HOUSTON, Texas - The first full day of action at the Academy National Invitational is finished and for the locals, it was a good day of basketball and the field for Friday's games is looking very strong.
Kingwood wins royalty game
As the top team in Houston, Kingwood brought in a strong fan contingency for the game against the always tough and nationally ranked Christ the King squad. The locals were treated with a great 71-60 victory over the New York crew.
In the first half, Mike Singletary and his teammates were a disruptive defensive force, holding CTK to 15 first half points. Defensively, Kingwood was about as good as you can get against a team with the kind of speed that CTK presents.
Singletary was the bull inside as he roughed up a team that doesn't mind a good physical battle. The future Texas Tech forward scored a hard earned 21 points and collected eight rebounds in the big win.
CTK junior guard Erving Walker caught fire at the end of the third quarter, hitting five straight three-pointers in a three and a half minute stretch to help bring Christ the King to within six points. The 5-foot-8 guard scored 21 points in the defeat but did everything in his power to help rally the troops to victory.
Norcross rebounds in overtime
Gani Lawal and his Norcross teammates didn't realize that they would learn a simple wood shop lesson when they came to Houston this year. After a close game against a scrappy team, the Blue Devils are still trying to figure out close things out.
Up by 28-18 at the half over Rice of New York, Norcross (Ga.) saw their lead diminish in the third quarter and had to go to overtime to earn a 60-53 win.
"We've got to learn how to put the nail in the coffin," Lawal said. "We were up 33-18 at one point but we got comfortable and they battled back and fought us hard. We need to learn what to do with a hammer and start closing things shut."
Lawal will own up to his team's struggles in the second half to put the game away. Sure, he scored 22 points (7-13 FG, 8-18 FT), grabbed nine rebounds and blocked three shots. But the problem came when the future Georgia Tech big man missed seven straight free throws at one point.
His blocked shot at the end of regulation right at the basket was a life-saver.
Norcross was able to build a big lead early in the game thanks in large part to the play of stud junior Al-Farouq Aminu. The five-star prospect scored 19 points (8-12 FG, 3-4 FT) and secured 14 rebounds.
"We knew they were going to be a good team but we didn't plan on playing them for an extra four minutes," Aminu said. "They came and played us hard and we didn't win pretty but that doesn't matter. We got the 'W' in the end. That's what matters to us."
Rice rode the hot hand of Chris Fouch, who scored 23 points including six giant three-point baskets. The 6-foot-1 junior seemed to always come up with the big shot in Rice's strong second half run.
Future Louisville guard Lamont Jones struggled with his shot (5-18 FG) en route to 12 points. He did hand out a team high six assists. Highly touted sophomore guard Durand Scott was non-existent finishing with just two points in limited action.
My town, my tournament
If you've followed the Academy National Invitational over the last four years, you know that Aldine forward Gary Johnson uses the event as a personal playground. On Thursday, he was swinging from the rims and playing as well as he has ever played at the prestigious December event. The future Texas Longhorn scored 23 of his 31 points in the first half.
"This is my last shot to win it all," Johnson, a four-time participant of the ANI, said. "I'm trying to take it one game at a time and pick up wins along the way. We've only lost once this season so I like the direction we are headed."
Johnson added a workman-like 12 rebounds as well in the half in Aldine's 79-53 thrashing of The Woodlands.
AAU teammate and good friend Jai Lucas is also a familiar face to the ANI and on Thursday, the nation's top available point guard showed why he's a hot commodity.
When his Bellaire team was up against the ropes in the first half against Westbury Christian, Lucas closed the second half on a 10-0 run with a gorgeous pull-up three-pointer and key trips to the foul line.
Private versus public
The Strake Jesuit-Madison match-up was the Houston area must-see game of the day for a number of reasons. For starters, the game featured two of H-town's top point guards in 2009 in future LSU guard Tommy Mason-Griffin of Madison against Stevie Rogers of Jesuit. Jesuit head coach Wayne Jones is a Madison alum. And best of all, it proved to be the most exciting game in the Texas Division
All of the storylines played out as Jesuit turned on the offense in the second half to pick up an 88-72 win.
Sei Paye led the way for Strake Jesuit with 27 points and seven rebounds. The Louisiana-Monroe signee was the beneficiary of guards that knew how to share the ball.
Usually feeding him the ball was Rogers, who was credited with three assists but we had him for seven hand outs. The 5-foot-9 sophomore was absolutely fearless in the victory as he scored around the cup, usually in traffic and absorbing a body blow. Rogers finished with 18 points
"He's an old school guard," Jones said. "He's not like your Chris Pauls or Allen Iversons. He isn't looking to score. He's setting up his teammates and looking to get everyone involved."
Rogers did a little bit of both.
Also playing well was fellow sophomore Joey Brooks, an athletic 6-foot-5 wing. The good looking prospect put in 16 rebounds. Brooks has the makings of a high-major prospect and his coach agrees.
"Joey is an incredible athlete that we are still trying to work with his skill level," Jones said. "We're trying to bring his skill level up to his athleticism right now. If he can do that, he'll be recruited by everybody in the country."
Mason-Griffin put in a modest 16 points and nine solid assists while teammate Richard Brown scored a game high 31 points while grabbing 10 rebounds.
News & Notes
Aldine has been Gary Johnson's show for the last forever but guard Brandon Williams is shaping up as a good looking player in the class of 2008. Simply put, Williams just knows how to play. He makes good passes and finished with a day high 10 assists and also showed an ability to get to the cup as well as knocking down a pull up jumper. Williams added 16 points, including four three-pointers.
"I've always thought he's an underrated player," teammate Gary Johnson said. "No one respects his game so that is why I told him he needs to go out there and bust his tail. I think he has taken that to heart."
Aldine head coach Zeke Smith said he likes where Williams is taking his game this season.
"He has really stepped up to the challenge this year. He's done a great job defensively this year. There were times when he wasn't playing on both ends of the floor but he's asserted himself more and being more consistent," Smith said. "I think that has a lot to do with him hitting the weight program. He still has to get stronger but he's going in the right direction."
Williams said he has heard from Rice, SMU and TCU up to this point.
DeMatha Catholic's players are smart guys on the court, off it and everywhere in between. They also make good college destination choices. There is no mistaking the kind of impact Austin Freeman will make at Georgetown next year. The dynamic scorer picked a system where he'll score a ton of points but he'll do it efficiently, like he did against Rainer Beach. The five-star guard scored 19 points in DeMatha's 73-44 win. 17 points came in the first half and he sat a good part of the second stanza.
Future Georgetown teammate Chris Braswell scored eight and rebounded eight in about a half game's time. Clemson signee Jerai Grant also scored eight and grabbed six boards.
George Mason locked up a good local product in Isaiah Tate. The 6-foot-4 guard was the second half hero for the Stags. Tate scored 10 of his 15 points in the second half and had a chance to be a difference maker. He's a tough customer and took some hard shots en route to the basket. The Patriots are going to value an experienced and well coached guard like him next year and beyond.
The same can be said for future Princeton guard Jeff Peterson. At the point guard position, there aren't many players that posses the physical tools that he brings to the Ivy League. Peterson should be an immediate player for Harvard.
Klein Collins rode the smart play of unsigned senior guard Julian Olubuyi and the sharp-shooting of Michael Flores to claim a 56-44 win over Yates High School in the first game of the day. Olubuyi, a 5-foot-10 point guard, was an assist away from a triple double as he put in a fine day's work of 16 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
Yates freshman Brandon Peters will make you do a double take. He's listed as a ninth grader but he sure doesn't look like one or play like one. The well-built rookie guard will be a name to follow. The 6-foot-1 guard is already dubbed by the Houston hoops mavens as the top frosh point guard in the city. He's looking to rebound from a quiet seven points and a loss in round two.
All eyes on me & recruiting scoop
Coaches from Florida, Florida State, Iowa, Kentucky and LSU were in the building. Surprisingly, the mid and low-major schools were MIA on Thursday. The event certainly has players that could help schools at that level here.
Billy Donovan and assistant Donnie Jones slid into town to see Erving Walker. The Gators are in very good shape with the class of 2008 point guard right now.
Jones also took a long look at Al-Farouq Aminu. The five-star junior said his recruitment has not changed and there aren't any new players in the mix for his commitment. He said Georgia Tech, Georgia and Florida are recruiting him the hardest up to this point. Don't expect any kind of decisions in the near future.
Iowa, Kentucky and LSU were very much present to see Jai Lucas in action. The Hawkeyes and Indiana have recently jumped into the picture for the nation's top available point guard, according to his father John Lucas, III. The younger Lucas said the scenery remains the same.
"It really is," Lucas said. "I'm still looking and still listening."
St. Patrick 77, Alief Hastings (Wednesday) 68 Klein Collins 56, Yates 44 Bellaire 51, Westbury Christian 39 Norcross 60, Rice 53 (OT) Aldine 79, The Woodlands 53 DeMatha 73, Rainer Beach 44 Strake Jesuit 88, Madison 72 Kingwood 71, Christ the King 60
On tap for Thursday
9:30 a.m. - Yates vs. Westbury Christian 11:00 a.m. - Alief Hastings vs. Rice 12:30 p.m. - The Woodlands vs. Madison 2:00 p.m. - Rainer Beach vs. Christ the King 3:30 p.m. - Klein Collins vs. Bellaire 5:00 p.m. - St. Patrick vs. Norcross 6:30 p.m. - Aldine vs. Strake Jesuit 8:00 p.m. - DeMatha vs. Kingwood