A recap from the Nike Summer Classic.
by Ryan ZumMallen / photo Andrew Veis
The championship game of the Nike Summer Classic in Los Angeles boiled down to a good old fashioned battle of the giants, as 6-9 center Kevin Johnson led his Taft High team into battle against 6-7 forward Ryan Anderson and a Long Beach Poly squad that some believe is the best in California.
The gym of Fairfax High baked like an oven in the Los Angeles summer heat, ideal conditions for young ballers looking to make a name for themselves. Both teams know each other well from travel competition (Johnson and Anderson are even AAU teammates) which made for spirited matchups and stifling man-to-man pressure. Taft defeated Poly in a similar tournament earlier in June, but neither team was at full strength and the thick, hot air just down the street from glitzy Melrose Avenue made the perfect backdrop for two of Southern California’s elite.
Taft fought hard from a ten-point deficit in the first half to tie the game in the final minutes, but a more balanced Poly team never trailed and grinded out the 55-48 victory to win after three days of games at the Summer Classic.
“A lot of talent on the floor,” said Poly head coach Sharieff Metoyer. “It was a good way to culminate our summer. This is a statement game for us.”
Johnson is a skilled big man with a growing array of moves and decent athleticism for his size, which is considerable. He’s able to create a lot of space in the paint with arms that seem to stretch from baseline to baseline, and improving footwork allows him to get off a high-release jump hook that is becoming a signature move. Johnson led all scorers with 17 points and corralled 8 rebounds against a swarming Poly defense, but his effectiveness was limited by double teams.
It was Anderson who handled the big game situation best, showing his versatility with a diverse offensive game and great passing instinct out of pressure in the post. He would finish with 14 points and 12 rebounds on his way to claiming bragging rights. Point guard Alexis Moore–a recent USC signee–ran the offensive attack and finished with 10 points and 8 rebounds, while 6-5 forward Roshcon Prince is developing into a super-athlete and swung the momentum in Poly’s favor when he skied to reject a Johnson dunk on one end and wowed the fans with a high-flying tip-in on the other. Prince, who will be just a sophomore this Fall, finished with 13 points and 5 rebounds. He could stand to improve his shot selection a bit after shooting 0-4 from three-point land, but is quickly growing offensively and will be a hot recruiting target over the next two years.
“Those were two big time plays from Prince,” said Metoyer.
While Johnson shot an impressive 8-10 from the field, he wasn’t able to catch the ball where he wanted and struggled against the inside size of Poly. Anderson shot just 4-14 but was far more active down low. With Poly holding onto a 50-44 lead late in the final minutes, Johnson put up a baseline hook that Anderson stretched to reject into the stands before letting out a guttural yell. It was the culmination of a hard-fought battle between two of California’s best big men, and put Anderson’s stamp on the game and–for the time being–the rivalry between the two friends.
“That block just kind of ended it so I had to let out all that fatigue and emotion,” Anderson said after the game. “I don’t get too many chances to match up with someone like [Johnson], where we can go back and forth and fight.”
Anderson is heavily recruited by the entire PAC 10 Conference and is rumored to be leaning toward UCLA, while Johnson is still making a name for himself after sitting out his junior year. However, after an intense workout regimen that saw him slim down to an athletic 230 pounds, some say that he’s drawn the interest of both USC and Kentucky. His list of suitors will surely grow as more scouts get a chance to see him in action.
“I’m happy with how I’m playing right now,” said the truly towering Johnson, who said he is working intensely on improving his footwork and his left-handed hook. “We played pretty good but just couldn’t finish it. Me and [Anderson] always go at it in the paint so it’s always really good competition going against him.”
This game hinged on the battle in the paint, but there was impressive talent in the backcourt as well as Moore, the future Trojan, and Taft’s stringy but lethal Spencer Dinwiddie (13 points) traded attacks on the basket. Though they didn’t guard each other much and were constricted by the small dimensions of the Fairfax gym, Moore and Dinwiddie showed why many are already predicting that these two teams will meet in the State finals next year.
Keep an eye on these two as the year goes on, because both Taft and Long Beach Poly will set the bar for high school basketball in California before they go on to take over the NCAA.
Ryan ZumMallen is the managing editor of LBPOSTSports.com and covers high school and college basketball on the West Coast. He lives in Long Beach, CA