UPLAY Canada is entering their third season as a member of the 17-and-under Elite Youth Basketball League circuit, and the Ontario-based programs are hoping it’s third times a charm when it comes to securing their first Peach Jam bid. Nate Johnson begins his first year as the program’s head coach, and he’ll have a crop of talented players to work with. The program that housed the talents of NBA rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, upcoming top-five pick RJ Barrett and all-rookie SEC selections AJ Lawson and Andre Nembhard is a well-oiled machine, and the only blemish has been their postseason Peach Jam success. Anything short of a Peach Jam bid would be a disappointment for Canada’s lone EYBL representative this year.
Uplay junior Keon Ambrose (247 No. 75)
UPLAY will deploy a balanced lineup led by junior Keon Ambrose, a 6-foot-8 swingman dripping with potential. Ambrose (247 No. 75) transferred to the International Sports Academy at Andrews Osborne Academy in Ohio for the 2018-19 high school season, a move that allowed him to put ample time and effort into his overall development. Ambrose is a long and lanky athlete with a great feel for the game, and he’s only starting to tap into his potential. Ambrose was extremely impressive at the Basketball Without Borders Camp, and he’ll be looking to parlay that impressive showing into an even bigger outbreak in the EYBL. Ambrose holds a fairly high ranking in his class nationally, but he has a chance to skyrocket up the polls with a strong spring and summer. Ambrose recently visited Tennessee and Xavier in March, and it would be a good bet that he’s not done receiving offers from high major programs. UPLAY will be relying on Ambrose’s production and consistency, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t deliver.
UPLAY doesn’t have the star power of other backcourts on the circuit, but there’s a lot of like about their stable of guards. Jalen Celestine is set to start, and the junior is an impressive looking prospect. Celestine plays a big role for New York City powerhouse Long Island Lutheran, averaging 10.5 points, 3.1 assists, and 3.0 rebounds per game while shooting 45% from three. UPLAY will be leaning on Celestine to continue his winning ways, as helped the 6-foot-5 playmaker helped the Crusaders to a 22-5 overall record and a New York Federation state title. Celestine is a tough, physical guard, and he does a lot of small things that don’t necessarily show up in the box score. UPLAY will primarily rely on Celestine for his defense and play-making ability in the open court.
6-foot-4 guard Taryn Todd will see significant minutes in UPLAY’s backcourt, and the junior enters the circuit as one of the most underrated guards in the EYBL. Todd (247 No. 184) should be well-prepared for EYBL action after a playing a national schedule for prep powerhouse Findlay Prep. Todd is crafty lefty that loves to get to the basket, and his athleticism is EYBL-ready. Todd was frequently scoring in double-figures for the Pilots during the 2018-19 high school season, and Ambrose, Celestine and he should make for an impressive trio - especially on defense.
6-foot-5 combo guard Jahwaun Smith will play an energy role for UPLAY, and the super-athletic combo guard should be well-suited for the 24-second shot clock. Junior guard Alan Spoonhunter provides UPLAY with some good size, and the 6-foot-6 sharpshooting guard is coming off a super-strong 2018-19 campaign for Edge School in Canada’s National Prep Association. The rotation is rounded out by freshman guard Jaden Clayton was added to the roster in early April, and the 6-foot guard is oozing with potential. UPLAY wouldn’t be calling him up unless he’s ready to contribute, and the playmaking point guard should do just that.
Junior guard Okay Djamgouz will play minutes in UPLAY’s backcourt. Djamgouz is a special talent offensively, evidenced by his repeated scoring explosions during the National Prep Association regular season. There is a chance that Djamgouz reclassifies to the 2019 class
Ambrose will be the go-to option on the wing and in transition, and UPLAY is equipped with more underrated frontcourt players. 6-foot-9 big man Josh Hemmings returns from last season’s squad, and the junior is looking to improve on averages of 4.9 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. The lefty will likely play a much bigger role in 2019, and he’ll need to utilize his circuit experience to help bring his teammates up to speed. 6-foot-11 juniors Tre-Vaughn Minott and Johnny Vrdoljak are the two tallest members of the rotation, and both should see their stock rise. Minott provides UPLAY with a big body that runs the court well and rebounds at a high rate, while Vrdoljak offers a more skilled offensive player that needs to work on dealing with extended physicality. 6-foot-10 Peter Moses rounds out the rotation, and the junior did all of the little things during the 2018-19 high school season for developing power Ridley College (CAN). UPLAY will need one either Minott, Vrdoljak or Moses to step up and take their game to the next level. With a guard-heavy squad, don’t be surprised if UPLAY goes small and plays Djamgouz, Smith, and Todd at the small forward position.
UPLAY got off to a 6-3 start a year ago and then proceeded to fade quickly. Another fast start to the season is imperative, as is the strong play of Ambrose and Celestine. They lost three games by three points or less last season, so closing the deal down the stretch will definitely be a point of emphasis for this junior-laded squad. Canada has some awesome things happening in prep basketball right now, and UPLAY will be looking to continue that positive trajectory with their first ever trip to North Augusta.