2004 PRIMETIME SHOOTOUT
Dwight Howard, Sebastian Telfair (Louisville), Josh Smith (Indiana),
AJ Price (UCONN), Greg Paulus (Duke), Rajon Rondo (Kentucky), Russell
Robinson (Kansas) and much much more..
by Shawn Siegel
Most people don’t usually relish a chance to
spend an entire day in Trenton, NJ. But with eight quality high school
basketball games on the schedule, I made the Sovereign Bank Arena my
home this past Saturday. I say home because after spending eleven long
hours in the arena, it felt like a home away from home.
The drive down to Trenton wasn’t too long, but I
missed the majority of the day’s first match between New Jersey’s
Burlington City and Rochester’s McQuaid Jesuit.
I barely caught any of this game so I wont go into any detail about
McQuaid’s 72-66 win. McQuaid was one of the top team’s in the nation
last year with a 27-1 record, and a NYSPHSAA state title. The Knights
lost three D1 talents from last year, but still returned quality
talent in Jim O’Sullivan and Jack Leasure. O’Sullivan,
whose brother Marty was a star last year and now attends Fairfield,
scored 19. Leasure led the team in scoring with 34 points.
By the start of the second game at 11:30 am, I
was firmly settled into my seat. The game featured Durham, North
Carolina’s Mount Zion Christian Academy against
Centerreach, New York’s Our Savior New American School.
Unlike McQuaid Jesuit and Burling City earlier, which are more typical
high school basketball programs, both Mt Zion and Our Savior are
basically basketball destinations which welcome talent from across the
country and the world.
Mt Zion is led by 5 players who have already
earned scholarships with big time programs, and their bench include
some of the top player’s in their respective classes. I don’t really
follow teams so much as players, so I was surprised that Mt Zion was
not in the USA Today Top 25 entering this weekend’s event. Based on
Saturday’s performance against Our Savior though, it was obvious to
see why they weren’t. Basically, they were embarrassing.
Our Savior absolutely blitzed Mt Zion due to
superior effort, better teamwork, and better coaching. The real star
of the game was Our Savior’s Juan Palacios. Palacios is a 6-8,
260 pound forward native of Medellin, Columbia. Palacios has been a
constant riser up the national recruiting charts, and appears to be a
top 20 talent right now. He has a man’s body, and has been
consistently getting more and more comfortable with the ball. In this
game, he not only scored 24 points but controlled the paint and
dominated Arizona bound Mohamed Tangara. The Our Savior
Pioneers played without junior big man James Tchana, who is
apparently injured. (For those who don’t know, the Pioneers have been
playing without Kevin Mormin, a promising 7-footer who was killed in a
car accident in early January.)
Young Timothy Ambrose did a fine job
against Mt Zion’s more experienced and more heralded backcourt. Just a
sophomore, the 5-11 guard played like vet scoring 16 points. Mt Zion
features two quality point guards in
Alabama bound Albert
Webber and Iowa State bound Tasheed Carr. Carr got
the start for Mt Zion, who amazingly used an Alabama bound point guard
as a sixth man. Neither of Carr nor Webber impressed, but at least Webber
showed a knack for putting the ball in the basket. Neither, however,
showed any ability to play under control, run an offense, or do
anything to help their team win.
Mt Zion shooting guard Glen Dandridge has
been one of my favorite players to watch in the past. I have seen about 75%
of the players discussed in this article in the past, so a lot my
descriptions are backed up by previous experience. The
bound Dandridge did not have one of his best games, but still
displayed his long range touch by hitting a couple of threes. To me,
it seems Dandridge would definitely benefit by playing in a more
typical high school environment, where he can learn to be a team
leader, and how to shake constant double teaming. I love the way
Dandridge shoots the ball, but he still needs to work on his ability
to create shots for himself.
The Pioneers got little help from their
frontcourt, including Tangara, Cincinnati bound Roy Bright and
junior Brandon Rush. Compared to other big men around the
nation and at the Shootout, Tangara is one of the most disappointing.
A native of Mali, Tangara has always been considered raw, but doesn’t
seem to be developing while other “raw” big men like Palacios are
pacing him. In year’s past, Bright was once considered one of this
class’s best talents, but his star has diminished as other players
caught up to him physically. I’ve seen Bright many times, and I’ve
never come away terribly impressed. The biggest problem with Bright is
that he’s a tweener. At 6-6, he’s too small to dominate the power
forward position, but not nearly quick or skilled enough to be a small
forward. Still, Bright can score the ball (averaging 17 per game for
Mt Zion) and with his toughness, should fit right in under Bob
Brandon Rush was almost non-existent in this
game, and frustrates because of his lack of effort and attitude. Even
though this game was a blow out, Rush’s complete lack of effort on
defense and offense was inexcusable. The crowd literally was laughing
in disgrace as Rush started walking off the court with over 50 seconds
to go in the game because his team was down 30 points. I still believe
Rush will be the most devastating scorer to come out of the 2005
class, but you could not have made such a claim based on this
Following Mt Zion’s 32 point loss, the crowd was
hoping for a competitive and hard fought game. Unfortunately, they got
hard play, but not a close game between Christian Brothers Academy
of Syracuse and Amityville (NY) High School. Both of these
teams were invited to the event for one simple reason, their star
point guards. Amityville is led by UCONN
bound AJ Price,
while CBA is all about Duke bound junior Greg Paulus.
Amityville pulled away in the second half to blow out CBA 72-40. The
score does not represent the play of the two stars, so much as the
talent each team had in support.
Amityville has a solid point guard in senior
PJ Smith, which allows Price to play off the ball for most of the
game. Smith did a fine job covering Paulus and leading his team to the
easy victory. Playing the two guard, Price displayed a great shooting
touch by hitting multiple threes and scoring 28 points. It was one of
the most impressive performances of the day, because it came so
effortlessly, and almost no shot was forced. In the past I’ve written
that Price is the 3rd best point guard in the nation behind
Shaun Livingston and Sebastian Telfair, a claim which I still feel
comfortable with today.
Besides Price and Smith, Amityville also got a
solid performance out of big man Mark Johnson. Johnson, only a
junior scored 18 points and really overwhelmed CBA’s less athletic and
physically mature big men. Overwhelmed was probably the key word for
the game. At times, I pitied CBA’s role players for being embarrassed
miles away from their comfort zone in northern New York. Unlike most
of these teams, CBA does not travel the national circuit playing in
big time tournaments. If it was not for Greg Paulus, most of these
players would never get the chance to play in an 8,000 seat arena in
front of dozens of college and pro scouts.
No one on CBA took advantage of this opportunity
by having a quality performance. While not being the fastest PG out
there, Paulus really does have a solid handle, and more importantly
has great court vision. A quarterback in football, Paulus displays the
same type of vision making long range passes on fast breaks, and
finding open men in the half court. Unfortunately, no one on CBA could
finish or even hit open lay ups. Erik Estabrook, a 6-4 forward,
was probably the player with the most opportunity to shine. Only a
junior, Estabrook has a well-defined body and good athleticism, but
unfortunately just got not finish any shots down low.
Shooting guard Dave Fine is CBA’s second
best player, but really struggled with his shot Saturday. I had seen
Fine play at this summer’s ABCD camp, where he was overmatched against
the big time talent. Then and now, I still have no clue as to why Fine
was invited to the prestigious Adidas camp. Fine can handle the ball
adequately, but has a very unorthodox jump shot, which is inconsistent
at best. Perhaps Fine’s ugly jumper gets hot at times, but I’ve never
been there for it.
The day’s middle game (or middle of the 7 men’s
games) involved Montrose Christian School of Rockville,
Maryland against Simon Gratz HS of Philadelphia, PA. Simon
Gratz was ranked 18th in the USA Top 25 poll, and Montrose
is led by some big time talent, so I expected to finally see a close
well-played game. Unfortunately, while Simon Gratz did put up a solid
effort, they ended losing by 20 to the Mustangs of Montrose Christian.
Montrose was an extremely well-run team, almost professional in
approach, who played a well-executed and structured game. While this
is the only time I’ve ever seen Montrose play, coach Stu Vetter
(though no spring chicken) seems like he could be a fine college coach
in the right setting.
The most noticeable player on Montrose is 6-11
Tunji Sorye. Sorye towered over the rest of the players, but
was very disappointing. He moves extremely well for a 6-11 big man,
but his biggest problem is his hands. On too many occasions to
mention, Sorye got the ball swiped out of his hands by smaller
opponents. When going up to dunk, he would get blocked because he
brought the ball down too low and guys poked it away. He’s headed to
the University of Virginia, where he’s a major project but his
size and athleticism make him worth the time. He was able to block
many Simon Gratz shots and alter many more attempts.
Junior Uche Echefu was a pleasant
surprise. The 6-8 230 pound Echefu scored 17 points, and reminded me
of a 2005 version of senior Juan Palacios. Besides post moves down
low, he also was a defensive force alongside Sorye. Echefu impressed
me more than other Top 75 2005 big men like Leo Criswell, Clarence Holloway (Louisville) or David Weaver (Wake Forest).
He seems like a player to look out for in the future.
Shooting guard Tom Hammonds displayed a
solid long range stroke for Montrose, and scored 15 points. He has a
nice-looking high-arching shot, which was fed often by sophomore point
guard Taishi Ito. At times, Ito and junior KJ Matsui
form a rare all-Asian backcourt for Montrose. Ito runs the point with
ease, never trying to do tom much with the ball. He spent more time
properly resetting the offense than trying to break guys down of the
dribble, so its hard to get a sense of just how much skill he has.
Still, for a sophomore, you could not ask for much more out of a point
Simon Gratz did not play poorly by any means,
but simply struggled to score the ball because of the towering
frontline of Sorye and Echefu. I’ve always considered senior slasher
Mark Tyndale one of the most underrated players in the 2004
class, and I was glad to get to see him play again. Tyndale is a solid
offensive player, who excels because of his ability to get into the
lane and hit the pull-up jumper or finish amongst the bigs. With 15
points, Tyndale had about 40% of Simon Gratz’s points, but was still
hindered by the presence of Sorye and Echefu down low. Tyndale’s being
looked at mainly by non-BCS schools in the A10 and CUSA, but he will
be a steal wherever he goes.
6-9 center Matthew Walden is a legit D1
prospect who can bang down low, and has a strong bottom. I’d seen
Walden in the past against less physically mature players, so was
interested to see how he’d fare against Sorye and Echefu. While Walden
didn’t have a bad performance, he was really limited going up against
players his own size. Still, Walden scored 10 points and had some good
defensive plays of his own. Forward Jason Hickenbottom is also
a D1 prospect. The 6-5 Hickenbottom never really got going on this
night, and didn’t show the ability to create shots for himself.
Oak Hill Academy
faced Philadelphia’s Cardinal Dougherty High School in the
day’s first premier matchup. Oak Hill, of Mouth of Wilson, Virginia is
the nation’s premier prep basketball program, and the Warriors are
ranked first in the USA Today poll. Despite being a storied program in
its own right, Cardinal Dougherty was the fan favorite because they’re
located relatively close to Trenton and were obviously the underdog in
Without going into too much detail, Cardinal
Dougherty went into the half-time with the lead, and got up by as many
as 12 points (approx.) before fading in 4th quarter.
Cardinal Dougherty point guard Kyle Lowry had an average
performance for the Cardinals. Lowry, a
Villanova signee, is
ranked as high as 4th in his point guard class, but just
doesn’t really do it for me. At 5-11, he’s undersized, but he can make
up for that with great leaping ability and upper-body strength. My
favorite talent of Lowry is his ability to rebound the ball despite
his size, and even follow missed shots with lay-in put backs. I was
disappointed, that Cardinal Dougherty played Lowry off the ball a lot,
leaving the ball-handling duties to guard’s Tom Magnum and
Tim Smith. If you’re going up against the #1 team in the entire
country, one would think that you’d want your top-5 point guard
touching the ball as much as possible. The fact that Coach
Heimerdinger took the ball out of Lowry’s hands so often makes me
skeptical about their faith in Lowry’s abilities. Lowry did nothing
but solidify my thoughts that he is an overrated guard, whose worse
than other incoming Big East guards like Price, Josh Wright (Syracuse)
and Justin Cerasoli (Seton Hall).
Tim Smith is an interesting player. A fan
favorite because he’s one of the few white guards out there, and he’s
small at just 6-0, 168, Smith has surprisingly agile hands. On
defensive, he was really quick to poke away at the pole, and also has
the ability to hit an outside shot here and there.
However, Cardinal Dougherty has some much bigger
talent to discuss than Smith. Forward Shane Clark, another
Villanova signee, was very impressive. Clark, just a junior has
great handle for a 6-8 forward and also hit his outside shots. While
Clark is amazingly thin and has an awkward looking shot, he was more
than effective during this game. It was Clark’s long range shooting
which kept Cardinal Dougherty in the game to the very end. If he plays
like he did this weekend, he’ll end up being an early steal for Jay
In the first half, it was 6-8 245 pound big man
DeSean White who stole the show. White, whose headed to
Providence, can really move and shoot for man his size. He loves
to pull up for the free-throw extended jumper on the fast break, and
had one of the best mid-range games of any player throughout the day.
White still needs to work better at banging inside, but his mid-range
game makes him one of the top 50-60 players in the country.
For Oak Hill, the big name is of course
Joshua Smith. Smith, who signed with
Indiana, but has mainly
contemplated the NBA draft is considered one of the top five talents
in the class. No one can doubt Smith’s amazingly amazing physical
talent, mainly his leaping ability, but he has never done it for me.
Compared to a guy like Charlie Villanueva, just now making his first
start for UCONN, or #1 prospect Dwight Howard, Smith is a step behind.
I say he’s behind because he doesn’t have the
beastly power that a player like Howard has, nor the more well-rounded
offensive game that someone like Villanueva does. I’m sick and tired
of always seeing the 6-8 Hill shoot three-pointers and missing. I
guess he’s trying to constantly prove to scouts he can do more than
dunk, but the fact is, he really cant do anything but dunk as
of yet. He’s be better off polishing his inside post game, rebounding,
and handling the ball better. It comes down to this, Hill is an
awesome prospect because of his physical talent, but I don’t know if
he has the head nor the skill to make it big.
commitment Brian Johnson on the other hand knows how to play
within himself. The 6-9 bruiser is showing good touch on his jump
shot, as well as confidence passing the ball in the paint and around
the perimeter. If Smith is overrated, Johnson, just 41st in
the Rivals 150 is one of the most underrated. Lost in the mix was 6-6
forward, and Syracuse bound Dayshawn Wright.
At guards, Oak Hill relies on top 75 junior
KC Rivers and senior Rajon Rondo. Rondo, who has signed
with Kentucky is ranked as the 3rd best point guard
by Rivals.com. I’ve seen Rondo play multiple times against the top
competition, and I’ve never come across being that impressed. No doubt
he’s one of the top 10 point guards in the country, but he seems to be
very inconsistent. Rondo has gone off for 55 points in a game this
year, but at other times his jumper escapes him. Despite being only 6-1
160 pounds, Rondo has great speed so he can be a major pest on defense
and break people down off the dribble.
Following the quality Oak Hill-Cardinal
Dougherty game, Mount Vernon (NY) against Rice (NY) was
a bit of a downer. Most of the fans were tired by this point and just
wanting to see the feature matchup between Sebastian Telfair’s Lincoln
squad against Dwight Howard’s Southwest Christian (SACA) team.
For my part, I was also disappointed that
Keith Benjamin of Mount Vernon was not in action. Benjamin, going
to Pittsburgh, is a great offensive talent who I’ve enjoyed
watching many times. In his place though, freshman Michael Coburn
rose out of nowhere to steal the show. Coburn was basically the
only freshman the entire day to have an impact, and he did so in
style. He took home the Player of the Game honors with a truly awesome
performance. Coburn played like he was a senior, doing a little bit of
everything. Despite being 17th in the nation in the USA
Today poll, I was expecting Mount Vernon to struggle against 11th
ranked Rice because they didn’t have Benjamin. However, Coburn’s play
along with that of forward Dexter Gray turned it into a
The 6-6 Gray was impressive with his effort on
both ends of the floor, and his ability to finish down low. I don’t
know exactly which schools are looking at Gray, but he’s definitely a
major conference talent.
If freshman Michael Coburn was the surprise of
the day, then Kansas bound Russell Robinson was by far
the most disappointing. Considered one of the top 10 shooting guards
in the country, Robinson could not have been any less effective.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the final numbers from this game, but all
I know is that Robinson missed a lot of shots, forced a lot of bad
shots, and just flat out played bad. At 6-1, he’s undersized to begin
with for a two-guard, and didn’t show anything to make one think he
can be a star at Kansas. Then again, it was only one game.
Big man Arturo Dubois was solid for Rice.
Dubois, headed to Manhattan, should be a dandy of a player in the MAAC.
Going up against Gray, Dubois more than held his own and was Rice’s
best player on Saturday. Junior point guard Taskico Brown was
steady at point guard but not spectacular. He looked very comfortable
handling the ball, but was never very assertive on the offensive end.
With Robinson struggling, it would have been nice to see if Brown has
the ability to score when needed.
By the end of Rice vs. Mount Vernon, fans were
booing when fouls were called hoping that the game would end.
Everybody wanted to see Lincoln (NY) against Southwest
Atlanta Christian Academy (SACA). The day’s feature game did not
disappoint as Sebastian Telfair (Louisville) hit the
game winning shot as time expired. However, time was not completely
expired, and everyone was confused as to why SACA did not call a time
out after the make with almost 4 seconds left on the clock. I’ll
assume SACA tried to call time out but the refs didn’t make the call
for whatever reason. The game was televised so someone out there
reading this probably knows what happened.
Regardless, SACA is not a very well coached
team. Simply having Dwight Howard slide around the post while
being guarded by three men will not get the job done. There are simply
dozens upon dozens of ways one could try to get the ball in Howard’s
hands instead of just having him stand there while the guards lob the
ball up 9 feet in the air for him to grab, and still come down with
his back to the basket.
There’s no doubt in my mind Howard should jump
to the NBA Draft. Any time you’re seeing double, triple, quadruple
teaming, you know you’ve been doing something right. He took a beating
in this game, as Lincoln just pushed and shoved Howard around as the
refs remained relatively quiet and let it go on. He did get to the
line many times and showed a soft touch, and also threw down a few
dunks. Still, the SACA staff just does not seem to know how to utilize
played a nice game for the SACA Warriors. Only a
sophomore, Crittenton has the prototypical small forward body. Because
Howard is guarded so tightly, SACA’s wing players had many chances for
open three’s and both Crittenton and guard Aljamon Alexander
hit their fare share. Crittenton also runs the floor really well and
projects to be a Top 20 2006 star. While in this game Crittenton
played more of a 2/3, he can handle well, and could become a superstar
if he could master the point guard position.
I felt kind of bad for point guard Darryl
Stack. The 5-10 junior was completely overmatched by Sebastian
Telfair. Telfair was able to put on a show with highlight dribbling
moves and passes at Stack’s expense. For Lincoln, it was really all
about Telfair. Perhaps because I’d never seen Lincoln go up against
such a lesser opponent as Stack, his moves seemed even quicker and
more devastating than usual. Besides the big three he hit at the
buzzer, Telfair also showed good range throughout the night and the
ability to hit quick shots off the dribble.
Junior Nyan Boateng is the most common
beneficiary of Telfair passes, as the 6-3 wing man runs the floor with
ease and can really get off the ground. I’ve never seen Boateng play
without Telfair, so I’m skeptical about what he’d be able to do
playing under more typical conditions.
In this game, forward Antonio Pena’s main
job was to constantly be banging Dwight Howard’s behind. Only a
junior, the 6-8 big man did a great job being physical with Howard and
was probably the unsung player of the game. Both Pena and Boateng are
legit D1 prospects, and it will be interesting to see how they fare
without Telfair next year.
by Shawn Siegel
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