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HoopHall Highlights: Top performances from Saturday's action

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Springfield, Massachusetts has been offering glimpses into thefuture of basketball since James Naismith put some peach baskets ona YMCA wall in 1891. Every MLK weekend, the town gives us anotherin the form of the HoopHall Classic, where dozens of the besthigh-school players in the country descend on Blake Arena.

The HoopHall Classic is also one of three high-school showcasesthis season that was given the green light for NBA scouts toattend. It's a prime opportunity for the elite talents to separatethemselves from the pack — or for less heralded names to putthemselves on the map.

I checked into the arena at noon and spent 11 hours inside,sticking around until the penultimate contest. These standouts,among many others, caught my eye:

Boys — IMG Academy (FL)61, Newton (GA) 52

Khani Rooths, IMG Academy —A2024 wing, Rooths' impact on IMG's win far outshone his box score(11 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists). The 6-foot-6 wing kept the ballmoving with some savvy passing versatility, making the right skipreads and interior decisions. He went 2-for-3 beyond the arc andseemed more comfortable spotting up and passing from a standstillversus attacking off the dribble.

Rooths also defended Newton star Stephon Castle for largeportions of the game and made the 5-star guard's life prettychallenging. He can slide with relative success and deal withphysicality without fouling. Rooths, a 4-star guard who isuncommitted, fits in all sorts of contexts and is a player who canthrive with today's direction of basketball.

Marcus Whitlock, Newton—Whitlock was one of the early head-turners of theweekend. He's a 6-foot-2 guard who plays with relentlessconfidence. The senior only made 4-of-12 threes but looked poisedshooting off movement and spot-up attempts, finishing with 22points.

He's not a half-court creator, but Whitlock did get chances torun and finish at the rim in transition. He also dove for looseballs on defense and wound up with three steals. Whitlock isn'tranked by most sites and hasn't chosen a school yet, so this effortmight have put him on some college radars.

Girls — Sierra Canyon(CA) 67, Sidwell Friends (DC) 55

The legend of Juju Watkins at Sierra Canyoncontinues to grow, as well.She missed a big stretch of the first half after tweaking herankle, went down for a few moments again late on, and still put up29/14/5/3/3 in 26 mins. Her physicality never wavered either.Generational. https://t.co/VGuq1TuqcT pic.twitter.com/wVUIgv0fHd

— Wilko (@wilkomcv) January 14, 2023

Juju Watkins, Sierra Canyon — The No.1 senior in the country had the performance of the day. Watkinsmissed time twice with injuries to both ankles, but you wouldn'tnotice from her final stat line: 29 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists,3 blocks and 3 steals. (She said postgame that she's feelingalright).

Watkins relished the chance to beat another nationally-rankedopponent and the challenge of matching up against 6-foot-1 juniorKendall Dudley.

"It's definitely an adjustment playing against other players mysize, learning how and when to get to my spots," Watkins toldBasketball News in her postgame presser. "I just had to make thatadjustment mentally, but when I made it, it was easier."

Though Watkins battled for rebounds and showed off limitlessrange, she also demonstrated a unique blend of speeds and gears,often warping time around her defenders and finishing with ateardrop floater. That's one of the young star's newestweapons.

"I worked on it a lot this summer — just learning how to changepace better and get my defender on their heels. I've been workingon that a lot, and I went out there and showed it today," Watkinssaid.

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