by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam
The second annual Big Strick Classic (formerly the Franchise Classic) was once again a highly competitive, star-studded event, showcasing some of the best high school basketball talent in the country.
The hoops-filled weekend in the Mecca of basketball, New York City, pitted some of the nation’s best recruits—Team USA—against the best players from the tri-state area—Team NYC. Like last year, New York came out firing on all cylinders, making it clear they could stack up against the very best, regardless of the all the hoopla and lofty labels assigned to their opponents. And like last year, the game came down to the final seconds, but this time it was Team USA who prevailed, completing a hard-fought comeback to escape with an 87-86 victory.
Organized by Left Hand Right Hand, LLC, the game was dedicated in memory of its namesake, the late John “Franchise” Strickland. A streetball legend in New York City, Strickland died in his sleep at the too-young age of 38 in October of 2010. He played college ball at Pacific University, and spent six seasons in the USBL, but Strickland’s legacy was made on the unforgiving courts of New York City. Strick coined the phrase “finish your breakfast,” reminding us that no move—no matter how beautiful—is complete unless you convert the shot. A childhood friend of Jay Z, Jigga pays respects to Strickland in the song Public Service Announcement, rapping “My homie Strick told me dude finish your breakfast, So that’s what I’ma do…”
The players first gathered last Friday afternoon at Gauchos Gym in the Bronx. Led by Coach Sam Clark of UnderDogs Training and Coach Christian “Pop” Popoola of PremierBall.com, the players worked through a series of drills—some relatively easy, others grueling and taxing; dribbling around cones, running through a flat-rung agility ladder, game-situation one-on-ones, box-out drills, and learning how to work and finish through contact using Coach Pop’s E.A.T. Battle Pads. Almost all of the players said they learned, and gained, something from Sam and Pop’s instruction.
After a few hours of workouts, the teams had their first lick at each other in a 20-minute scrimmage. Almost instantly, it was evident that neither team bought into the “all-star” title of the event. Pride, reputations, alpha dog status and self-assessment were to be fought for. Lincoln (NY) High School’s Isaiah Whitehead ignited the competitive flame, getting into it with SLAM diarist Andrew Harrison, going shot-for-shot until the two got overly physical and had to be separated. After all, it was only a scrimmage! The dunk-filled, ultra-competitive, all-transition-everything practice run was a perfect precursor to Saturday’s dogfight.
Big Strick Classic
Team USA defeats Team NYC, 87-86
USA— Robert Hubbs, Khadeem Lattin
NYC— Kuran Iverson, Chris McCullough
Despite the slew of last-minute cancellations (Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Barber, Noah Vonleh, Emmanuel Mudiay, a few others), almost all caused by travel complications, and despite the relatively low-scoring game (last year’s event boasted a 146-138 tally), the game was filled with energy and excitement, and saturated with talent.
Nat Holman Gymnasium at City College was near capacity for the show. Prior to tip-off, 16-year NBA veteran Dale Davis addressed the crowd and the players, stressing the importance of staying disciplined and focused, and that there is more to life than basketball. “Make sure you get an education, because less than one percent of all college athletes play professionally,” Davis said.
Co-MVP Kuran Iverson (21 points) started things off for Team NYC with a put-back dunk, but USA’s Troy Williams (10 points) delivered a swift rebuttal, throwing down a vicious slam of his own. However, Iverson, Isaiah Whitehead (10 points), Chris McCullough (13 points) and Jermaine Lawrence (10 points) helped NYC take a 28-20 lead heading into the second quarter.
Team USA gained some ground in the second, but NYC point guard Dayshon Smith (6 points) hit a few shots to maintain the lead and give NYC a 43-36 edge heading into the half.
The second half started out with more of the same—NYC slowly deflating their opponent. Iverson and Co. played sound defense, blocking shots and running out on the break. The lead ballooned to as much as 13, but once again, USA turned it up at the end of the quarter to trim the deficit, and trailed 69-67 heading into the fourth.
In the final frame, USA’s stars found their light switch and began to shine. Led by Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Troy Williams, and Robert Hubbs, USA got into a Wait, we might actually lose this game? Nah mindset and began to play with a sense of urgency. Andrew Harrison (14 points) went on a one-man scoring tirade, relentlessly attacking the basket, starting and finishing one-man fast breaks and playing suffocating defense to help his team stay within striking distance, and eventually, take the lead.
With under a minute remaining and USA up 87-86, the freakishly athletic McCullough was met in mid-air by two defenders, and contorted his body in hopes of a reverse layup that ultimately came up short. It seemed like the game was in the bags then, but after Andrew missed the front-end of a 1-and-1, NYC had one last chance. Dayshon Smith received the half-court pass and went up for a seemingly wide-open layup. But the operative word in the previous sentence was seemingly; out of nowhere, 6-9 forward Jordan Mickey flew into the picture and swatted down Smith’s game-winning shot attempt.
87-86, USA. Game over.
Scouting Report: Notable Players
Andrew Harrison (Richmond, TX/Travis HS)
2013, PG, 6-5, 210
Andrew showed why most scouts consider him the nation’s top point guard. He has great size and strength for his position, pounds the rock with both hands, can shoot out to NBA range, and can finish through contact better than any high school guard I’ve seen. Add in a strong motor and solid defensive instincts, and you’ve got one scary prospect. Both him and his brother Aaron have an alpha dog approach that accentuates their skill set, as they are always ready to take, and make, the big shot.
Andrew didn’t have his best game by any means—he struggled mightily shooting the ball in the first half—but even with a relatively underwhelming performance, he was still the best guard on the court by a wide margin, and that speaks for itself.
Aaron Harrison (Richmond, TX/Travis HS)
2013, SG, 6-5, 205
Aaron and Andrew are literally identical in looks and body type. Aaron is also physically ahead of his competition and has a solid handle, but his jumpshot is what separates him from other prospects. He’s one of those guys that will start every game will a few heat-checks from behind the arc, and even if he’s off at the onset, the shots will eventually start to fall, and then it’s a wrap. The Harrison Twins will be one of most exciting college backcourts in America in the fall of 2013.
Troy Williams (Hampton, VA/Oak Hill Academy)
2013, SF, 6-6, 190
In my opinion, there isn’t a more exciting prospect in America than Troy Williams (peep the tape above). The nephew of legendary AAU coach Boo Williams—who coached/mentored Allen Iverson, Alonzo Mourning, among countless others—Williams is a lanky prospect who is fast in transition and, quite simply, can fly. On multiple occasions, in both the scrimmage and the game, Williams received the ball at half court, found a crease in the lane and then just took off. He can pull-up on a dime, has perfected a step-back jumper, rebounds exceptionally well for a perimeter player and has a remarkable nose for the ball. Williams is one of those go up and get it types of guys, with a trampoline bounce and a captivating flair to his game. With offers from Kentucky and UNC already in his possession, Troy will take his talents to Oak Hill Academy for his senior season, where he’ll team up with Nate Britt and Sindarius Thornwell to form one of the nation’s most dangerous, and exciting, teams. If he plays in an up-tempo offense, the sky is the limit for Troy Williams.
Robert Hubbs (Newbern, TN/Dyer County HS)
2013, SG, 6-5, 180
There were more hyped recruits at the Big Strick Classic, but if there’s one guy you should get to know, it’s Robert Hubbs. Hubbs is only 16 years old and already has the makings of a future pro. While most prospects excel at a particular skill, Hubbs is the complete package at the shooting guard position. He has long arms to compliment a solid 6-5 frame, can shoot out to NBA range with an effortless flick of his wrist, and can isolate on his man with the best of them. Hubbs scored 18 points in the game, but did so playing entirely within the offense, making astute decisions, knowing when to shoot and when to pass. He has a quick first step (peep the tape above) and is crafty when airborne. Hubbs is a fast-rising commodity, as he already has offers from schools such as Duke, Memphis, Florida, Vanderbilt and several others. He’s one of those guys that college coaches will love because he understands how to maximize each possession while playing within the constraints of an offense.
Jordan Mickey (Arlington, TX/Grace Prepatory Academy)
2013, PF, 6-7, 210
Mickey may be a little undersized for his position, but what he lacks in height he makes up in elite athleticism. He needs to add strength and develop a face-up game to effectively use his quickness and agility, but those things should come with time. Mickey is a good rebounder, has a tireless motor, uses his bounce well in transition and has great defensive instincts. His motor and defensive instincts were the force behind USA’s game-saving block.
Isaiah Whitehead (Brooklyn, NY/Lincoln)
2014, PG, 6-4, 195
Whitehead is one of those guys that will almost definitely maximize his ability simply because a) he plays basketball all day, every day and b) he hates to lose more than anything—and probably anybody—else. No matter who’s matched up against him, Isaiah will compete his butt off—we saw him go at it with Archie Goodwin last year, and Andrew Harrison this year.
Whitehead has a strong handle and is a good scorer, but needs to improve as a facilitator to take his game to the next level. Right now, he can create his own shot, but needs work on creating opportunities for his teammates. He has a trademark Brooklyn swagger that fuels his competitive motor, and he can deftly finish through in the lane. But over the course of the next two years, he needs to work on his “point guard” skills. If he gets those skills in order, he’ll be among the country’s best players.
Chris McCullough (New York/Salisbury School)
2014, PF, 6-9, 210
McCullough is a physical specimen. He’s raw as hell right now, as he needs to develop his frame and a back-to-the-basket/face-up game, but his athletic abilities are jaw-dropping. He doesn’t go to the rim; he goes at the rim, trying to punish everything in his path. He had several near-seizure-inducing dunk attempts that left me in awe. What he needs to do next is channel his athleticism and develop an offensive repertoire to take his game to the next level. As we’ve seen in the past, that’s much easier said than done, but the rising junior has time to bring it all together.
Kuran Iverson (Windsor, CT/Fishburne Military School)
2013, SF, 6-8, 200
Iverson is one of the most versatile players in the country, as he can play and defend positions 2 through 4. He has guard skills on the perimeter and can do damage below the foul line, scoring on floaters, put-backs, 15-footers and the like. He showed why he’s one of the fastest rising prospects in his class. At 6-8, he oozes with potential. When he’s on, his size and skill set make him nearly unstoppable. The next challenge for him is to perform at a high level on a consistent basis.
Jermaine Lawrence (Springfield Gardens, NY/Pope John XXIII HS)
2013, SF/PF, 6-8, 190
Lawrence was one of the most intriguing players at the event. He reminded me of a young Antawn Jamison, equipped with a certain fluidity to his game and an inside-outside, pick-you-apart approach. Lawrence excels both on the perimeter and down low. He gets head-level with the rim, and runs the court in a smooth-yet-very-fast manner. He can catch-and-shoot, play both positions on the pick and roll, and use his jumping ability/height to collect rebounds in traffic. Rebounding totals weren’t recorded, but Lawrence easily finished with a double-double. Half-court, in transition, playing with or without the ball in his hands, playing guard or forward, it never mattered—Lawrence seamlessly fit in.