The best high school guards in America

The third edition of PUNKS, our high school annual, is on newsstands now, and has new rankings by Aggrey Sam, as well as some great features, including pieces on Allen Iverson mentor Boo Williams as well as the high school hoops hot spots of suburban New Jersey and Houston. The centerpiece is our cover story on a foursome of guards who will be dominating their prep comp this season and figure to blow up in college and then the NBA in the near future.

The cover story was written by Adam Zagoria, who has done some freelancing for SLAM before, but nothing of this magnitude. Adam is a staff writer at the Herald News in West Paterson, NJ, where he covers college and prep basketball, football and baseball. He also has a blog that is a must-read for high school hoop fans in the Tri-State area, if not nationwide. Check it out sometime:

In any event, I asked him to excerpt the piece for the site, which he did below (along with adding some recruiting updates on the players profiled). Here you go…—Ben Osborne


Brandon, Jrue, Tyreke and Lance. The Fantastic Four.

The four best prep guards in the nation are staring out at you from the cover of the new issue of PUNKS Magazine that just hit newsstands this week.

Jennings and Holiday rep the West Coast. (Well, at least Brandon did before transferring to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia). And Evans and Stephenson play with an East Coast attitude.

Whatever the case, you’ll want to catch these guys at an arena near you—three of the four will participate in the Primetime Shootout next February in New Jersey—before they head off to college….and then likely the League.

“I can probably coach an NBA team with those four guys,” Lincoln coach Dwayne “Tiny” Morton told me for the cover story. “Just give me a couple big guys, role players, I can probably get an NBA team with that.

“I might not start them all, but those guys could be part of an NBA team, definitely.”

That NBA team would feature players with unique skill-sets, guys who can shoot, pass and break ankles off the dribble. Paul Biancardi, who covered the quartet for ESPN at the Boost Mobile Elite 24 Hoops Classic before taking an assistant’s job at St. Louis, broke down each player’s strengths entering the affair.

“Evans is a prolific scorer,” Biancardi said. “He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands. There isn’t anything he can’t do with a basketball in his hands. He’s got great size for a guard. He shoots it deep. He gets to the rim. He’s just a big-time scorer. And he may be the most elite two guard in the country.

“Brandon Jennings is an electric, explosive point guard. He goes by anybody. He gets to the rim and finishes. He makes bad shots and he’s an extreme competitor who loves to play. He’s a big time scoring point guard.

Of Stephenson, Bicardi raves, “Lance is more of a big strong guard. He’s a great slasher. I believe he’s a warrior, a great defender. He does a little bit of everything well. A lot of what he does feeds off his hard work and his workout regime.

“And Jrue Holiday is just an all-around great guard. He’s got a great physique, great skills. He can shoot the 3. He gets where he wants with the dribble because he’s so strong and I think he’s a really good defender.”

The recruitment of Jennings and Holiday is over, with both headed to PAC-10 schools. Jennings initially committed to Southern California as a junior, but changed his mind and opted for Arizona.

“A lot of great point guards came out of there, Gilbert Arenas, Jason Terry, Mike Bibby, and I want to be the next great point guard to come out of there,” Jennings said.

Holiday, who enters his senior season at Campbell (Calif.) Hall, will suit up for Ben Howland at UCLA.

Holiday is looking forward to teaming up at UCLA with guards Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson, guys he also has known since the sixth grade and with whom he teamed at the USA Youth Festival this past summer in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“We’re all boys,” Holiday said. “We all like to get up and down the court. Coach Howland is saying he likes to get up and down the court, that’s what he’s been saying. That’s probably why he picked up three great guards.”

Meantime, the recruitment of the 6-5 Evans and the 6-5 Stephenson, the lone junior in “The Fantastic Four, has heated up even more since the article was written in September.

‘Reke’s recruitment—which he has chronicled in his monthly diary in SLAM—is being guided by his three brothers, mainly Reggie, who has become the family’s lead spokesman as the American Christian (Pa.) star has narrowed his list down to Louisville, Memphis, Villanova, UConn, Texas and Seton Hall.

As of now, ‘Reke had visited all of these schools except Memphis, and because he has yet to see John Calipari’s program firsthand, he likely won’t decide during the early signing period, which begins Nov. 14.

“We’re not going to sign early,” Reggie said in a recent phone interview. “We didn’t see Memphis yet. We’re trying to narrow it down (and visit Memphis) either later this month or early December.”

Conventional wisdom says that Memphis, Louisville and hometown favorite Villanova are the leaders, but Reggie raved about a recent visit to Texas, in part because strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright had a large part in making Kevin Durant ready for the NBA after one season on campus.

Reggie and ‘Reke have also had good things to say about UConn and coach Jim Calhoun, as well as second-year Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez, who has made waves by getting both Evans and Stephenson to make unofficial visits to South Orange.

As for deciding late, Reggie said the family was prepared to handle the ongoing questions about recruitment for the next few months. “That’s how it goes,” he said. “They want to know what the interest level is and who he’s gonna commit to. It comes with the territory when you’re still on the board. Realistically, that doesn’t bother us because we don’t really care about it. We just care about making the right decision.”

Stephenson, the Lincoln High star, has at least another year to make his decision, but his father, Lance Sr., has already taken an innovative approach to recruiting.

Instead of waiting for schools to contact him about his son, he’s reaching out to some of the top programs in the nation, including USC and Kansas. Lance and his dad visited USC this past weekend, and plan to visit Kansas later this month.

“I’ve been going through all the top programs in the country,” Lance Sr. said. “I’ve been talking with (USC) Coach (Tim) Floyd and he’s been giving me a lot of information about what they’re trying to do.

“One thing we’re looking for is a place (different) from New York City. The approach going toward college is to find a nice place that’s excited about basketball but at the same time that’s cozy and secluded which is going to be tough to find.

“I know USC doesn’t really fit that bill because it’s another big city. I’m talking with him to see if their situation is different where they can keep everybody away from Lance and he can just concentrate on playing ball.”

After that, the Stephensons are looking at visiting Kansas Nov. 25 for the game against Arizona in the Big 12/PAC 10 Challenge. “We’re just going to visit to get a good feeling,” Lance Sr. said. “And that atmosphere that weekend, he’ll really get a good look at what Kansas is all about.”

Lance Sr. said he also wants to get to see both North Carolina and Georgetown. Lincoln will play at the Bojangles Shootout Dec. 27-30 in Charlotte, N.C., “so we’re going to use that opportunity to go over there (to UNC) and see the campus and talk to a couple of the coaches.”

Lance Sr. said Memphis, Indiana and Seton Hall were all still in the mix, despite the recent penalties levied against Indiana head coach Kelvin Sampson and the resignation of assistant Rob Senderoff. “We have a pretty good relationship with Coach Sampson and I would like to continue to develop it and I would like him to continue to develop his relationship with Lance,” he said. “Indiana is a great institution, especially for basketball, and when you combine the two with the fans they have there. The arena is beautiful. Whether Coach Sampson is there or not, that would definitely be a place that we would consider sending Lance.”

Lance Sr. also elaborated a bit on the documentary film in the works about his son’s life, tentatively titled The Born Ready Story. The crew plans to follow Lance through 2010 and potentially release episodes on the Internet and/or on a channel such as ESPN or MTV. The story follows Lance on and off the basketball court, including family get-togethers, basketball events, interviews and day-to-day life. “I think it’s an interesting story just to see a kid whose dream is to play professional basketball someday,” Lance Jr. said.

Lance Sr. said his family had learned valuable lessons from both the Marbury and Telfair families about the recruiting process and was hoping to forge its own path. A documentary on Sebastian Telfair, Through the Fire, was shown on ESPN a couple years ago.

“We all come from the same environment (in Coney Island),” said Sr. “The way I handle Lance has actually come from watching the Marburys.”

Lance Sr. said his agreement with the filmmakers includes a provision that the family can call it off any time if they so choose.
“This is strictly for the love of basketball,” he said. “We have no financial gain out of this.”

The documentary will take some time, but the magazine is on newsstands now. Pick one up today.