HOUSTON, TEXAS - The Academy National Invitational kept rolling on Wednesday and the slate was highlighted by a hometown pairing of Houston's top guards.
Right to the point
For Houston natives, the Hightower-Wheatley game was a must-see game. Better yet, the D.J. Augustin-Dwayne Reed battle was a must-see match-up.
As it usually happens, the pairings everyone wanted to see never fully materialized as both players defended other guys and didn't take each other one on one but the game was certainly fun to watch, especially for the Houston crowd. Both Augustin and Reed played great in their own right.
Augustin played a very efficient and sound game to the tune of 23 points, 9 rebounds, 7 steals and 4 assists.
Augustin would have the flair for the dramatic with some crafty passes in traffic but his teammates struggled to help Augustin's assist count. The city of Houston has adopted Augustin as one of it's own and there was a strong Texas Longhorn contingency in the house to see the future Longhorn cheering him on.
Reed wasn't too shabby himself. The 6-foot scoring point guard poured in a game high 35 points on 11 of 24 shooting (5-10 from three). 20 of those points came in the fourth quarter. He used his jets to continuing get to the rim and scored at the iron. But right when the defense begins to play back, Reed was quick to step up and bury the long ball.
Still awaiting a qualify a test score, Reed is on a bit of a recruiting pause at the moment. He said he's holding offers from Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M and Houston while UTEP, Colorado State and SMU are also showing interest.
While the focus was on the backcourt, the game was really the national audition for Lawrence Gilbert, a 6-foot-7 senior wing from Wheatley. The New Orleans transplant flirted with recruiters in the first half. He came out strong, scoring on a 12 foot jumper off the glass, blocked a couple of shots with authority and sank him home a three pointer.
Gilbert has great size as a wing player and enough wherewithal to be a guy that can play the three at the next level. He finished with 19 points on the night and showed why the likes of USC, Miami, Texas A&M, Tulane and Baylor round out his top five.
Life for Gilbert hasn't been easy. Like most New Orleans natives, Gilbert has tried to make the adjustment to life in Houston at a new school with new friends and a new environment.
"Everybody finds different roads," Gilbert said.
If he keeps playing like he did on Wednesday, that road could end up at a high-major school.
Lawson-led Oak Hill has little troubles
Oak Hill Academy is a completely different animal when Tywon Lawson is back at the point guard spot. The future North Carolina Tar Heel raises the level of tempo for the Warriors. After his brief suspension at the start of the month, he's back at the helm and going a million miles a minute.
Lawson was back to his old self, using his great handle, hesitation dribble and burst of speed to the bucket to get his 25 points in an 89-64 win.
After spending last week in Fort Myers watching Wayne Ellington in action at the City of Palms and after watching Lawson on Wednesday, the thoughts of what North Carolina backcourt is down right scary. There was even some chatter about how the two 2006 prospects could end up better than Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants.
Future Charlotte 49er Michael Beasley had a solid all-around game with 16 points, six assists, three steals, three blocks and three rebounds. His best game is still waiting for him at the ANI.
Wheeler-Kingwood goes to the wire
James Florence couldn't find his shot all night long but when Wheeler (Ga.) High School needed a big bucket, he connected on it. The 6-foot senior connected on a three-pointer with less than a minute and a half to play that helped seal the 56-52 victory for the Wildcats over the hometown favorite Kingwood.
Florence finished with 19 points (5-15 FG, 3-10 3 FG) and knew he'd eventually find his shot.
"I just didn't want to lose," Florence said. "I wanted to play Oak Hill tomorrow."
His wish is granted. Wheeler will play the national power on Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. CST.
Wheeler's James Hickson already has a long list of schools on his list and after the week's end, he could probably name just about every school from Seattle to Miami on his list. He's showing why so many high-majors are making him a priority. The 6-foot-9 junior is long, bouncy, well put together and improving by the game.
Perhaps the most impressive thing Hickson has improved upon is his defensive intensity. He's evolving into a top-notch shot-blocker to go along with his strength and size on the blocks.
Future Arizona guard Nic Wise had a bad case of the cold shooting touch himself on Wednesday night. He put up a cold 1-12 shooting from the floor but came up with a huge strip on a likely thundering Hickson dunk with less than a 1:45 to play. He then took the ball down the floor and dished off a great assist. Wise finished with six points.
National events are always the breakout moments for the unknowns. This year it was Desmond King, a 6-foot-6 forward from Peabody (La.) High School. Playing against Oak Hill Academy, the class of 2008 prospect went to work on the glass early on, played with a non-stop motor and showed off quick springs and even a jumper that extended out to 15 feet. King put in 26 points and 12 rebounds in the defeat.
Prior to the ANI, King had a non-existent reputation on the recruiting front. That will change. King, just a sophomore, said he's found a couple of questionnaires in the mailbox from Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Florida but like most Louisiana kids, he's high on the LSU Tigers. The SEC school had an assistant on hand to see him in action on Wednesday night. He'll be a kid to continue to watch as the event continues on this week in H-town.
King's teammate Raphelle Turner, a 6-foot-9, 270-pound center, needs to work on his body and overall stamina but the big fella from the class of 2007 has the size and stature that will garner looks from Big 12, Big Ten, SEC level schools.
Faces in the crowd
Coaches from Arkansas, Auburn, Baylor, Colorado State, Kentucky, Liberty, Miami, Rice, Richmond, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas State, Tulane and USC were all on the sidelines on opening day.
Around the Aldine Campbell Center
How about this stat: Westfield (Texas) blew out Eisenhower (Texas) 56-29 and it's top two scorers, Brandon Dison (19 points) and Josten Crow (14 points), went a combined 16-16 from the floor. Eisenhower had nine players that combined for 5 of 27 from the floor.
The Aldine Campbell Center is one of the nicest high school arenas in the country. The 5,000 seat venue gets rocking in the evening time. If you are a hoops junkie, making it out to the ANI is a must.
Although he's not in the tournament field, it's worth noting that Junior Treasure committed to the University of Houston, according to sources.
On tap Thurs., Dec. 29
9:30 a.m. - Cornerstone Christian (Texas) vs. Jesse Jones (Texas) 11:00 a.m. - LeFlore (Ala.) vs. Bellaire (Texas) 12:30 p.m. - Eisenhower (Texas) vs. Wheatley (Texas) 2:00 p.m. - Peabody (La.) vs. Kingwood (Texas) 3:30 p.m. - Alief Hastings (Texas) vs. Aldine (Texas) 5:00 p.m. - Fairfax (Calif.) vs. Neumann-Goretti (Pa.) 6:30 p.m. - Westfield (Texas) vs. Hightower (Texas) 8:00 p.m. - Oak Hill (Va.) vs. Wheeler (Ga.)