Other than AAU basketball, a high school state tournament is one of the best places to evaluate talent. The level of competition is good, the lights are bright, the pressure is magnified. What can a prospect do on that stage?
It's an especially good time to scout sophomores.
They're reaching the end of their first full season playing legitimate varsity minutes, for the most part. You can get a decent sense of their potential before they try to drum up attention on the grassroots circuit.
Several Class 4A sophomores showed promise during Wednesday's quarterfinals:
Ryan Riggs, Dowling Catholic
Of the top 2021 prospects playing Wednesday, Riggs "looked the part" the most. The 6-foot-8 power forward showed great flashes during Dowling Catholic's loss to Waukee.
He was active on defense and never got stuck in cement. He worked hard inside and grabbed six rebounds — three on offense. He moved well in pick-and-roll action, and he used crafty footwork for a reverse lay-up under the basket.
Of course, Riggs isn't there yet. He's got a long way to go. Waukee senior Dylan Jones reminded him of that with his game-high 18 points.
But he doesn't need to be there yet. Even the highest-rated sophomores have room to grow. The most important thing is if a sophomore shows real promise, and Riggs does. His best sequence came in the first half, when he stayed down through a Jones shot fake, forced a miss and snatched the ensuing rebound away from Jones. Plays like that will catch a college coach's eye.
"He’s got a natural skill set with his ability to handle it and his ability to shoot it," Maroons head coach Mike O'Connor said. "I don’t think he realizes, sometimes, how good he can be. Once he realizes that and gets a little bigger and a little bit stronger, he’s going to be a real problem for people."
Riggs averaged 12.2 points and 5.3 rebounds this season. In terms of college interest, he visited Iowa State for the TCU game in February. There's not much more than that, and that's largely thanks to an injury that kept Riggs out all of AAU ball last summer. He's still relatively unknown.
That could change soon, when a hopefully healthy Riggs hits the AAU circuit.
Marcus Morgan, Iowa City West
If I told you a 6-2 sophomore point guard was the primary defender on a 6-5 power forward signed to a mid-major school, how many points would you guess that power forward would score?
On Wednesday, the answer was 12 points.
Iowa City West's Marcus Morgan, with help from teammates down low, held future Northern Iowa Panther Noah Carter to 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting in Dubuque Senior's win over the Trojans. It was Carter's third-lowest scoring output of the season.
"I’m a good defender. I believe that," Morgan said. "I have some length and I think I’m strong enough to sit in there and bang with them a little bit."
Before this week, I'd seen plenty of Morgan — just not on a basketball court.
He's also a star pitcher and quarterback for the Trojans, and he has serious college interest in both baseball and football.
In basketball, he said he's mostly getting letters from UNI. That's where his brother, Jeremy Morgan, played from 2013 to 2017; his sister, Mikaela Morgan, currently plays as a senior; and where his other sister, West senior Cailyn Morgan, will play next year.
Morgan scored five in the loss to Senior and averaged 7.4 points this season on 52.2 percent shooting (39.3 from 3-point range).
Those aren't gaudy stats. But combine Morgan's shooting with his rock-solid defense and basketball pedigree, and you've got a kid who deserves a look.
Morgan said he'll run with All Iowa Attack this AAU season. Again: He has a potential college future in baseball and football, too, and that could impact how his basketball recruitment unfolds.
Pair from Waukee
A couple more 2021 guys from the Waukee-Dowling game:
Tucker DeVries couldn't buy a bucket Wednesday. The son of Drake head coach Darian DeVries remained active on the glass, though, and grabbed nine rebounds. He also played good defense. He'll need to get quicker over the next couple of years, but with 6-5 length and a 40-plus percent 3-point stroke, DeVries logically projects as a 3-and-D wing right now. He had the defense part of the equation down against Dowling, and bad shooting days happen. Onto the next game.
Payton Sandfort is a 6-6 shooting guard who also boasts a 40-plus percent 3-point shot. I got to see plenty of long balls when he played at the PrepHoops Top 250 Expo in October. I hadn't seen him since then, though, and his length at the 2-guard position — and especially how he used it on the glass — stood out Wednesday.
Matthew Bain covers recruiting, Iowa/Iowa State athletics and Drake basketball for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.