Let the games begin. The season officially kicked off Tuesday night in the talent-loaded state of Georgia. But the usual suspects didn't take to the hardwood. Instead, a new crop of youngsters came to the court decked out in old, undersized jerseys. Their talent, however, took on the look of a new trend ready to break out.
Community Christian HS in McDonough, GA is in its first year of varsity basketball. The school - enrollment 750 grades K-10 - is on its way to national prominence. What makes this branch of higher learning different is it's global range.
Linzy Davis, head coach of Community Christian, is the mind behind the hoops matter. Davis, who takes a traveling all-star team to France each summer, has used his ties to Africa and Europe to attracted a group of international players just south of Atlanta. Davis, along with a packed three rows deep gym, had a chance to see the group in action.
Leading the bunch was Nigerian native Solomon Tat. The 6-foot-5 wing forward is classified as a sophomore but has the body of a seasoned NCAA player. Tat played with the Nigerian national team this summer at the Global Games held in Dallas, Texas. While their he showed off his powerful first step and amazing ability to play above the rim. He did the same thing as the Knights captured their first ever win, 73-47 over an undersized and under skilled team.
Tat is a flat out athlete. He has even created a new stat on our books: rim heads. Translation: how many times a player hits his head on the rim while a. rebounding b. scoring and/or dunking and c. blocking a shot. Tat recorded two rim heads with some thundering dunks.
Because of the skill mismatch, Tat didn't have to play for long but when he did, he attacked the basket with ease and displayed a nice jumper but had a hard time of getting the ball through the iron. His form however was nice and he used his jumping ability to get high on his shot.
He has a big reputation coming out of Nigeria. Tat is familiar with players like Boubacar Coly (now at Xavier) and Churchill Odia (a 2004 Xavier pledge) as well as other NCAA players. Tat has the born skills but it is the attention to the defensive details and shot selection that will make him a true commodity. He's certainly one to watch this season and during the AAU months.
Standing 5-foot-6, Tyrone Bramble is easy to lose amongst the nine other players on the floor. But that soon changes when he gets to the basket just as quick as former McDonald's All American Andrew Lavender - who is now at Oklahoma.
Bramble, a class of 2007 point guard, was really the star of the opening night. The Toronto, Canada native is a levelheaded player with a knack to score inside the paint. He uses the backboard to his advantage and isn't afraid to call glass. Bramble is very composed and heady player. His future is certainly bright. The knocks will always be about his size. That didn't stop Lavender and it hasn't stopped Bramble since he's been in the United States.
Fresh off the plane from Vilnius, Lithuania, Paulis Cibulskis tried to find his role with the Knights. He spent the majority of the game inside the paint and used his 6-foot-7 frame as he swatted five shots away. But it wasn't until less than a minute left in the game when he showed off his biggest strength. The class of 2006 forward knocked down three three-pointers in less than 30 seconds.
Cibulskis is an above average shooter with nice form and squares up nicely with the basket in order to get the pinpoint accuracy he displayed as the game wound down. With his size and ability to play both inside and out, Cibulskis should emerge as a mid major plus player. His upside is strong and by the year's end, he could be seeing a lot of high major interest.
Mamadou Merega, a Nigerian national teammate of Tat, didn't wow any of the 150 people that packed into the small church gym but don't write off the 6-foot-5 guard just yet. He's a smart and respectful player that took a tongue lashing for his lack of defensive detail. Merega listened to the criticism and improved as the game went on. He's not a prolific scorer like Tat but he can get to the hole and uses his wingspan to get space. Merega did show that he can run the point and could spell some time at the one spot later in the season.
At 6-foot-6 and with his vocal leadership skills, Olu Ashaolu doesn't look or sound like a kid in the eighth grade, but he is. The import from Canada via Nigeria is a player with tremendous potential and could morph into one of the top players in his class with continual development. He's starting on a talented but inexperienced team. The green light is on for Ashaolu.
Davis said his Community Christian team will face off against Mt. Zion sometime in 2004. The Knights have plans for other big name programs down the road. By then, "the new jerseys will be here," Davis says. And the talent behind the new threads will be seasoned even more.
Stay tuned to RivalsHoops.com as we continue to chart this rising program. More pictures will be added on Wednesday, Nov. 12.