Cross-Sport Athletes, Surprise Stories Highlight AAU 16U Nationals

Coach Gregory Wahr's' X-Factor Elite (Clearwater, FL) prides itself on athletes whom others usually sleep on. X-factor's 16U unit is the core of this fledgling program. And in Hunter Hoglund, a 6-foot shooting guard out of Fivay High School in Hudson, Florida (class of 2020), X-factor has its quintessential talent.

"Players like him are one of the reasons we're called the X-Factor," said Wahr, who coaches at Clearwater High School. "People don't think he's a player. He doesn't pass the look test. But by the time opponents (realize that), it's too late."

Hogland's brother, Gunnar, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2018 Major League Baseball draft as a third baseman and a right-handed pitcher.

Watch 16U AAU nationals LIVE on FloHoops!

Six-three, 200-pound shooting guard Max Jones of Clearwater High School is another x-factor. The mobile guard has already attracted Division I college interest.

Wahr entered the AAU realm when he became dissatisfied with the motives of some coaches, who he believed only were out to make money. Led by this group of players, he's trying to carve out a player-oriented outfit.

"My 10th graders, they're the ones who pretty much created this organization," Wahr said. "They're making it better for the kids coming up."

Titans Source Small, Compete Big

The Treasure Coast Titans come from a small place. Based in Martin County, Florida (near Port St. Lucie and 30 minutes outside of Jupiter), coach Kyle Sanders' team is used to playing teams from larger, metropolitan areas.

"It's tough to make the jump (to bigger competition)," said Sanders, a Philadelphia native who played for Texas-Pan American. "The pool of talent is smaller because of the population we have here. We don't have the luxury of a place like Palm Beach, with a larger population and bigger schools. We try to pick the very best kids from three or four high schools."

Despite the area's size, the Titans have held their own with bigger programs, winning the Memorial Classic in Orlando in May.

Jero Brown, a 6-foot, left-handed point guard, leads the team in scoring. Brown and two teammates from Martin County High School, 6-0 shooting guard Matt Davis, and rising ninth-grader Ryan Davis, a 6-3 forward, spearhead the team. Also in the mix is athletic, 6-2 wing Nelson St. Louis (Port St. Lucie High School, class of 2021).

"The one thing about our team is that it's difficult to keep kids together," Sanders said. "That's hard to do in travel ball. For us, it's made it so much easier. When people see us, they can tell we've been playing together."

Future Stars Return After Bronze Finish

Hailing from McAlester, Oklahoma (a town about two hours outside of Oklahoma City), Future Stars Athletics and its coach Will Holiman return to AAU Nationals after reaching the quarterfinals of the bronze bracket last year. Holiman, who also coaches at Lakewood Christian Academy in McAlester, has brought a formidable team that competed in the Dallas Tip-Off and the Southern Brawl among other events.

"We've got a pretty special group," said Holiman, who played point guard at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and previously coached with Dallas Run N' Shoot. "We've looking to make some noise."

Demontra "D.J." Flowers, a dual football-basketball prospect from Putnam City High School, will be one of the keys for Future Stars at 6-2, 235 pounds. Six-three Rodrick White of Lakewood Christian Academy, 6-5 Christian Washington of Ada High School, 6-1 Braden Shaw, and Tre Morris, who'll be a freshman at Tulsa Union High School, will be factors. Holiman's son, Adante', a rising freshman who is already playing varsity basketball at Lakewood Christian Academy, of the Heartland Christian Athletic Association (a collection of private schools in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas — including Sunrise Christian Academy), already made an impact when he played in the event last year.

"We come every year," Will Holiman said. "It's kind of expensive, but we bring all of our programs."

Experienced Coach Leads The Way

The Sparta, Georgia-based Georgia Magic have been here before. Coach Brian Marion's team won the 16U title at nationals in 2012.

"It gives the kids a chance to play in the Milk House," Marion said. "And the thing I like about it is it gives the kids an opportunity to get a scholarship and a get a free education."

The Magic, the Georgia state AAU champions, are led by 5-7 point guard Jamal Taylor (2021), 6-3 shooting guard Leroy Wilson (2021), and 5-8 point guard Treyvion Creyton (2020). Six-three forward Ryan Chapman should also be a factor for the Magic.

Recent alums of the program include Terez Hall, a starting linebacker on the University of Missouri's football team.

For Many, AAU Nationals Is A Bridge To The Future

Out of the New Orleans area, Michael Phillips' Team Xtreme Elite (Madisonville, LA) has made AAU nationals a regular stop. Phillips' team, which reached the semifinals of the Kingwood Tournament in Houston this spring, uses nationals as a springboard for local kids to gain college looks.

"For one, it's the competition," Phillips said. "It's the structure of it. It's a big tournament. Not just a weekend. It's several days. You get to see how other coaches do things with their players (from teams) across the United States."

Edgerrin Cooper, a 6-3 power forward out of Covington High School (class of 2020) is the linchpin for this group. He's joined by 6-3 small forward Will Sheppard, 5-7 ballhandler Jordan Gex, and 5-8 point guard Jaden Phillips—Phillips' son and a rising sophomore who's gaining experience.

"The goal is to get kids recognized on a national level to where you get the players exposure," Phillips said. "Here in Louisiana, when it comes to basketball it's hard to get the players exposed unless you're with a major, elite program. You've got to use AAU nationals as a tool so that players can get a scholarship."

SEMO Brings Together Athletes From Multiple Sports

Coaches Kyle Thoma and Kory Thoma, former players at NAIA Columbia College (Mo.), see their involvement in SEMO Athletic Club Silver, based in Cape Girardeau, MO, as a give-back to the game.

"My brother and I both played college basketball," Thoma said. "I want to give back. Basketball's given me so much."

The brothers started the program when their sons (they have seven sons between them) began playing the game. However, Kyle Thoma believes their involvement in the program will continue beyond their sons' participation.

"I could definitely see myself remaining with the club (after that)," Thoma said.

SEMO Athletic Club Silver will receive support from a balanced roster which includes 6-4 Justice Thoma of Notre Dame High School in Cape Girardeau and 6-5 Cooper Deneke, a noted soccer goalie, of Columbia Rock Bridge High School, one of the best high school teams in the state. 

Six-five Jalen Logan-Redding of Columbia Rock Bridge, who has football offers from the University of Missouri and Notre Dame as a defensive end, is also in the mix.

"We kind of put athletes on this team," Thoma said. "We have a plethora of good athletes."

Thoma's involvement in AAU runs deep. His wife is a former college volleyball player, and at the SEMO Athletic Club, a multi-sport facility in Cape Girardeau which hosts AAU basketball tournaments (among other sporting events), an AAU presence in multiple sports is present.

"We really want it to be an athletic club," Thoma said. "We're going to be very connected to AAU for many years to come."

Don't forget to catch all the 16U AAU action live right here on FloHoops.


Brian Towey is a Queens, New York-based writer covering basketball and track and field. He can be reached at bc_towey@yahoo.com and @BcTowey.

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