Best of the Best
Recapping Day 1 of the National High School Invitational.
by Aggrey Sam
So I’m back in my old stomping grounds for the weekend to check out the ESPN/RISE National High School Invitational at Georgetown Prep, right outside DC. The NHSI is a post-season tourney pitting the nation’s top high school teams, serving as a de facto prep national tournament. Unfortunately, most high school state athletic association rules prevent teams from competing past a certain point in the season, so traditional powers like DeMatha, Mater Dei, St. Pat’s, etc., aren’t allowed to compete. Still, with star-studded squads like Oak Hill, St. Benedict’s, Montrose Christian and upstart Findlay Prep out of Vegas, there are still a lot of top prospects in attendance, including four McDonald’s All-Americans, the field isn’t too shabby.
Oak Hill vs. Pinewood Prep:
–On paper, this game is a complete mismatch. Although Pinewood features Clemson-bound McDonald’s All-American Milton Jennings, a 6-9 wing, Oak Hill counters with its own burger boy, Oklahoma-bound big (literally, at around 300 pounds) Keith “Tiny” Gallon, as well as a high-powered backcourt of top uncommitted senior guard, Lamont “Momo” Jones and consensus top-25 junior Doron Lamb, both NYC transplants, along with the always-steady (and polite) Pe’Shon Howard. On top of that, they bring junior West Virginia commit Bryon Allen off the bench, to go with frontliners Baye Moussa Keita, a 6-11 ‘junior ‘Cuse recruit, and high-flying Detroit native Glenn Bryant, an unsigned senior.
–Early on, Pinewood, out of South Carolina puts up a fight, but Oak Hill, led by Momo and his moxie, looks to be in control, despit Tiny picking up two fouls early. Speaking of Tiny, it’s a testament to how good he is that I’ve been hearing observers say he isn’t quite Blake Griffin, but Jeff Capel and Oklahoma can’t be mad that he’s coming in when BG’s departing.
–Jennings, one of the few top recruits I haven’t seen much of, looks good early. He’s hitting outside shots, he’s active on the boards (a must, being that he’s the only significant Pinewood player withany size) and is shifty enough to get to the bucket, evn though he’s clearly the focal point of Oak Hill’s defensive strategy.
–I really like Pinewood senior guard Kenny Manigault. A long, athletic slashing guard with good size (about 6-4 or so), he handles the ball well, plays hard and seemingly gets to the basket at will. Seeing him get up and put one down on the break, I wonder what most people have probably asked him throughout his life: Goat’s kin? Very nice pickup for Wichita State.
–Allen, a DC-area kid who started at DeMatha as a freshman, is pretty talented. A husky, 6-2 guard, he’s solidly built, yet very herky-jerky and has the ball on the string. He definiteloy has some toughness, so I think Bob Huggins will be happy with him, even if he has to rein him in a bit from time to time.
–Doron Lamb is the smoothest cat you’ll see. Stronger and now a legit combo, he’s a playmaker and never really forces the issue, despite being an extremely talented scorer. His mid-range game is a work of art for a high school kid. Turns out he’s pretty cool, too. After the game, him and Howard (who’s really improved since I first saw him as a freshman playing with Michigan State’s Delvon Roe) sit behind me and we talk about likely McDonald’s All-Americans from their class of 2010. Always interesting to get the players’ perspective.
–Anyway, back to the game. Pinewood keeps hanging around, and behind Jennings and Manigault (and some Oak Hill lapses), it’s 31 all at the half. Although Tiny picks up his third and fourth fouls early in the third, Oak Hill gets on a roll and starts running away with it, taking the game by a 83-64 score. Lamb ends up with 26, nine boards and four dimes, while Momo adds 20. Jennings puts up 24 and 12 for the losers.
St. Benedict’s vs. St. Frances:
–St. Frances, the Catholic league champs of B-More is coached by Mark Karcher, who also attended the school. Don’t know how many of y’all remember Karcher, but he played his final college season at Temple when I was a freshman there, and while he never found a spot in the League, I can remember him putting in work in college and before that, being a straight assassin as a prep star. Only 30, it’s good to see him on the bench.
–St. Frances has some talented underclassmen, but their star is 6-7 senior forward Terrell Vinson, a top unsigned prospect who transferred in from Montrose Christian. I was extremely high on Vinson as a youngster and while he hasn’t developed into the prospect I (and others) thought he would be, he’s a very solid player who can do a little bit of everything.
–St. Ben’s is coached by Danny Hurley, son of Bob Sr., of St. Anthony fame. If you’ve ever seen his father coach, you know that watching him stalk the sidelines is almost as entertaining as seeing one of his loaded squads put it on a helpless victim. Well, like father, like son. The make-up of Danny’s team is a little different than his pop’s, as he has a United Nations squad of international players and kids from all over the NYC region.
–I’m very impressed with 6-8 junior forward Gilvydas Biruta of St. Ben’s. A muscular kid who’s a force on the boards, he’s deceptively athletic and really attacks the basket to finish. On top of that, he can also step out to knock down treys. I’ll be keeping an eye on his development and recruitment.
–St. Frances started out down, 14-2, but comes back to lead by five at the half. Vinson has been his solid self, but Dante Holmes, a 6-3 junior, is making a lot of big plays. Holmes is tough, has a nice stroke and plays hard all the time. He’s another kid I’ll be watching in the future.
–Myck Kabongo, a sophomore point guard for St. Ben’s, has had his moments, but turnovers have been an issue for him. Still, I like the fact that the Canada native, a Texas commit gotten stronger, improved his jumper and is more of a ballplayer than a track star who can dribble now.
–Lamar Patterson, a senior Pitt signee, has struggled with foul trouble and is eventually DQ’d, but it’s really a blessing in disguise, as it allows 6-10 St. Ben’s junior John Paul Kambola to shine. I love how he runs the floor, blocks shots and plays the energy guy/drity work role to perfection. In reality, all of Hurley’s kids are willing to play that role.
–St. Ben’s plays solid down the stretch, hits their free throws, plays tough D and ends up coming away with a 74-65 win. Holmes dropped 23 and Vinson had 29 and seven for St. Frances in the loss.
Findlay Prep vs. Mountain State:
–Off the top, this was never really a contest. One of Mountain State’s top players, West Virginia signee Deniz Kilicli, a 6-9 Turkish bruiser who I first saw at adidas Nations last summer, picked up two fouls early, effectively ending the West Virginia prep school’s hopes of a win. One interesting sidenote: both schools are relatively new powers. In fact, I never heard of Mountain State until this season, and I consider myself someone in the know. Findlay is in its second year of existence and while the idea of having a prep school on the outskirts of Vegas sounds crazy, they’ve been pretty successful so far, only losing one game, including this year’s undefeated (so far) season.
–Findlay only has eight players, but one of them is Texas-bound McDonald’s All-American Avery Bradley, probably the nation’s top on-ball defender and a ridiculous athlete, to boot. They also have Illinois signee DJ Richardson, who, like Bradley, is a high-flying 6-3 guard who can both shoot it and defend. Carlos Lopez, a 6-11 UNLV signee, is their other senior. He’s the only one of the trio I haven’t seen, but he immediately catches my eye with his bounciness and aggressiveness, not to mention his eccentric look. Their underclassmen aren’t too shabby either, as Canadian junior point guard Cory Joseph (younger brother of Minnesota’s Devoe) and fellow 2010 prospect Tristan Thompson add to the strong group.
–Speaking of Thompson, a 6-9 Texas commit (think a smaller LaMarcus Aldridge with more perimeter skills), he’s playing alongside his second Grassroots Canada AAU teammate and Texas commit this season. Until a few months ago, he was at St. Ben’s (with Kabongo; Joseph also plays on his AAU squad and Bradley is also committed to Texas), until being dismissed by Hurley and resurfacing at Findlay. Rumor has it that Kabongo may join him at Findlay next season, but time will tell.
–This is my first extended look at Noah Cottrill, a 6-2 junior point guard at Mountain State and a West Virginia commit. Cottrill, an in-state kid, is doing his best to help his team not get embarrassed, but they’re clearly outmanned. Still, I like his competitiveness, his pure stroke, vision and unselfishness. He’s got his hands full with Bradley and Richardson taking turns guarding him, but he’s trying out there. Also, look out for Mountain State freshman Najee Whitehead.
–Findlay wins, 76-55. Thompson goes for 20 and eight, Lopez has 14, nine and three blocks, Bradley has 15, six and five dimes and Joseph puts up 13, five and four, while Cottrill has 23 (including six treys) and four dimes (with seven turnovers) in a losing effort.
Montrose Christian vs. Friends Central:
–Saying this game was never a contest is an understatement. I’m somewhat familiar with Friends Central, a Philly-area team (and alma mater of Mustafa Shakur and Hakim Warrick), and I know they have some nice young players, but there’s no way they were ready for Montrose. 6-10 Mouphtaou Yarou and 6-8 Isaiah Armwood, both Villanova signees, hold things down on the inside, while Oregon native Terrence Ross, a 6-5 junior swingman is their headliner on the perimeter.
–”Mouph” is a straight beast. A true post player, he could help the Wildcats in their Final Four game tonight. Built like a blacksmith, he has excellent footwork, runs the floor wel, has a nice touch and is a force on the inside.
–Armwood, like his former teammate Vinson, didn’t develop the way I expected when I first saw him as a sophomore, but Im like the strides he’s made. He’s forgotten about transforming into the next Kevin Durant (a Montrose alum) and focused on playing to his strengths (his superb athleticism) and improving his mid-range J.
–Ross is a kid I was immediately biased against because my mother saw a picture of him in the paper and said he looked like me at that age. All jokes aside, the kid can play. Smooth, athletic, a fluid ballhandler with a great stroke, look for him to continue the ascension to elite prospect he started on last summer.
–The kid who stole the show, however, was Montrose freshman Justin Anderson. I really try to not talk about kids until after their freshman year on varsity is over, but this kid has got something. A 6-5 guard, he has a frame a lot of seniors would be happy with, crazy athleticism, a dynamic handle and passing ability, and a solid stroke. In other words, he’s no ordinary freshman. Playing under Stu Vetter, one of the very best coaches in the high school game, I fully expect him to live up to the hype he’s already getting in the DC area.
–Friends Central kinda got demoralized after a while, but one kid who piqued my interest was another freshman, 6-6 Amile Jefferson. He desperately needs to add weight, but he has a good feel for the game, a great motor, plenty of length, finishes well and can already guard multiple positions. His poise, however, is what impressed me most. Also, 6-3 sophomore guard Devin Coleman, a smooth lefty, has a lot of potential, as well.
–Montrose won it, 88-45. No need for stats. It was cool to see Montrose’s bench players get a lot of burn and the starters going crazy for them. T. Jordan Omogbehin (great name!), a raw, 7-1 sophomore, might have stolen the show from Anderson toward the end, as he seemed to gain confidence by the minute.
–Back to the gym in a bit for the semis today. Catch them on TV, if you can.