Travel team profile: Expressions Elite

Although the Expressions Elite program has only been around for a few years, it might be a bit much to call the program an upstart. A year ago, they picked up a deal with Nike to play in the prestigious Elite Youth Basketball League, joining BABC as the only two programs in New England competing there. Expressions Elite made it to the Nike Peach Jam, so they had good success in their first year.

Now comes the big challenge: following that up, especially with a lot of talent moving on to the college ranks. Last year’s sophomore teams didn’t lack talent but seemed to be missing something, and their hope is to rectify that this season. To that end, the program will have a different look in terms of its player origins, as several key newcomers from Connecticut come aboard.

The biggest name among those players is Mustapha Heron (6’4″ So. PG-SG, Waterbury (CT) Sacred Heart HS), an early Pittsburgh commit who is one of the top prospects in the class of 2016. Heron is an athletic power guard who can do a lot of things for this team, and he’ll give them a lot of options. A Connecticut holdover, Jared Wilson-Frame (6’4″ Jr. SG-SF, Windsor (CT) Believe Prep), is built similarly but lacks the additional playmaking ability that Heron has. They will need him to take on a bigger role than he had last year, when he was a complementary player and played that role very well. Arkel Ager (6’5″ Jr. SG-SF, St. Joseph’s HS) will be in the mix on the wing as well.

The big keys to this team are likely to be a pair of 2016 point guards, Ikenna Ndugba (6’0″ So. PG, Boston (MA) Brooks School) and Donovan Love (5’10” So. PG, Cranston (RI) New Hampton School). Both have a world of potential, but will be new to their roles this year in EYBL. They will need to grow up a good deal this spring and summer, which is both a challenge and an opportunity. Ndugba has shown a good ability to run a team, while Love has great physical tools and benefits from now having a season of NEPSAC Class AAA ball under his belt.

The frontcourt is a bit unsettled, but not lacking in talent or potential. Aaron Falzon (6’7″ Jr. SF-PF, Newton (MA) Northfield Mount Hermon) can shoot with the best of them and will be the primary wing for this team while occasionally playing as a face-up power forward. His versatility will be important since it will give them lineup options and make them dangerous when other scorers are out there since he can also pass. Tyrique Jones (6’6″ Jr. PF, Bloomfield (CT) High) might have the most upside of this group, and they’re hoping he starts to harness some of that this spring and summer. Jesse Bunting (6’8″ Jr. PF, Plymouth (MA) Tabor Academy) returns after showing some promise last year with the team, and he should have a bigger role this year. Freanziel Reyes (6’9″ Jr. C, Lawrence (MA) High) has a big body and has shown the potential to be an impact player inside.

It’s not just the EYBL team that will be worth watching this spring and summer. They will have another junior team led by the likes of Isaiah McLeod (6’1″ Jr. PG, Cambridge (MA) Rindge & Latin School), fresh off a big year for his school team, along with Nick Cross (6’2″ Sr. SG, Beverly (MA) High), who led the Northeastern Conference in scoring, and Johnny Hilaire (6’6″ Jr. SF-PF, Lynn (MA) English HS) among others.

The program is also loaded with younger talent. Kimani Lawrence (6’6″ Fr. SF-PF, Providence (RI) Cushing Academy) showed some potential during the school season and could break out this spring and summer. Jermaine Samuels (6’6″ Fr. SF, Franklin (MA) Rivers School) is one of the best players in the Class of 2017 in New England, in part from being a little more advanced physically than many of his peers. They are very deep among ninth graders to the point of having two teams in that age group as well. There is more where that comes from.

Aside from the four EYBL sessions, Expressions will not have to travel far for their spring events. They already played in the Coaches vs. Cancer event (run by Zero Gravity) and was in the Northeast Hoops Festival last weekend. After the EYBL sessions are done, they will play in Rumble in the Bronx and the Hoopville Spring Finale in June, before July consists of assorted camps and a remaining schedule largely to be determined.

Expressions looks primed to continue to grow as a program this spring and summer. If this season’s EYBL team is to match last season’s success, the point guards and frontcourt players need to turn some of their potential into production. It’s a season that starts with less in terms of known quantities, but has the potential to end up with more, and the younger teams will be worth watching as well.

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