Tuesday, February 2, 2010

High School Hoops and Huggy Bear

Last Wednesday, I told you I was heading to the Primetime Shootout held at Villanova over the weekend. That's exactly what I did, going on Friday and Saturday night with silver fox.

On Friday, the game we went to see was Plymouth-Whitemarsh take on Imotep Charter. When we got there, it was halftime of the Pennington-Pennsbury game, with the score something atrocious like 19-16 Pennington. After watching for about 3 minutes, the small hafltime lead for Pennington turned into a pretty sizable one thanks to Pennington's 6'5" senior Harold Spears.

Spears, who is looking at schools the likes of Penn, Drexel, La Salle, Lehigh, Princeton, Akron and Cornell, seemed like he stole the ball on lazy passes every time down the court and cruised in for a dunk or layup. Then he would throw in a three-pointer or drive for good measure, never even breaking a sweat. Pennington cruised to the victory and Spears was head and shoulders the best player on the court. He was pretty much doing anything he wanted out there. But truthfully, it was hard to gauge just how good he is because he wasn't tested at all. He was so much better than anyone out there that it looked as though he didn't even have to try and he could still dominate. Either way, impressive performance by him.

But that was nothing compared to the performance by the entire Plymouth-Whitemarsh squad. PW is supposed to loaded this year, and from the looks of things, they certainly are. It was definitely the most anticipated game of the night … and it brought out the big guns. Just before tipoff, I look down and see none other than Bob Huggins walk in the gym, as in the former Cincinnati coach, former K-State coach, current West Virginia coach. I tapped silver fox on the shoulder and said, "Yo, that's Bob Huggins."

Then, wouldn't you know it, Huggins and a WVU scout walk up toward our row and then sit literally directly in front of us. As in Bob Huggins was sitting in the chair directly in front of me. Silver fox and I gave him a quick hello and let him be. The guy was there for a reason, to scout some players, and he had a game the following day at noon. As much as I wanted to talk to him about Steve Logan, Michael Beasley and his string of DUIs, I also didn't want to bother him. Evidently, other people didn't feel the same.

People came up shaking his hand, asking for pictures, asking for autographs, and Huggins gladly obliged. But we were there to do what Huggins was there to do, watch basketball. So once the commotion slowed down and the game went on, we watched intently as did Huggins and his scout. The scout was clearly from Philadelphia, talking with a Philadelphia accent and knowing just about everyone in the Pavilion. And he was knowledgeable, as you would expect, knowing just about everything about each kid on the court. I did try to overhear Huggins' conversations with his scout and a few of the people who ran the tournament and knew Huggins, but the guy talks very quietly. I did overhear that his players have to go to class now, which I found amusing considering he never once graduated a player during his long tenure at Cincinnati. But it was pretty cool being that close to a big-time college basketball coach. And a pleasant surprise. We also saw Maalik Wayns peek his head in, dressed in a hooded sweatshirt. The guy is not tall at all.

As for the game, well, damn. Plymouth-Whitemarsh is good. The Colonials outscored Pennsbury's entire first-half total in the first quarter, and they steamrolled Imhotep with ease. C.J. Aiken, who is headed to St. Joe's, was dominant, blocking just about every shot Imhotep attempted inside, snagging a ton of boards and showcasing a good inside and outside game, with nice touch around the rim and even stepping out for three.

Aiken was especially frightening on defense in that game, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him take on an Ahmad Nivins type of role at St. Joe's.

Aiken certainly wasn't all alone out there however. Every single Colonial showed they could ball, from the starters to the last man on the bench. PW ran Imhotep off the court, completely controlling every aspect of the game from start to finish. And while Aiken was the most physically dominating player on the floor, fellow senior Whis Grant was the glue that really held the team together.

Grant steadied the team and hit a slew of three-pointers that never allowed Imhotep to come close. He was easily the biggest outside threat for PW, and he had himself a big game. So much so that he earned player of the game for PW over Aiken, though either choice would have been just fine. I know this much, from all the teams we saw over the weekend, PW was clearly the best. The Colonials very well may be the single best high school team I've seen since Chester a few seasons ago. Everyone looked good, at least on Friday, and they simply stood out above the rest. Though admittedly, we didn't see the Chester-Trenton Catholic game, Mt. Lebanon-Carroll game or any of the Sunday games, which included Roman Catholic, Bartram and South Philly.

But we did see the Strawberry Mansion-Coatesville game, and the level of play dropped significantly from what PW displayed. Coatesville was having its way and Strawberry Mansion lacked anyone resembling Gerald Henderson or Wayne Ellington.

Friday night was all well and good, but the real team I was excited to watch was Academy of the New Church, specifically to see Rakeem Christmas — a top 5 to top 10 player in the class of 2011 on almost everyone's board — and Savon Lloyd-Goodman, a sophomore whom I've heard great things about.

What I didn't know was I was about to witness the utter dominance of Hotchkiss, a school from Connecticut. While Christmas has been getting a ton of hype, I hadn't heard a peep about anyone on Hotchkiss. Very quickly, I found out about Jason Morris, a 6'5" guard headed to Georgia Tech.

Morris came out of the gate fired up and was easily the best player on the court for the first 10 minutes or so. Maybe more. He got to anywhere he wanted on the floor, made some jump shots, drove to the bucket with ease and defended tenaciously. He was getting his at will, as no ANC defender could hang with him, and he was even bringing it defensively, denying passes and swiping steals. If it wasn't for some foul trouble that saddled him in the 2nd quarter on, he probably would have exploded for a ridiculous amount of points. Instead, he had to settle on dominating the first half and leading Hotchkiss to an insurmountable lead. He also attempted a ridiculous throwdown from just inside the foul line, but ultimately missed the slam. If he had gotten that dunk down, I think the entire place would have went nuts.

And he wasn't alone because sophomore guard Clyde Smith went off. I mean off, off. The guy was unconscious. He looked like Reggie Miller out there, stroking three after three after three. For the longest time, I couldn't remember him missing a shot. It was uncanny. If the ball left his hands, it was dropping through the bottom of the net. That was that. It was virtuoso shooting performance.

The funniest part about it is during warmups, I was watching Hotchkiss intently because they were shooting at the basket closest to us. During the warmups, no one on the team could hit a shot. I'm not even making that up. But when the game started, they hardly missed … especially Smith. He was simply awesome. I was in awe of his shooting acumen.

As for ANC, well, they didn't look good. At all. Hotchkiss played swarming defense, often doubling Christmas and hounding the ball, and the Lions couldn't get an easy shot to save their lives. And as far as Christmas is concerned … let me just say I came away incredibly unimpressed.

I was warned by a friend that Christmas clearly has a huge upside and you can see his potential, especially on defense, but that he's, well, a pussy. If someone plays physical against him or he's not getting his touches, he turns into a baby and tends to shy away. Now, I won't necessarily say Christmas is a pussy or afraid of contact, but what I will say is this kid has A TON of growing up to do.

From the moment the ball was tossed in the air to end of the game, Christmas had a scowl on his face. He looked moody, angry and frustrated. And he didn't look all that interested in trying hard. Early on, he missed a shot and felt there was contact. When he got no call, he glared at the referee like he was Kobe or Iverson and entitled to that call. A high school junior acting like a referee should be giving him all the breaks. It was not a fun thing to see. And from that moment on, Christmas was a nonfactor, acting like a moody baby.

With all the tools to dominate, double team or double team, Christmas just didn't seem to give a shit. He jogged up and down the court, stared at teammates when they didn't pass it to him and generally looked disinterested. Maybe it was just a bad day for him, maybe he's still a little too immature, maybe he's just an asshole. I have no idea. But from what I saw out of him on Saturday night, Rakeem Christmas, despite his five-star status, is not a player I'd want on my team. He just isn't.

Yes, he did display flashes of brilliance, reasons schools like Florida, Georgetown, Oklahom and Texas are interested in him, as he had some impressive blocks, threw down a nice alley-oop from Goodman and made a few nice moves both inside and facing up, but overall the best thing I can say about him is that he was disappointing. And that's not exactly a compliment, is it? I certainly didn't see the killer instinct or desire to make his teammates better. Just didn't.

However, Savon Lloyd-Goodman showed me a lot. Yes, he struggled guarding Morris, but he also was everywhere, grabbing at least 15 rebounds by my count, and getting to the rim with relative ease himself. At one point, he exploded to the bucket. From where he took off, I thought for sure he'd have to lay it in, but instead, he just kept rising and threw down a huge slam. It was the most impressive dunk I saw in the entire tournament. And unlike Christmas, Goodman was working hard, talking to teammates and trying his best to help ANC come back. I was definitely impressed with this sophomore's game.

I was also impressed with Marcus Gilbert, a sophomore guard who looks like he's 12. The younger brother of junior Malcolm Gilbert, who is rated as four-star recruit but played very little on Saturday, Marcus, despite a ridiculously skinny frame, was tenacious out there. Showing no fear against older, stronger opponents, Marcus threw down a couple impressive dunks, grabbed some boards and worked hard on defense. If he can grow into his 6'3" frame, he can become a dynamic player down the road. He certainly didn't lack confidence, taking plenty of shots and going to the hole aggressively.

With all the talent on the court, it was disappointing to see ANC do so little with it. Hotchkiss took it to the Lions, and everyone was taking note. That includes La Salle coach John Giannini and Temple coach Fran Dunphy, who were both in the house.

When Dunph walked in and sat down in the bleachers behind the basket, I swear he looked up toward me and silver fox and waved. I didn't wave back or anything because, well, I don't know Fran Dunphy, so surely he was gesturing to someone else. Though I looked around and there was really no one else around us. I found that a bit odd. Then when we left after the ANC-Hotchkiss game, we walked right by Dunphy. He looked up and gave me a head nod. I nodded back. To me, this confirmed that Dunphy had waved to me earlier, mistakenly thinking he knew me. I must resemble someone he knows or something, because I had never met the man before. So that was pretty cool too.

All in all, it was fun experience. I very likely saw at least one player that is destined for something big. i mean, look at the names that have played in the Primetime Shootout: LeBron James, Michael Beasley, Ty Lawson, Corey Fisher, Brandon Jennings, Kevin Durant, Tyson Chandler, Jason Williams, Jameer Nelson, DaJuan Wagner, Al Harrington, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Tyreke Evans, Ben Gordon, Josh Smith, Luol Deng, DuJuan Blair, Charlie Villanueva, Trevor Ariza, Greg Monroe, Julius Hodges, Mike Rosario, Edgar Sosa. You may have heard of a few of those guys. Maybe you'll hear about one these kids mentioned in the future.

BallHype: hype it up!

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