Mike Cagley, IlliniGuy
May 13, 2022
Last weekend in Dallas three high potential players were on the court at the Who Want the Smoke tournament. Each player has a set of skills that have generated a degree of interest from the Illini staff. On the court, they each displayed strengths that made it understandable why these players have been drawing interest from P5 teams across the country.
JoJo is a 2023 wing who stands 6'7" and has an amazing 7'4" wingspan. Tugler does all the little things one needs to win games. If there's a loose ball nearby, he hits the floor to get it. If there's a long rebound, he's racing to grab it. If there's a need to block out, he does so. It almost seems like he contests every shot that is taken in the zip code he occupies.
Tugler has exceptional anticipation when it comes to help defense. If a player throws an errant pass, or if there's too much air underneath a pass, Tugler is going to go after that pass the way a lion goes after a wounded gazelle. He flushed a couple of dramatic dunks off of bad passes that he turned into points for his Houston Hoops team.
To make his off-ball defense even more fearsome, Tugler is aggressive when a ball handler near him shows Tugler his back. He managed to force two turnovers for scores - one of his own and one for a teammate by stripping point guards who made that mistake.
As an on-ball defender, Tugler has that same intensity - he's as serious as a heart attack when it comes to defense. He has the speed to defend selected point guards and the strength to go in the paint against 5s. He fought hard for rebounds and had two long outlet passes that led to layups as his Houston Hoops team got out to a commanding 18-2 lead against a talented New World team that never threatened in this game.
Tugler gets up and down the court quickly and plays hard enough that he'll actually put a hand up and get himself out of a game so that he can get a quick rest and get back in to play with his trademark intensity. He didn't play many minutes in the second half which allowed the New World team to make the score look respectable, had Tugler been in, the game would've remained a blowout.
On the offensive end, most of his scoring came on fast break attempts, rebound putbacks and slashing drives to the basket. He didn't take a shot outside of 10 feet. Then again, he didn't need to.
He has offers from Kansas State, Houston, TCU, Georgia Southern and Lamar among others.
Pierce is a long 6'9" 2023 wing with the handles to play guard and the excellent vision to go with the ball handling. He was able to rebound, lead the break and dish for the assist. When he decides to drive, he's also very effective at slashing to the basket.
Trent played solid defense. Pierce demonstrated he understands where he needs to be on the floor to help his teammates defensively. Whether it was stopping drives, getting into passing lanes, or grabbing weak side rebounds, Pierce was there to do so.
On the offensive end, the combination of his ball handling and length makes him a matchup problem for opposing defenses. He is quick enough - and more importantly - handles the ball well enough to utilize his speed against slower bigs. If a defender decides to play off of Pierce due to worries of the dribble drive penetration, he easily steps back and hits the three. He hit multiple threes in the game and even under duress he was able to convert on good passes from his teammates.
In talking with his parents, he has offers from Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Loyola Chicago. He's taken a trip to Minneapolis and was excited by his visit there. There are rumblings that Texas and Baylor might get involved as well. Of course, the Illini have recently offered Pierce, too.
Pierce is an excellent two-way player. He's very thin, right now. Were Pierce to come to Champaign to play college basketball, with the Illini Strength and Conditioning Coach Adam Fletcher's tutelage, Pierce could put on weight and become an imposing combination of size and skill for the rest of the B1G to compete against.
Jazz Gardner is a 7'0" 2023 center with a lot of the ball skills you don't see in many bigs.
Against Team Griffin, he demonstrated the ball handling skills that allowed him to drive to the basket and even lead the break. His skills are good enough that his confidence occasionally lured him into trouble that one usually sees guards get into - like trying to break the double team with the dribble. And like many times for guards, it led to a couple of turnovers.
Gardner also showed the ability to get the ball to teammates on offense. He had a quick pass from the elbow to a teammate on the block and an entry pass from the free throw line into the paint that led to easy layup attempts for his teammates. He was also able to outlet the ball deep to an open guard on the fast break. He has the court vision that separates him from many post players.
Gardner also showed the ability to step out and hit the three against top 100 player Brandon Garrison of Team Griffin. His mid-range game was solid and Gardner's foot work was good in the paint.
Gardner has offers from Illinois, Texas Tech, St. Mary's, Georgia, Dayton, Kansas, Arizona State and more.
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