What Happens in Vegas…
…also happens everywhere else, apparently. Recap from the Findlay-Oak Hill NHSI chip. More John Wall and Lance Stephenson, too.
by Aggrey Sam
Say what you want about ESPN, but the inaugural ESPN/RISE National High School Invitational couldn’t have played out any better. The consensus top-two teams in the nation, Oak Hill Academy and Findlay Prep, met up in Sunday’s NHSI championship game. In case you missed my earlier coverage of the event, Oak Hill features Oklahoma-bound McDonald’s All-American big man Keith “Tiny” Gallon, top unsigned senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones and consensus top-25 junior guard Doron Lamb, while Findlay boasts Texas signee and McDonald’s All-American guard Avery Bradley, Illinois recruit DJ Richardson and Texas commit Tristan Thompson. On to the action.
–Caron Butler is in the building. Shout-out to my man Tim Fuller from Nike.
–The action starts off fast-paced, with Richardson opening up the scoring on a nice reverse layup off a backdoor cut and a feed from UNLV-bound big man Carlos Lopez, followed by a Bradley pull-up J. Oak Hill gets on the board with a big dunk from Tiny, off a nifty pass from Lamb.
–Both teams look locked in and ready to go. The day before, Oak Hill coach Steve Smith says he’ll consider this his best (not most talented) team ever, if they win this event. Heady statement, with the teams and players he’s coached in the past. Indeed, they do seem to be more of a “team” than past Oak Hill squads I’ve observed. At the same time, you know Findlay wants this game even more, to put themselves on the map. It doesn’t hurt that both teams are undefeated.
–As soon as I write that Richardson is giving Lamb problems, the New Yorker comes right back with a pretty spin move off a pick-and-roll, leading to a nice feed to super-athletic unsigned senior forward Glenn Bryant for an and-1 bucket.
–Momo, who’s reportedly down to USC and Florida (after de-committing from Virginia Tech; he was an early Louisville commit as a sophomore) hits a trey at the end of the first quarter to put Oak Hill up, 13-12. Oak Hill’s D, for the time being, seems like it has Findlay rattled for the first time in the tourney. In addition, Bradley seems to be forcing the issue for the first time.
–It’s like these kids are reading my notes. Bradley (pictured here, and featured in latest issue of SLAM) skies high for a defensive board, pushes it right up the gut, coast-to-coast, for an and-1 layup. The kid goes north-south better than any guard I’ve seen in a while. Commence the DWade comparisons. Similar to the Heat star, he’s always in attack mode. Better shooter, not in the same class of playmaker/ballhandler.
–Bradley rises over everyone (including Bryant, a 6-8 pogo-stick) for another impressive board, pushes the rock–with a couple of behind-the-back moves thrown in–and is fouled on a pull-up J. I’ll be honest–he’s impressed me in the past, but playing with fellow McDonald’s All-American Abdul Gaddy (a Washington-bound point guard and his former high school teammate) during AAU and camp action, I thought he was more limited with the ball in his hands.
–Tiny is a monster on the glass. If he gets himself into better physical condition (I’d say 260-270 would be a good weight for him) at Oklahoma, the “Big Baby” comparisons won’t be justified. He actually might have better feet, more range, more passing ability and a better handle, and I’d say he’s more athletic from a leaping standpoint. Gotta keep that weight in check, though. No, he won’t be Blake Griffin, but Sooners fans should be excited.
–Momo can’t get anything to fall. A lot of in-and-out shots, but the kid is definitely a competitor and keeps plugging (chucking?) away. Love his pop/uncle/fan club member screaming out “MACHO TIME!” every once in a while.
–Again, right after I make a remotely negative observation about a player, he makes a nice play. In Momo’s case, it’s a tough crossover move and a high-degree-of-difficulty floater. He’s not a true point and depending on the system, I wouldn’t recommend putting him on the ball, but despite his avaerage athleticism, he gets buckets, by using his strength, dynamic moves, range and overall moxie.
–Findlay junior Cory Joseph is very smooth and efficient. The Canadian import has a pretty-looking stroke and rarely turns it over. Already recruited by a host of high-major programs, I think he has a chance to blow up this summer.
–Yet another kid who wasn’t overly impressing me–although I’m a big fan of his game and overall approach; he’s a straight winner, who I’ve never seen not make it to the finals or win the chip in any event–was Richardson. True to form, as I soon as my words hit the pad, the Peoria, Ill. (word to Frank Williams and Howard Nathan), native hits a pull-up J, steals the inbound pass and converts a fake behind-the-back pass into a layup (can we just call this “The Rondo” from now on?), deeming my prior notes on him inadequate.
–Findlay leads at the half 26-20.
–Oak Hill junior guard Pe’Shon Howard starts the second half with a corner trey, then makes a pretty reverse layup in transition. He’s a great glue guy, willing to defend the opposition’s best player to the best of his abilities, unselfish, always hustles, knocks down open shots and has a knack for making plays at key moments. Not a superstar, but solid as can be.
–While Howard is asserting himself, Joseph, another less-heralded player, is quietly putting in work for Findlay. Tough drives, deep jumpers, good decisions. He’s growing on me.
–Tiny hits a deep trey off the catch. Again, the kid is about 6-9, 300.
–Oak Hill has finally figured out that unless they step in front of Bradley, he will go right to the basket and score every time (and if they give him space, his J is automatic), so they draw two charges on him, forcing little-used sub Isaiah Grayson into the game. Turning point?
–I guess not. Joseph finishes a tough and-1 drive, followed by Richardson’s agile reverse layup around tiny and subsequent huge block of Lamb on the other end. If anything, Findlay is more motivated by Bradley’s absence and is up 50-35 after three quarters.
–By now, both teams are primarily playing zone, but I have to wonder why Tiny–even with all of his perimeter skills–is at the top of the key in Oak Hill’s offense?
–Grayson, a 5-8 sophomore, has been really solid while filling in for Bradley. He’s extremely quick and doesn’t do anything he’s not supposed to do–except a nice finger roll, plus the foul. Not bad, considering Findlay only really goes six deep.
–Tiny hits another deep trey. Guess that’s why he’s up top.
–Bryon Allen, a junior guard for Oak Hill and West Virginia commit, has what’s likely the play of the game: a coast-to-coast drive, with an ankle-breaking behind-the-back move and lefty layup.
–Tiny finally gets the ball down low and finishes a spin move with an and-1 layup.
–Oak Hill begins mounting a comeback. Howard continues to make hustle plays, Momo hits a big trey and goes end to end for a layup. Then, Joseph is forced into a 10-second call and Bradley fouls out on a bad reach-in. Lamb hits two free throws to cut the deficit to five with 2:32 left. It’s a ballgame!
–Thompson, probably the best overall long-term prospect in the game, steps up toward the end, hitting four straight from the line, hammering home a huge follow-up bang (he started the game with one and I thought he’d go off) and sealing the deal with a big block on Momo.
–Findlay takes the game (and the unofficial national chip), 74-66. Bradley leads them with 20 and eight, Joseph adds 18 (including three treys) and three steals, Thompson chips in with 12 and 11 and Richardson spreads out 11, five boards and four dimes. For Oak Hill, Howard has 19 (four treys), Tiny puts up 18 and 15 and Momo drops 16.