers 6-7 sophomore Zack Niewkoop from Wayland. While he doesn’t have the bulk we’ve come to expect of Lakers big men, Niewkoop instead brings energy, bounce, up-and-unders, put-backs and a hard cover for bigger posts. Despite playing up, doesn’t play young. The Lakers’ top 2016 prospect is Ben Ritsema a 6-4 junior from Zeeland East. In Ritsema, Coach Mickey Cochran’s successor with the Chix will inherit a bouncy 2/3 with the wingspan to impact on D, dunk finishes and a three-point stroke. Looks like the kind of athlete who is just getting started.