By Aggrey Sam
Heading into this high school season, when people speculated about which team was the best in the nation, I thought the answer was obvious: St. Anthony of Jersey City. Granted, picking the top dog in prep hoops is a little subjective, as the best don’t always face the best, like in the college game. But with their track record (24 Tournament of Champions–New Jersey state crowns–titles), experience (six seniors already committed to Division I schools and a junior who might be the team’s most talented player) and coaching (Bob Hurley Sr.; say no more), I figured they could pull it off. On top of that, I had seen the Friars’ core group each excel in various settings last summer and I knew that despite with the seniors’ college decisions out of the way, they would be on a mission. The only thing left was for them to win a state title, something that had eluded the group in their first three seasons and a reminder for sleepless nights that they would be remembered as a unit that underachieved.
As of Monday night, the senior stars of St. Anthony–Alberto Estwick, Jio Fontan, A.J. Rogers, Mike Rosario, Tyshawn Taylor and Travon Woodall, not to mention class of 2009 superstar Dominic Cheek–can sleep easy. The Friars defeated Science Park of Newark to win the 2008 Jersey TOC, completing a 32-0 season and winning the mythical high school national championship. Congrats to Coach Hurley and the Friars on their special season.
Here in Louisiana, the state championships were about two weeks ago. I took the trip out to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette’s Cajundome to see my favorite team in the city, the O. Perry Walker Chargers, take on Helen Cox, with 6-10 Georgetown signee Greg Monroe. OPWC fell in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated. Monroe was a beast, finishing with a double-double and playing better (and harder) than I’ve ever seen him play in the past, but I was most impressed with OPWC’s Charles Hammork, who may very well have led an upset if he didn’t foul out due to some bogus calls. Hammork, a versatile, smooth and fluid 6-6 wing, is one of the biggest sleepers in the nation and would be a steal for a college program.
With March Madness starting, I also want to shout out a few people, starting with my boy Mike Ringgold at Rider University. Rider lost last night in the inaugural College Basketball Invitational, after failing to make the Big Dance when they lost in their conference’s chip game. Mike, who worked out with me back in Philly since he was in the 10th grade, had a very solid freshman season and with the loss of future pro Jason Thompson, should take a big step forward as a sophomore. Lewis Leonard, another kid who worked out with me and is now at a juco in Cali, also deserves some love for the season he had this year, as well as his recent commitment to St. Bonaventure. Speaking of Philly, a kid named Michael Sturns might be the most underrated college player in the city this year. Sturns, a senior at Holy Family University who transferred from North Texas, led all D2 players in scoring this season at over 26 a game. Then there’s Philly native Tywain McKie, who led a 16-20 Coppin State team to the Tournament’s play-in game last night–by dropping 33 in the MEAC tourney final, including the game-winner–where they lost to Mount St. Mary’s. And I can’t forget my alma mater, Temple University, who’s back in the tourney for the first time since 2001, when I was still in school.
Of course, this is supposed to be a high school column, so let me wrap things up by shouting out my girl, PA Gatorade state player of the year Markel Walker, the kids at Strawberry Mansion (who lost the state chip to Ohio State football commit Terrelle Pryor’s team) and those Chester Clippers, the third-ranked team in the nation. I was at last week’s Lakers-Hornets game–and took notes, too–but I’ll make it up to you (Honeybees!) soon, I promise.