Making Up for Lost Time
From preps to pros and everything in between, let me catch you up on how I spent my holidays.
by Aggrey Sam
Last year, right after I moved to New Orleans, I wrote a sort-of tribute to Philly, where I included some of the hoops I watched over the holiday season. Well, I wanted to do something similar this year, but in typical fashion, I got behind schedule. Fortunately, a few friends are more diligent than myself and felt like writing about some events that happened on the prep scene over the last few weeks. Before I get to that, however, here’s a brief low-down on what I saw out of town.
–First, let me start with something I actually wrote about, the City of Palms Classic. My man Webb, who travels the country filming John Wall’s every last move on the court (believe me, it makes sense when it comes to that kid), has highlights of the talent-laden tourney.
–While home for the holidays, I saw Georgetown play Memphis at DC’s Verizon Center. This game was so long ago, most of my observations would now be out of context, but being a Hoyas fan and pretty familiar with the Memphis program, I was more than a casual observer. Off the top, Greg Monroe is a lot better college player than high school. Living in New Orleans, I heard a lot of people complain about the big fella last year during his senior season. Well, he made the right college choice, as Georgetown’s Princeton offense plays to his strengths. A freshman on the other team impressed me, as well. No, not Tyreke Evans (although he did play well), but Wesley Witherspoon. Not this year and probably not next year, but ‘Spoon will be in the League one day. Anyway, it was a great game (Georgetown won in OT) with plenty of pro prospects (Shawn Taggart and Dajuan Summers most notably) on the floor.
–I also caught two DC high school powers, Gonzaga and St. John’s, in the chip of the ’08 Gonzaga DC Classic at American University. I’ve always been high on Duke commit Tyler Thornton and Princeton-bound senior forward Ian Hummer is a big-time sleeper, but I was more impressed with Thornton’s backcourt mate for Gonzaga, fellow junior Cedrick Lindsay. Lindsay has bulked up without losing quickness and just seems more confident than in the past. College coaches who are late to the party will miss out on all the fun. I also liked the college potential of St. John’s senior wing Derrick Thomas, and sophomore guard Chris Martin looks like a player, too.
–Before heading to Florida for the City of Palms, I made a stop in Philly, my old stomping grounds. One college game I checked out was Rider at La Salle. A player I used to work with, Rider’s Mike Ringgold, did his thing (gotta get that free-throw percentage up!) and since I knew a lot of people in the gym (players, fans, coaches), it was a cool scene. La Salle’s Rodney Green made improvements to that J of his (saw him throughout his high school career and it was pretty awful) and I’d have to say that despite my love of sleepers from small schools, he looks like a better pro prospect than his more highly-touted fellow junior wing Ryan Thompson of Rider (little brother of Kings rookie Jason Thompson), who didn’t disappoint me, but also didn’t wow me.
–While killing time in MD one night after Christmas, I checked out The Washington Post and realized that I was nearby Springbrook High School, which was hosting a holiday tourney. Springbrook has always been a solid program and won the state chip last year, so I decided to check it out. The overall talent on the court wasn’t anything mind-blowing, but the kids competed and there were a few a college prospects on the court. The one whose name mid-major schools need to know in the near future is Jamal Olasawere, a 6-5 senior forward at Springbrook. Jamal, a lefty, is a big-time athlete, a versatile defender and an excellent finisher. Although his wing skills aren’t fully polished, he would do well as a strong combo forward on the next level.
–One kid in the DC area I’d seen far too little of is Markel Starks, a junior at Roy Hibbert’s old school. Starks is coached by my man Dwayne Bryant, a New Orleans native and former Georgetown guard. The name of the school is Georgetown Prep and the team is called the Little Hoyas. Markel made an early commitment to an area college. Guess where? Maryland! Seriously, he’s headed for Georgetown. Markel is a 6-2 point guard with a ridiculous handle, great court vision and tremendous bounce. The kid has a very serious demeanor on the court, but is nice and outgoing as can be off the court. Quick story: I was at a gas station, waiting for the car ahead of me to move up and I saw the driver was a tall kid with a Georgetown Prep sweatsuit on. I asked him if he played there and he said they had a game that day. I said I’d try to stop by and asked what kind of season Markel was having. Markel happened to be in the car, so I felt obligated to go watch him play. He didn’t disappoint in their semifinal tourney win, so I came back for the chip the following day. They were matched up with Jesuit of New Orleans, a team I’ve seen a few times this season. I got to the game in the first quarter and it was a rout early. Jesuit slowly chipped away at the lead, mostly due to junior sharpshooter Dominic Scelfo (by the way, in a previous column I wrote that I didn’t know who the fifth-best player in New Orleans is; well, it’s Scelfo) and actually took command late before Markel stopped the madness late with a personal run of his own to win it. The kid is the real deal, on and off the court.
–After New Year’s, I made a quick trip to New York to catch up with a player to get a quote for a story in the magazine. I caught the Knicks vs. Pacers at the Garden, which doesn’t sound like a great game on paper, but ended up being pretty entertaining. Russ already covered it, so I’ll leave this one alone, but it was cool as hell to meet Sam Perkins, who’s now Indiana’s VP of Player Relations. Also, Danny Granger is nice.
–I ended up where I started, the Verizon Center, for my last game before going back to the N.O. Georgetown was hosting Pitt, and flying high after a W over UConn earlier in the week. Unfortunately, the then-undefeated Panthers weren’t having the upset. DeJuan Blair was a MAN inside and after a hot first half, DaJuan Summers couldn’t get it going (or rather, get touches) after intermission. Greg Monroe turned it on a little in the second half, but the combo of Blair and DC-area native Sam Young, not to mention senior leadership from floor general Levance Fields and timely plays from soph wings Gilbert Brown and my man Brad Wanamaker from Roman Catholic and North Philly, were too much for the Hoyas, who haven’t been the same since.
Guess I was in the Verizon Center a day too early (Wizards beat Cavs), but all in all, it was a good holiday for hoops. Stay tuned for those guest-written game reports.