THE IRON SHARPENS IRON 2025 INVITATIONAL WILL BE RAN AS AN EVALUATION SHOWCASE WITH THE TOP 8TH GRADE TALENT IN THE STATE, WITH A TOUCH OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA FLAVOR, SET TO COMPETE WITH THEIR CLUB TEAMS IN AN ULTRA-COMPETITIVE EVENT DESIGNED TO BRING OUT THE BEST IN THE TOP TALENT AND PUSH THEM. ALL TEAMS AND PLAYERS WILL BE EVALUATED BY ‘THE SHOW BASKETBALL’ AND WILL BE COVERED BY SOME OTHER LOCAL MEDIA OUTLETS. LET’S GET IT!
THE EVENT WILL BE HOSTED AT SAGU AMERICAN INDIAN COLLEGE. THE ADDRESS TO THE VENUE IS 10020 N 15TH AVENUE IN PHOENIX, AZ 85021. PLEASE PARK AT THE BOTTOM OF THE HILL, AS IT IS THE EASIEST WAY TO COME AND GO FROM THE GYM. IF YOU ARE NOT COACHING OR PLAYING, PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU ARE WEARING A MASK AT ALL TIMES INSIDE THE GYM. EVERYBODY WHO ENTERS THE GYM WILL NEED TO PASS A TEMPERATURE CHECK AS WELL.
ENTRANCE TO THE EVENT WILL BE $15 FOR ADULTS, $10 FOR STUDENTS (WITH ID) AND $5 FOR KIDS 5 & YOUNGER AND YOUR BAND WILL COVER YOU FOR THE DAY.
BELOW IS THE SCHEDULE FOR THE EVENT AND IT WILL BE UPDATED AFTER EVERY TWO GAMES WITH SCORES THROUGHOUT THE EVENT THRU THIS SAME LINK.
Eduprize Prep is brand new to the Grind Session this season, with their first games coming in the Arizona Bubble and headed by Program Director and Head Coach Christian Polk. Possibly his most recruited and productive player is 6-foot senior guard Justus Jackson, who has hit the ground running in his first five games on the Grind, averaging
Jackson spent the first three years of a very successful high school career at Millennium High School (Goodyear, AZ), helping lead them to the playoffs as a freshman and a state title appearance as a sophomore and junior. Combined with a successful AAU career, Jackson picked up Division-I offers from Montana State, UC-Riverside, Montana, Pacific, Southern Utah, Portland, North Carolina A&T, Pepperdine, and GCU.
Justus has adjusted fast to the pace of play and intensity of the Grind Session. There is no high school basketball platform like it. The day-in and day-out competition and talent level is something that is not made for everybody. You have to be built of something a little different to compete at this level every time you take the floor. Jackson has done that, averaging 22.1 points and 4.2 assists per game for his Eduprize Eagles.
He has been a shining light for a team getting acclimated to this circuit. He has formed a super-talented backcourt with 6-foot-2 junior Devontes Cobbs, a good compliment to each other’s game.
Jackson and Eduprize will be back at it tonight at 7:30pm against Bella Vista Prep. On Thursday night they will take on Balboa School (CA) and SoCal Academy on Saturday at 2:00pm.
Few have impressed in the first Grind Session Bubble than West Oaks’ 6-foot-5, 210-pound wing Justin Neely (Miami, FL). He has been one of the better 2-way players on the Grind thus far with a nice mixture of size, strength and versatility. On the offensive end, he could hit the jumper from any spot on the court and has the strength and size to finish inside amongst the trees. On the defensive end he can guard 4 positions on the floor, even at this level of play.
When you watch him you get the sense he can be the same exact player in any program in the country, rather that be at the high or mid-major level. A consummate 3-and-D guy with a high understanding of team defense and playing within a system.
Thus far, Neely holds offers to Rice, Temple, VCU, UTSA and Washington State with his phone still ringing since arriving in the Valley for the Grind Session’s First Bubble. Thus far through 6 games he has averaged 16.5 points, 7.5 boards, 2.3 assists and close to a steal per game against the most talented high school basketball platform in the country.
Neely made the decision to transfer to West Oaks to play for Head Coach Kenny Gillion and join the Grind Session circuit amidst the pandemic that is threatening the high school basketball season in Florida. Neely couldn’t have made a better decision, displaying what he does so well on a high level against top-notch competition is sure to set the table for the meal he wants to eat. He wants to not only get to the next level, but be ready when he gets there, wherever that may be.
Justin appears to be a little ahead of his years when speaking to him. He is very in-tune with what he wants out of this game and out of life. He wants to find a basketball program that he can call home long after he dribbles his last basketball in their jersey and find a team that he can bond with, players and coaches alike. He will major in business, in some capacity, when he gets to college. But business will be no new thing to Neely, as he is already a partner in a company with his father, Damond Neely, making and selling breathable masks. And before you think that he may just be in the backyard sewing together some fabric like so many pop-up shops you see in the middle of the mall, think again. One conversation with Justin about the business and he will break down to you the simple science about the product. About what they offer over your run-in-the-mill mask you can buy at any convenience store these days. I must say, it is an impressive conversation, coming from such a young man about such an important issue we are dealing with as a country.
His mother, Rosa Neely, is the Director of Communication at the University of Miami back home, so education is a big part of Justin’s upbringing and future. That is reflected in his impressive 4.0 GPA.
Neely is thoroughly enjoying his experience on the Grind so far, citing “the Grind Session is for real hoopers. If you aren’t serious, this isn’t for you. Every night you see top-level competition and it is the closest thing you will get to college basketball.”
Welcome to the Grind, Justin Neely.
I am from Phoenix, Arizona. I take a lot of pride in my city, the city that raised me and made me, me. I grew up playing in parks all around the Valley and random gyms wherever we could find a court to run 5’s.
When I watch AZ Compass Prep’s 6-foot-4 senior point guard Ty Ty Washington, it makes me genuinely proud to see a kid that embodies this City and carries the town on his shoulders. For anybody that is from here they know what Ty Ty has done every step of the way before he became a national name that has began to garner a lot of attention as an NBA prospect. For those that haven’t, welcome to the party!
Washington transferred into AZ Compass Prep last year at the beginning of their Grind Session season. He joined a very talented team under Head Coach Ed Gipson, and eventually found his footing within the team and program. By the end of the season it was very apparent, this was Ty Ty’s team.
The maturation of Ty Ty is something so many people can relate to. A kid from the Southside of Phoenix that worked his ass off and grinded and learned and studied. You will be hard pressed to find anyone in the country that will outwork him. You will be as hard pressed to find a smarter basketball player.
Coach Ed Gipson is a basketball DUDE through and through. A former Divison-I coach that has fell in love with his position as the Head Coach as one of the top teams in America. So it is the ultimate compliment when you hear Coach Gipson asking Washington, “what are you feelin’ Ty? What are you seeing?” It’s the trust factor that a Head Coach has in his point guard, his captain, the extension of himself on the floor.
The man that makes most of this work on and off the court is Program Director Pete Kaffey. A very well-known name in basketball circles. The guy that walks in the gym and you instantly know who he is, even if you don’t know the face. He’s a worker. A man that lives on the phone and has dedicated his life to building this program and this team. He eats, sleeps and dreams of what this AZ Compass Dragon program can be. Constantly growing and improving with his eyes on the present and his mind on the future.
The man behind the scenes is Zyzick Owens. An educator by nature with a true interest in these young men’s life and the man who see’s this programs worth as a brand and a staple of the Arizona basketball culture.. This is not just a basketball team to Owens, but a way of life. A visionary who see’s AZ Compass Prep as a game-changer in the basketball community.
To be around this program is enlightening. You see the passion and the dedication with everyone involved. From school administration to the coaching. From the training team to the parents that don’t miss a beat. That energy transfers to the players. Assistant Coach Jeremy Pope spent years on the elite AAU-circuit before joining the University of Washington coaching staff. He plays a vital role in this teams developmental success.
Washington is one of five Arizona natives on this team. 6-foot-6 senior wing Isaiah Broady, 6-foot-10 junior big man Duke Brennan, 6-foot-3 junior guard Nate Pickens and 6-foot-5 junior guard Mekhi Mason round out the rest of the local-based roster.
6-foot-6 senior guard/wing Alden Applewhite finds himself in Chandler, Arizona after leaving his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Applewhite can shoot it from deep with anyone in the country. A crafty lefty with a game that could land him on an NBA roster for awhile one day. Such a versatile weapon on the offensive end and always seems to be in the right place on the defensive end that gets one of the more athletic teams in the country out on the run.
6-foot-1 senior combo guard Javon Small made his way to AZ Compass Prep from Indianapolis, Indiana. A primary two-way guard that defends at a high level and can fill it up on the offensive end. A capable shooter that can get downhill with the best of them and has the athleticism to finish amongst the trees.
6-foot-6 senior Glenn Taylor Jr is not far from home as a Las Vegas-native. The built-ford-tough wing that has proved himself to be one of the better defenders on the West Coast. A solid workhorse with athleticism and a knack for strong finishes.
This team is as deep as any team in America. A squad that can throw out two separate starting 5’s that will all eventually end up at Division-I universities. They platoon a trio of 6-foot-10 plus bigs with Brennan, junior Adrame Diongue and sniper Dane Erikstrup. London-native, senior wing Josh Udaje brings highlight-worthy athleticism and tireless energy.
The Arizona Compass Prep Dragons are the only unbeaten team on the Grind Session in the first Arizona Bubble thus far, amassing a 5-0 record thus far with wins over West Oaks (FL), Prolific Prep (CA), Veritas Prep (CA), US Basketball (OR) and a thrilling overtime win over Dream City Christian (AZ). They will play their last game of the first part of the Arizona Bubble in a showdown against host-program, PHHoenix Prep, a very hot team in their own right.
The program and brand that is Arizona Compass Prep has garnered mass amounts of social media attention and became a staple for college basketball coaches to recruit out of. And with all this, still they continue to grow. To want more. To be the best in the country, from all aspects. Simply put, they are BUILT DIFFERENT!
The Grind Session opening has been nothing short of a talent-filled, intense battleground thus far in the first Arizona Bubble at the PHHacility. The competition has been displayed at such a high level.
Veritas Prep’s 6-foot-4 senior guard Malik Thomas has been at the forefront of that. A strong combo guard that just may be one of the better downhill scorers in the nation. An explosive first step mixed with size and strength and good athleticism makes him such a dangerous offensive weapon. And when that shot from the outside is falling, he is about as unguardable as they come.
He is tough. He welcomes and absorbed contact as good as anyone I have seen. He has a strong handle and a nice little pull-up game that puts the polish on the paint of this muscle-car of an automobile that is Malik Thomas.
Through his first three games on the Grind, he has looked terrific. As good as just about anybody in the first bubble. US Basketball Academy (OR), Bella Vista Prep (AZ) and West Oaks (FL) have all felt the force of Thomas already. They are 2-1 in the bubble thus far, after dropping a narrow 3-point loss to West Oaks last night.
During the middle of the pandemic, Thomas committed to Head Coach Andy Einfield and the University of Southern California. After all, it was a school he dreamt of playing for growing up as a Los Angeles native. And while getting an offer and committing to such a nationally-respected program is nothing short of impressive, it is far from the end of where Malik wasn’t his journey through the game of basketball to end.
Like many young and talented hoopers, his dreams extend to aspiring to play in the NBA. However, if you were ever to sit down and ask this young man why that is his dream, you should get a sense that it goes a little deeper for him. He works hard to push himself to be the best version of himself with this dream in his head every single day, every drill, every practice, every game. He will not “run from the smoke.” He wants to square up against the best guards in the country. The guards that are ranked ahead of him in most of the nationally-recognized networks. It’s the main reason he made the jump to the Grind Session with Veritas.
“I wanted to play on a stage where I was getting pushed and tested every game. I wanted to play in something that was going to get me ready for the PAC-12.”
After all, that may be the biggest asset for most players on this Grind Session circuit. Most players on every roster will play Division-I college basketball within the next couple of years. There are no games where you are playing against someone that will be lucky to still be playing in a men’s league at 22 years old. This level is not for the weak. It is not for players that don’t have some serious ambitions thru this game. It is for players that eat, sleep and breathe basketball. Players like Malik Thomas.
If you ever talk to Malik about something other than the game, the first thing he wishes to talk about is FAMILY! He comes from a tight-knit one that is founded and so reliant on morals, love and faith. A god-fearing family that attends church regularly and instills prayer and the belief in God’s plan for you. A family that usually holds the holiday cookouts. Coach Enfield might want to give a special thanks to both of his parents, Stanley and Niema, for home-cooking that Malik can not imagine spending any extended time without. His mother’s homemade meals were a driving force in his decision to stay close to home for college and it is said that his father’s gumbo could be some of the best in the state of California. (Side note: next time I am in LA, I’m going to need some of that gumbo, Pops).
You get a sense they have a very fulfilling family. One made up of 5 kids in all. His big sister, Niah, attended the University of Arizona for college and now works at Google. So visiting his big sister while she was in school was his first introduction to Arizona, as they family would use the visits to see Niah as a family vacation.
Basketball was not always the path for Malik. Football and the running back position seemed to be his calling at a young age. But a true underlying passion for basketball and his Uncle Jason turned him into one. Malik, like many kids who grow at a young age, usually got put at center and was forced to play out of position a lot. But his Unc put him in the gym and worked hard with him to develop him into a guard. From there it took off for him. Malik played his freshman season of AAU with Earl Watson Elite (better known as West Coast Elite now). For his sophomore season he made the jump to the Adidas Gold Gauntlet to play for the Compton Magic. His stock rose higher and higher. 247 Sports has Malik ranked number 82 in America, and the #18 shooting guard. He held offers to Arizona and Washington, among others.
His jump to Veritas was no coincidence. Thomas had a relationship with Head Coach George Zedan from his younger days with West Coast Elite, where Zedan coached AAU basketball. And he is grateful he made that relationship with his coach. One talk with him and you will get how much he appreciates his coaches, how much he wants to be pushed and how much he loves being around this team they have assembled at Veritas. He knows how hard Coach Zedan can be to play for because he challenges his players at a high level and holds them accountable. But at the end of the day, he senses it is always out of love and because he truly wants you to succeed.
As much as he loves playing the game with his teammates, he appreciates their bond and time off the floor together just as much. Usually they are having NBA 2K battles, where Malik claims to dominate using his favorite player in todays game, Damian Lillard.
I don’t know where Malik’s journey will end up. But I know I will be cheering hard for this outstanding young man and player from afar.
Malik Thomas and Veritas Prep’s next game will be Sunday, November 8th against Eduprize Prep (AZ)