by Aggrey Sam

Long time, no see. Well, if you’ve missed me, I guarantee you I’ll make up for it over the next few days. And make sure you read the entire post, trust me. I’m in Fort Myers, Fla., checking out the Bank of America City of Palms Classic which is without a doubt the top in-season high school tourney this year–in fact, in many years. Maybe ever!–and getting some things done for the mag. Players range from John Wall and Kenny Boynton (I just got in today, so I missed a classic battle between the two last night) to Lance Stephenson and John Henson (others include Leslie McDonald, Jake’s boy Wally Judge, Noel Johnson and my man from Philly, Maalik Wayns). Some of the nation’s best players and programs are represented (Duncanville from Texas, Mater Dei from Cali, Wheeler in Georgia, St. Patrick’s from Jersey and Florida’s own Olympia). I’ll have recaps from this ridiculous tourney, but before that, I can’t forget where my bread is buttered (speaking of which, much love to the staff at the Comfort Inn and Suites Airport in Fort Myers), so here’s a list of the Top 5 prospects I’ve seen in New Orleans (in an admittedly down year; Greg Monroes don’t grown on trees) so far this season:

Colby Carr, 6-4 senior wing, O. Perry Walker High School
Carr, a Louisiana-Monroe signee, has an amazing feel for the game to go with his powerful physique and explosive athleticism. The lefty needs to work on the consistency of his J and polish his handle, but his versatility–he’s an excellent passer, defender and rebounder, as well as an adept post player–and on-court demeanor leaves room for growth at the next level.

Matt Derenbecker, 6-6 junior wing, Metairie Park Country Day School
A transfer from Ponchatoula High School, Derenbecker is a lights-out shooter who has greatly improved his ballhandling and ability to get to the rack and finish. Easily the top scoring threat in the area, the Mike Dunleavy Jr. comparisons aren’t unwarranted, as his on-ball creativity and playmaking have taken his game to another level.

Eddie Ludwig, 6-8 senior post, Metairie Park Country Day School
Steady Eddie, Derenbecker’s teammate, is as consistent as the sun rising in the morning, as the LSU recruit won’t blow you away with his athleticism or strength, but rather fundamentals. His basketball IQ is incredible and although he’s not fleet of foot, you’ll catch him bringing the ball up at times, as well as operating in the high post, knocking down mid-range jumpers, hitting the boards and killing foes with his low-post moves and footwork.

Gregoryshon Magee, 6-10 senior post, McMain High School
Out of all these kids, Magee might be the most fun to watch–but he also has the furthest to go as a player. An extremely skinny, 6-10 lefty, he can shoot the ball from deep, run the floor and dominate as a defensive presence–but while his ceiling is incredibly high, he still needs to add heavy doses of seasoning, strength and consistency.

– I know I just promised a quintet of players, but on second thought, somebody needs to separate themselves enough in my mind to earn a mention. It could be one of the young kids from St. Augustine (junior Elridge Moore or freshmen Javan Felix and Sydie London), two-sport star Patrick Swilling Jr. from Brother Martin, underrated seniors Nick Walker or Jonathan Thomas from Karr, the Salmen (Chris Duhon’s alma mater) duo of Jared Harrison and Central Florida signee RJ Scott, Destrehan senior bruiser Roosevelt Johnson or my sleeper, junior guard Paul Robinson from Bonnabel, ex-Vandy star Megan FrenchShan Foster’s alma mater. Maybe it will become clear in ’09.

Before I go, I do have some actual high school games to report on, just not by me. My friend Megan (pictured) is a grad student at Columbia in New York who swears she knows something about ball. She knows I get out to a lot of high school games and when she visited New Orleans last month, I allowed her the grand privilege of accompanying yours truly to watch some of the action. She also knows how much I miss the East Coast basketball scene and said she’d attend some games and report back to me. After I filled her in on some of the top players and teams in her region, she decided to not only watch the games, but write up the action. Now, she’s no J-Zone or Franklyn Calle, but I think most hoopheads, particularly in N.Y.C., will appreciate her recap:

by Megan French

I always wanted to be that chick that knew a lot about basketball. I’m not. I just learned the difference between a travel and a carry. I still don’t understand the system for accruing team v. personal fouls. However, my attendance at the Big Apple Public v. Catholic challenge this past weekend was part of my education. The stands were packed, as I assumed they would be, when I got there for the last game of the last day of competition, Thomas Jefferson and Bishop Loughlin. I made my way up to the top of the stands to sit with the real scouts. I spent five extra dollars on a program and as the Bishop Ford and Forrest Hills game wound down (a game that was less than exciting from a novice’s perspective) I proceeded to construct an on- the-fly scouting system.

I felt inadequate sitting next to an elderly man who had a clipboard out, and without the help of a roster, was writing every player’s name on a separate sheet of paper with fifteen or so categories for points, free throws, turnovers, etc. I had three. You got a check if you played smart. As a graduate student, I know the difference between being intelligent and being smart. I know a lot of intelligent mothafuckas. I don’t know too many smart ones. To play on high school teams of this caliber, intelligence consists of knowing how to shoot, pass, dribble, etc. Being smart means knowing when and how to execute that intelligence. Players were given a star when they impressed me- fancy footwork, spin moves to the basket, faking out the center for an easy lay up. Last but not least, I had a frown. I had done my research, I knew who I was supposed to be watching. When they didn’t do what they were supposed to be doing, they got relegated to frowns- there just isn’t anything to say when a player just looks sloppy.

The following is a result of my efforts:

The game started off quick. Jefferson was aggressive and kept a fast pace that gave them an early ten point lead within the first quarter. The first player to shine was TJ’s Davontay Grace, a sophomore guard. A solid 6’1’, Grace moved the ball around with ease, power- housing his way past Loughlin’s weak defense. Grace played well on the outside, hitting jump shots like it was practice and passing aggressively. By the middle of the second quarter, Loughlin had picked up on his style and forced him to go inside. He struggled to hit short jumpers in the paint, yet his presence kept Loughlin’s defense off other Jefferson players.

The real standout on TJ was Keith Spellman, a 6’2’ senior who garnered both a check and star in my system. Throughout the entire game, Loughlin seemed to underestimate his skill set. Spellman shot well, both from outside and in the paint, and proved to be the only kid on the court with a decent left hand lay-up. The kid played a ridiculously smart game too. Where Grace didn’t always give up the ball when he should, perhaps the difference between the sophomore and the senior, Spellman moved the ball around expertly. He passed through people when he needed to, and took shots when his team seemed desperate. I had been excited to see the Jr. Forward Joel Wright, but Loughlin was able to tangle him up and he was DQ’d on fouls in the second half. FROWN.

The game got closer, in the third quarter, due to Jefferson turn over’s, sloppy defense, and Loughlin’s Antoine Brown. Brown, a senior guard, took a three point jump shot to tie the game and then an intentional foul against Jefferson put Loughlin in the lead. Brown moved with the ball well, both inside and out, and as Jefferson was able neutralize Loughlin’s star player Jayvaughn Pinkston with double team defensive coverage, Brown stepped up as a leader. Pinkston played better in the last quarter, but by games end, he and TrevonHamlet, Loughlin’s other star, had only twenty points between the two of them. One player can rarely carry a team alone, even a savvy player like Antoine Brown and in the end, it came down to a duel between Spellman and Brown. Spellman stripped Brown, Brown missed two crucial free throws and it was game over.

The old man with the clipboard looked at me curiously and said, “That’s quite a system you got there. Very fancy.” I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or if it was just his heavy Brooklyn accent. ‘Thanks,” I said, and stuffed my notes deep into my bag and made my way down the bleachers. Mission accomplished.