The talent was out and on display at the Down By The River Tourney in Memphis, TN. Curtis Givens put on another great event pulling some excellent teams from as far as Texas. Here are some of the top performers that caught my eye.
Joakim Dodson/ 6’3 / Small Forward / Team Thad 2025 / Memphis University School (Memphis TN)
I have written about JD before, but what I saw at Down By The River left me no choice but to put ink on JD again. Since seeing JD earlier in the spring, he has taken his game to an entirely new level. He is playing with a ton of confidence, and in every game that I saw at DBTR, JD was the best player on the court that he played in. As I have mentioned before, he has all the tools in the toolbox. The confidence that he is playing with is what is separating him right now. He had that bounce to his game that the elite-level players have when they know they can’t be stopped. JD is impacting the game in every facet. One of the games that I watched was against Memphis Bulldogs Elite Powell.
This was the 2nd time that the hometown Team Thad had played in Memphis, and the gym was packed to watch the two Memphis teams go to battle. JD carried the team in the 1st half with 17pts and finished with a game-high 24pts.
JD literally asserted himself in every game that I watched, and after speaking with Coach AJ, he has been doing that quite often as of late. JD finished with a game-high of 13pts in a 61-51 win over Memphis Bulldogs Elite-Shun in the championship game. Opportunities for Growth: As potent as JD is on the offensive end, he still has some things to polish up on. As he continues to improve from behind the arc, he will have to get a quicker release, which may require some minor technique adjustments. As he continues to work on creating separation off the bounce either through utilizing the step-away, step-back, drag foot, etc., to get his shot off, he will continue to elevate his game and his threat as an offensive weapon.
Cooper Zachary / 5’5 / Shooting Guard / Indy Premiere Fam First 2027 / Fall Creek Jr High (Fishers, Indiana )
Ok, I am about to talk about a 2027 kid that was probably one of the top 3 players at DBTR in every classification. I know you might be reading this with a smirk but let me explain. Coop has it all in the toolbox, and he is already working the tools with so much confidence. His swag was off the chart. I literally sat and watched his team about three times as they won the championship at DBTR. Because of their reputation, his team was getting the best shot from every team that they faced that I saw. Watching Coop play as teams came out and fought hard was like watching a veteran play who knew that all he had to do was sustain their best shot. He played with so much poise, and when the time came, I saw him literally take over games.
You name it, Coop can do it, except dunk (yet).
He is a sniper from behind the arc, has crazy handles, sets the tone for his squad, scores at all 3, doesn’t shy away from making the tough plays, plays the defensive end with as much tenacity and grit as he does the offensive end, and I did not see one person at DBTR able to contain Coop. Now I can go on, but you might just have to go and check him out for yourself when his squad is near you. I know there is talk about ceilings, but Coop’s ceiling is nowhere in sight as of yet. Now don’t get me wrong, as a 2027 kid, there are areas of growth. None of us have insight into how much he will grow, so that, as of now, is a factor in the projections that we can not calculate. As Coop continues to grow in the game, his ability to think the game several levels above his competitor will make him even more dangerous. I’m not saying that he doesn’t understand the game now, as he has an outstanding IQ, but let me explain it this way. After a game the other night, the player was asked about his coach’s trust in getting the team in sets and what the coach wanted without the coach having to call the play. The coach was acknowledging the player’s understanding of the game, time and situations, and what his team needed on that possession. This is the type of student of the game that I am challenging Coop to become, cerebral like the late great Black Mamba.
Kevin Savage / 5’2 / Combo Guard / AOT 2026 / Kipp Strive Academy (Atlanta GA)
Kevin may be standing 5’2, but his play was much bigger than that. He is what you are looking for when it comes to the PG spot. One thing that stuck out early to me as I watched Kevin was his high-end decision-making ability in tight quarters and in the open floor. In mid-dribble, he was dropping dimes with 1-hand. His eyes stayed up, and he looked to kick the ball ahead when opportunities allowed. He kept his team in the flow, in which Coach Savage wanted. He is quick off the bounce and has excellent vision. His squad finished 2-2 at DBTR, and Kevin showed a lot of heart in the losses. In a match-up against Campbell Elite (TX), AOT struggled and found themselves down 28-36 with 5:40 left in the game.
Kevin wasn’t going down without a fight as he made some big-time buckets in the crunch, trying to keep his team within distance. He finished with 12pts in the loss.
Kevin is quick off the bounce, showed consistent production throughout DBTR, has vision and accuracy, and is a skilled scoring guard. Areas of Growth: Continue to get stronger as he awaits his growth spurts. Continue to work on creating space to get his shot off against bigger guards.
Kristion Brooks / 6’0 / Small Forward / Louisiana Nightrydas 2026/ Northwestern Middle (Zachary LA)
Kristion, hands down, was one of the best scorers at DBTR. He got it done at every level in a variety of ways. He creates scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates through a creative array of moves to the basket and good vision for his teammates. Kristion has good length and is loaded with versatile tools as he was consistent in his production throughout the tourney. Scoring is the strength of his game, but he showed his ability to impact the game in other areas. He was productive on the boards, and he was able to get his team out in transition by starting the break off of securing the defensive board.
He has solid footwork on the low block, as he posted small defenders and absolutely punished them in the paint.
Opportunities for Growth: Make no mistake about it; we know Kristion can get it done on the offensive end. What I would like to see is a greater focus to be just as impactful on the defensive end as he is on the offensive end. He has the length and ability to be just as good of a defender as he is a scorer.
Gilbert Aluga / 6’4 / Forward / Houston Hoops Blue Chips 2026/ Vandeventer Middle School (Frisco, Texas)
We don’t see many back-to-the-basket players on the low block anymore. So it was exciting to watch Gilbert play at DBTR. He has a great physical profile, was physically imposing at times, embraced physicality, and at times owned the paint. He had some electric moments and set the tone of games with his toughness and grit. G also showed that he could handle the rock and deliver some on-time and on-target passes.
His footwork and ability to finish with both hands around the rim made him difficult to defend in the post.
Early in the tourney, his effort was high, but I believe the pounding in the paint began to take its toll on him as the tourney went on as the bounce he played with early wasn’t there late. Production began to diminish, which leads me to his opportunities for growth. G is going to have to continue in the weight room working on his strength to be able to handle the physical play. Continuing to work on his handles and his perimeter J will enhance his overall play.
Cello Jackson / 5’11 / Point Guard / Campbell Elite 2026/ Faith Heritage Home School (Memphis Tennessee)
The hometown kid was determined to make some noise in his hometown, and he did not disappoint. If I could sum up what I witnessed as I watched Cello over the weekend, it would be that he is a winner. Everything that he does impacts winning. Walking away from DBTR, you are left with how competitive, tough, and aggressive Cello is on the court. He has the physical measurables and a solid frame that made it difficult for smaller guards to deal with on the defensive end. He scores the rock in various ways, and his shooting is steady from all spots on the floor. On a team with a lot of talent, Cello sets the tone for Campbell Elite. He poured in 16pts in the first match-up against AOT, in which Campbell Elite pulled away late, as Cello made some crunch time baskets late in the game to secure the win.
Cello ultimately led Campbell Elite to the championship in the platinum division.
Opportunities for Growth: Decision-making in pick and roll action. Continual IQ development at the PG spot.
Kameron Cooper / 6’0 / Forward / Campbell Elite 2027/ Reynolds Middle School (Prosper Texas)
I was able to watch Kam in action several times, and he was never disappointing. At a young age, he doesn’t shy away from making tough plays. He has good size for his age group and showed flashes of his athleticism. On the defensive end, he challenged and altered many shots in the paint. He makes his presence known on both ends of the court, which I hope he does not lose as he gets older. Often, you see young players start out playing both ends of the court, then fall off on the defensive end as they become prolific as a scorer. Kam’s team played against zone defenses most of the tourney, and he found himself at the high post area quite often. He showed his face-up game in the middle of the zone and attacked the zone’s backline, making teams make adjustments often.
He also showed good vision as the zone collapsed and hit his teammates for open shots.
Kam also stepped out, knocked down the perimeter J, rebounded well, and gave ultimate effort throughout the tourney. He led his team to the Final Four in the platinum division but fell to the eventual champions. Opportunities for Growth: Continue to work on his handles and expand his game out of the paint to the perimeter, being versatile enough to play inside and out.
Down By The River did not disappoint. More standouts are coming.