Hoophall Classic, Day 1
Basketball’s future meets at where it all began.
by Sean Sweeney
Halfway through the opening game on Saturday between Springfield Central High School of the tournament’s host city and Alabama’s Columbia High School, there is but one person sitting under the basket in the designated coach’s section.
Shoot, shoot from the top of the key…Let’s score three!
Blake Arena has a decidedly community feel with the Central cheerleaders serenading press row with their best chants and the majority of the barely half-full stands here to see Central.
Lets go Central, lets go!
Technically, the 2010 Spalding Hoophall Classic began Friday afternoon. But, nobody here came to see Sabis Charter School or Palmer High School. With all due respect to the local programs, the real tournament started mid-day on Saturday.
The only real drama of the first game was who had the better hair: Central’s Cornelius Tyson with a baby, Kid N’ Play high top fade or a Columbia bench warmer who is sporting a fabulous Mohawk, complete with designs down the side.
With the early morning drowsiness subsiding, the crowd perks up once New York’s Half Hollow Hills West and Sacred Heart of Connecticut take the floor. Hills West’s Tobias Harris, an eerie Patrick O’Bryant lookalike with the Devin Ebanks game, immediately stands out.
On the opening possession, he hits a three. It’s on.
Hills West jumps out to the early lead and it’s pretty clear, Sacred Heart will have a hard time matching the height and talent level of their opponents.
A block by Tyler Harris of Hills West leads to a four-on-one and jam for Tobias Harris near the end of the first. On the other end, Tobias Harris finishes the first quarter with a block of his own, securing an early 6-point lead.
Sacred Heart’s duo of 6-5 inch seniors Josh Turner and Corey Andrews are literally the only offense for their squad. In fact, the two have all 31 of Sacred Heart’s first half points. Their teammates? 0-9 from the field with 7 turnovers.
Hills West Tavon Sledge, a junior, 5-9 inch point guard, caps the first half with a resounding two-handed dunk and then a steal and reverse lay in, floating underneath a defender to finish on the right side of the rim. At the break, it is 38-31 Hills West. Tennessee-bound Tobias Harris has 20 and 9 rebounds already.
In the third quarter, Sledge continues to add to his personal highlight reel with an explosive drive to the hoop where he wraps the ball around a defender and finishes with his right hand on the left side. Then, Tobias Harris ignites a quick 6-0 run with another breakaway slam that finally pushes the lead to double digits at 51-39 with two and a half minutes left in the quarter.
The fourth quarter quickly turns into a parade to the rim for Sledge and Tobias Harris. The final is a 75-56 win for Hills West as Sledge (27) and Harris (35) combine for 62. Harris also adds 16 rebounds, not forcing anything and racking up the numbers pretty easily.
For Sacred Heart, Turner and Andrews, with 25 and 27 points respectively, had all but 4 points for their team.
The first major disappointment of the weekend comes in an injury for Josh Smith, one of the Class of 2010’s finest big men. It destroys what was supposed to be a highly celebrated matchup between Smith’s Kentwood High School from Washington and North Carolina’s Kinston High School.
Reggie Bullock, who will be lacing them up for Roy Williams next year at Chapel Hill, headlines Kinston.
With “California Love” infusing the gym with some west coast flavor, Smith, a UCLA signee, stands in street clothes underneath his team’s hoop during warm-up lines. Every year, this tournament can never pass without someone missing a game due to injury. Which reminds of Michael Gilchrist, possibly the best high school player in the nation out of St. Patrick’s, who recently went down with a knee injury. Will he play or won’t he this weekend?
It’s an uneventful first quarter with Kinston taking the 11-4 lead. Bullock has a nice dunk on a fast break where he cocks it back with his right hand before sending it in.
And an earlier question posed about who had the best hair is finally answered when a fan stands up just a few rows back from the scorer’s table. He has a massive, brownish Afro, so big it droops down to his shoulders.
It’s 27-11 Kinston at halftime: Bullock is coasting and most of Kentwood’s players aren’t even turning to face the rim on their catches. There is no doubt they are in trouble without Smith.
In the third, Bullock continues to showcase a smooth, all-around game, one that figures to make him a solid player for North Carolina for the next few years.
First, he gets a steal and finishes it off with a beautiful spin move into a layup. Then, he grabs a long rebound and steps into a transition three.
It’s turned ugly by the end of the third quarter with a 27-point lead for Kinston and they go on to win 60-37, fueled by 26 and 12 rebounds from Bullock.
The next game on the schedule figures to be a much better contest. With ESPN broadcasting from the sidelines, it is the perennial power Oak Hill against Ohio’s Northland High School, led by the best big man in the 2010 class, Jared Sullinger.
As distanced as Virginia seems from Western Massachusetts, the Warriors of Oak Hill have a special connection with the fans here. Every January, they seem to be around. Last year, they battled Derrick Favors with six-foot ten-inch Tiny Gallon providing the theatrics on a number of deep bombs. The year before that, Brandon Jennings electrified the crowd with 32 points.
This year, Steve Smith’s team lacks any big names, but do sport a number of solid prospects in seniors like Roscoe Smith and Doron Lamb. Add to that Northland’s Sullinger, who is at the head of a nice Ohio State class, and the matchup is worthy of the eight cameramen stationed behind the far basket.
The crowd is juiced up, ready to finally see a good game. The coach’s section is filling up. Everything is pointing towards an intense and interesting contest, until the teams are introduced to Nirvana. Kurt Cobain and high school hoops? Not everything can be perfect.
Sullinger comes out rocking the world’s most ugly facemask. Instead of just a clear cover, it has two, shiny yellowish strips running through the middle. He could easily fit the part of a villain.
Oak Hill, lacking any beef inside- their six foot eleven center, Baye Keita, is a stick- decides to double Sullinger off the ball. They concede shots to his teammates. Two slippery drives by Lamb gives Oak Hill the early 7-3 lead and Sullinger gets rid of the facemask.
It is the first evenly matched game of the day and an interesting contrast of styles. Oak Hill is operating strictly off the bounce while Northland is playing volleyball on the offensive glass.
Amazingly, Sullinger doesn’t score a point until he hits a free throw with just under 6 minutes left. And with less than 30 seconds remaining, somehow he gets isolated against Keita 30 feet from the hoop with Oak Hill up by a point. A smooth crossover and then a spin into the lane gets him to the free throw line. Why Northland hasn’t been just clearing out before for him, no one knows.
He makes them both.
On the final defensive possession, Sullinger seals the game with a huge block on a Lamb drive, preserving a 47-46 Northland win.
Sullinger finishes with just 3 points but does have 16 rebounds. His teammate, J.D. Weatherspoon, received the game MVP with 21 points and 7 rebounds. Lamb paced Oak Hill with 13 points.
In the final national game on Saturday’s schedule, one of the nation’s best juniors put on a show. Winter Park’s Austin Rivers, who has committed to Florida but may or may not honor that, left the crowd buzzing. Most of the other top players here exhibited no outward signs of confidence or swagger. Not Rivers. The son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers had everyone in the gym focused on him, even during layup lines.
Despite being matched up with future Dukie Tyler Thornton of Gonzaga College High School, Rivers quickly put to rest any questions out there about his offensive game.
Getting to the basket at will, Rivers displayed one of high school’s most explosive first steps and showed a fantastic ability to finish around the hoop.
In the most exciting sequence of the day, Rivers came down on a fast break sizing up a Gonzaga center before just rising over the top, dunking it right on the kid’s head.
An overhead projector in the corner of the gym, with a feed that can best be described as archaic, still got the crowd laughing and hollering on the reply.
Then, on the next possession, Rivers went backdoor and caught a second dunk, this time a lob that had people ready to rush the floor.
In the second half, he took his game to the perimeter, banging 3 consecutive threes, the final one on a powerful step back move that forced him to launch a few feet behind the line.
After the shot fell through, Rivers turned to press row on his way down the court as if to say, what?
The show promptly ended at the seven-minute mark of the fourth. Rivers came flying down the left side and tried to split two defenders before getting tripped up. He immediately grabbed at his ankle. Once Rivers got carried off for treatment, Doc came down out of the balcony to a nice ovation from the Massachusetts crowd.
With a Rivers return looking doubtful, a few dozen people in the stands started leaving, even though Winter Park was clinging to a slight lead.
But, without their star player, who exited with 21 points, they got contributions from everyone and somehow held onto their lead down the stretch. Junior point guard Brett Comer took charge as he found little-used John David Swanson for back-to-back threes and then got into the lane for a nice layup.
Even a four-point play by Gonzaga senior Cedrick Lindsay can’t hold down Winter Park and the visitors from Florida finish off the national Saturday schedule with a 73-69 win.