The pedal-to-the-metal action of Day One of the NEXT Midwest Kickoff featured some of everything. Dominant bigs, creative guards…and defense. Man was there defense! The intensity was just what you would expect when you bring a bunch of the best young ballers in the Midwest together under one historically significant roof.
Kemper Arena, once the home of the Kansas City Kings, has been the site of the several NCAA Final Fours, and the famous American Royal livestock show. But on Saturday it was the showcase for some talented up-and-comers.
Here are a handful of the most impressive performances from Day One:
Zak Abdalla, guard, West Coast Select 2025 (pictured):
Abdalla was equally impressive in every phase of the game. His defense was game-changing. He played the point of the defense for the Las Vegas-based club, getting his hands on passes and shutting down guards on the perimeter. He stands 6-foot-1 and has the length and anticipation to disrupt everything. With the ball in his hands, he’s got his head on a swivel and pushes the tempo to stay a step ahead of defenses. He broke down the Kansas Gauchos for 20 points and a slew of assists in perhaps the most impressive show of the day.
Lamont Hamilton, guard, Wisconsin Elite 2026:
If Abdalla’s wasn’t the best performance of the day, then it probably was turned in by Hamilton of the Racine-based 13U team. When Hamilton found his team trailing 26-18 late in the first half, he took over the game. And he did it primarily with defense. His lightning-quick feet and hands were an absolute nightmare for MTeague (Indianapolis) guards. He stole so many dribbles and picked so many pockets that he completely turned that game around. Hamilton scored 15 points, but his contribution as a cool floor general on offense and distributor of the ball far exceeds his point total.
Markeith Drane, wing, MTeague 2026:
The 5-foot-10 Drane is versatile and dynamic. He explodes off the floor for balls in the air, and has an easy athleticism. He plays with great effort at both ends, and in various spots on the floor. He is effective in the lane, but also helps with ball handling in the back court. He can really leap, and his quickness is a difference-maker at the defensive end.
KC Prodigy defense:
The 13U KC Prodigy team tormented opponents with their full-court pressure. They are all hands, swiping dribbles and intercepting passes at a demoralizing rate. Some of their guards are very small, but they are relentless and crafty, and they are coached to swarm and attack immediately after the inbounds pass. It helps when you have a great athlete behind you like Devon Childs, who was terrific on the boards.
There was some mature and dynamic ball handling and distribution on display Saturday. Tyus Thomas was super-impressive as the point man for West Coast Select. Brandon Addison was effective taking the ball to the hole for MTeague. Elijah Jones was a crafty and skilled for Porter Basketball Academy. And Oklahoma Dream Elite’s Evan Gunn was eye-opening with his handle and ability to create his own shot on penetration.
The Athletes of MPJ (Michael Porter Junior) 14U Elite:
Even amongst all the long and athletic teams at the NEXT Midwest Kickoff , MPJ stands out. They have got some incredibly long, yet developed athletes who blew out a couple of opponents. Guards penetrate the lane at their peril, because it’s likely they’ll have shots swatted back in their face.