Western Pennsylvania has never been known as a consistent hotbed of basketball talent. There have been times when the area has produced a number of quality upper major recruits, but the majority of the time it can be quite lean.
The same can’t be said for the near future. There are a number of quality mid to high major prospect emerging and they are home grown. Three of those players visited Pitt on last week: 6-foot-9 inch 2020 Woodstock (CT) Woodstock Academy forward Tre Mitchell (formerly Elizabeth Forward High School), 6-foot-11 inch 2019 Arden (NC) Christ School forward / center Brandon Stone (formerly Southmoreland High School) and 2019 6-foot-4 inch Hermitage (PA) Kennedy Catholic guard Maceo Austin.
To discuss the recent visit and gain insight into the players, Pittsburgh Sports Now spoke with Director of Bridge City Basketball Nate Perry. Perry is a Hempfield Area graduate, played two seasons at Youngstown State, then transferred and played last two seasons with Seton Hill. He has trained multiple players overseas and has worked at IMG Academy (Bradenton, FL).
“I coach all three players in AAU. I’ve been there with them since the start of their recruiting process,” said Perry. “I coach them in spring and summer with AAU and just do as much as I can with recruiting, communicating with college coaches and getting their name out.”
“We arrived at Pitt around 10:30AM, myself, Brandon, Trey, Maceo and Tom Droney (one of the co-founders of Bridge City basketball). We arrived there, went for a little bit to eat, and toured the facilities and campus. Eventually we went towards the Peterson Events Center and met all of the coach. We got to sit down Coach Kevin Stallings for a bit as well. (Assistant) Coaches Sam Ferry and Kevin Sutton were with us during the entire visit.”
Perry was asked specifically about what was said to the visiting players. It appears that Pitt has legitimate interest in all of them. “Coach Sutton saw the three of them play at the Adidas Summer Championships in Las Vegas last July. When the visit was wrapping up, they said ‘Look, we like all three of you. Coach Stallings, Coach Sutton and Coach Ferry are going to be at their games or practices this fall.’ They said they like what they see,” he said. “If they offer, they want to make more of strong commitment where they’re just not throwing the offer there on the table and saying, ‘We want you’. They want to actually really take notice and get these guys where they keep them in their backyard.”
Perry came away more than impressed with his conversation with Coach Stallings. He was truly appreciative of his desire to work with the local AAU program. “I’ve been doing this AAU thing now for four years and there are great programs out there but it just doesn’t sit well with me personally when some of the top guys leave Pittsburgh to play for another AAU program,” he said. “Even with Pitt, Duquesne and Robert Morris, you see some of your best talent leave. I want to try to change that. If a player has a great opportunity elsewhere, good for them. I still want to make the local opportunity look just as strong. We need to keep the talent in Pittsburgh.”
Perry has coached and develop the trio of players for quite some time. We wanted to gain his perspective on each player. We started with 6-foot-11 inch Alverton (PA) Southmoreland High School product Brandon Stone. The versatile Stone has already received scholarship offers from Penn State, Duquesne, Robert Morris, Youngstown State, Stony Brook, Mount St. Mary’s and Appalachian State. He averaged 25.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks last season. Stone recently transferred to Arden (NC) Christ School. The Christ School has produced a tremendous amount of upper major talent in the past including Duke Blue Devils Mason, Marshall and Miles Plumlee.
“Brandon Stone did not start off playing basketball, organized basketball, until 8th grade. He can shoot the three and runs the floor really, really well. He continues to work on his body,” he said. “His dad is 6-foot-7 inches, 320 pounds and not really fat. He’s just really big-boned guy. So I always tell people right now with Brandon being 6-foot-11 inches and growing eight or nine inches in a year it’s going to take his body time to develop. He’s already athletic but I think he could take it to another level.”
“I always tell people, that I personally feel that Brandon Stone’s best basketball is coming up here. When he gets to college and gets a little bit mature, he needs to work on his strength but I think going to Christ School and getting on the right nutrition program, and being around guys, and a strength coach is going to push him every day to take his game to the next level. Right now, I would say his main position, in my personal opinion, is the stretch four, but I think in a year or two, once he keeps working on his handle and works on his IQ of passing, I really think he’ll end up being a three guard. So you have a 6-foot-10 to 11 inch 3-man that can shoot and can run, doesn’t have Allen Iverson handle but you are not going to take it from him. That’s going to be pretty hard to guard. Once he hits his man weight, puts on another 20-30 pounds, the sky is the limit.”
The next player we discussed was Elizabeth (PA) Elizabeth Forward High School product Tre Mitchell. Mitchell led his team in scoring and rebounding last season. He averaged 17 points and 14 rebounds per game. He averaged 6 assists as well. The 6-foot-9 inch forward has already received scholarship offers from Penn State, Duquesne, Canisius, Central Connecticut, Manhattan, Mount St. Mary’s and Florida International.
“Tre Mitchell is 6-foot-9 inches tall and by far the best passing big that I have ever seen, that I’ve ever been around, or I’ve played with or coached. He is a 4.2 grade point average and wants to go to college for finance. Great IQ, great moves, big, big, big, big body,” he said. “We were at lunch today and Coach Ferry said, ‘That’s what a kid, what Tre looks like is what the high level, high major, big, strong, physical bigs look like. That’s what they look like before they hit that spurt.’ So I think with him just working on his body, getting a little more muscle mass and then his handle and his passing is there. Now he’s starting to step out and shoot the three, which is good. With him going to Woodstock Academy in Connecticut that’s in the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). The NEASC is considered by some one of the best prep-leagues in the United State. So he’ll be going up against Brewster Academy and Tilton School so that will only help him.”
The third and final payer we discussed was 6-foot-4 Hermitage (PA) Kennedy Catholic High School guard Maceo Austin. Austin has received scholarship offers from West Virginia, Duquesne, Penn State, Richmond, St. Jospeh’s, UAB and Akron. He averaged 19.5 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists per game.
“Maceo Austin is a two-time state champion. I would say he’s a born leader. He takes control of the team. There are players that have it and some that don’t. I see that in Maceo. He’s 6-foot-4 inches tall and he was measured at Tennessee Elite Camp with a 6′-foot-10.5 inch wing span. So that’s a plus. He can play one through three, one through four. Not one through four at the high level, no, but one through three definitely. His jump shot has improved drastically since last year, he needs to keep working on that. Maceo needs to keep working on his left hand. He’s very athletic and will dunk on you. He can hit the three as well. He has a great pull up jump shot for his age, he’ll go to that. One thing we’ve really focused on this spring and summer with him is the all round game where he has to guard the best guard on the other team, and we made him.”
“I would say the thing that improved the most on is his defense. He was night in and out in these games and we were playing and he would have to guard the best player and then he ran the point for us this year. So we put a lot on his shoulders but he handled it well. Maceo is going to be returning. He is going to be returning to Kennedy Catholic where he’s won state championships for the past two years. This year he’ll be a junior at Kennedy.”
Did the visit help Pitt’s chances? Perry seemed to indicate that all of the players left with a very favorable view of the Pitt basketball program. Perry replied, “Yes, with everything that kind of went with the new roster coming in and getting that set up for this year. They all were really impressed. I was taking Brandon home, he got in the car and said, ‘I love the coaching staff.’ One thing we know its Pitt. Pitt has run the city for a while. Pitt basketball is big time. I could just tell they were having a good time. They were very excited about Coach Stallings coming to watch them play here in the fall or earlier in the season. If they play well and do what they need to do, I definitely can see them coming here sometime soon.”
Harry Psaros can be found on Twitter at @PittGuru