January 2, 2007

Academy National Invitational: Top players

Once again, the Academy National Invitational provided the country a look at some of the top players in the class of 2007 and beyond.

Rivals.com National Basketball Recruiting Analyst Justin Young was on hand for the event and breaks down the top five players from the ANI.

No surprise, Gary Johnson leads the charge once again.

Gary Johnson, PF, Houston (Texas) Aldine
Academy National Invitational stats: 25 points per game, 12.6 rebounds per game, 65.9 percent shooting from the floor

It shouldn't come as a big surprise, but the future Texas Longhorn dominated the Academy National once again. Playing in his back yard, the 6-foot-6 forward finally led his Aldine team to a tournament title in his fourth ANI. No one played harder than him from start to finish. That can be said about his performances each year.

Watching Johnson in action is like watching atoms smash together. In each game, he was pushing a double-double by halftime and sent a message to opponents that this was his court, his home and his tournament to win. Johnson lead both the Texas and National Divisions in scoring and rebounding.

Johnson was playing to win the title, but in the back of his mind he had to think about the possibility of using the tournament to vault him into the McDonald's All-American game. He's one of the many bubble players in the class of 2007, and his showing at the ANI could sway a couple of voters to send him to Louisville in the spring.

Corey Fisher, PG, Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick
Academy National Invitational stats: 23.3 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game, 4.5 assists per game, 51 percent shooting from the floor

Healthy and in great shape, Fisher looked like the player he was two years ago - and that is great thing. The future Villanova point guard was tough as nails and was the best floor general in the field in Houston last week. He earned respect from the favorable Texas crowd.

All Fisher did was lead the National Division in scoring and help the Celtics play for the title against DeMatha. Fisher played with a killer instinct and was a go-to scorer when needed. He also found teammate Jeff Robinson for big buckets in clutch situations.

Fisher has taken the reigns as the leader of one of the top teams in the country and played with the confidence and poise that you expect from one of the best players from the New York-New Jersey metro area.

It was hard to find much wrong in his play, minus his sub 30 percent shooting from 3-point range. Everything else was fantastic. He was one of the tournament leaders in rebounding and assists as well.

Jeff Robinson, SF, Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick
Academy National Invitational stats: 22.7 points per game, five rebounds per game, four steals per game, 60.4 percent shooting from the floor, 76.9 percent shooting from the foul line, 66.6 percent shooting from 3-point range

The future Memphis Tiger has already established himself as one of the top athletes in the country. There were moments at the ANI when he certainly proved that. But what Robinson did as a perimeter shooter was outstanding.

Robinson drilled a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of St. Patrick's win over Norcross that proved to be the game-winner. No one in the gym thought he'd be the go-to guy in the clutch. Robinson hit six of nine from deep, and was one of the tournament leaders in field-goal percentage.

Robinson is on the upswing en route to Memphis. His style of play is perfect for John Calipari's system. Don't be surprised to see Robinson earning minutes early for the Tigers.

Gani Lawal, PF, Norcross (Ga.) High School
Academy National Invitational stats: 19 points per game, 9.3 rebounds per game, 3.3 blocks per game, 56.4 percent shooting from the floor

The athletic big man is playing as well as we've seen from him in four years of evaluating the Peach State native. Lawal is playing at a level that should put him on the floor right away at Georgia Tech next year.

He scored 26 points and grabbed 16 rebounds against St. Patrick and almost single-handedly won the game. Despite the loss, Lawal put on a clinic on the low block and gave teams fits with his athleticism and shot-blocking ability.

Lawal was Mr. Fourth Quarter for the Blue Devils. If he would have faired better than nine points on 3-for-12 shooting in Norcross's win over Kingwood, it would be hard to argue that he was not the best player in the entire event. Another problem was that Lawal also fouled out against Kingwood.

Erving Walker, PG, New York (N.Y.) Christ the King
Academy National Invitational stats: 19 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game, five assists per game, 2.3 steals per game

There is a good chance Walker will always hold Houston as a special place in his life. After all, it is where he committed to Florida. But it is also a place where, as one of the smallest players in the tournament, he was one of the statistical leaders in nearly every category.

Walker was the quiet but constant force that let his play talk big. He can do that in a hurry, too. Walker drilled five 3-pointers in a row right in front of Billy Donovan and Donnie Jones against Kingwood, one of the best and most disciplined teams in the country. His effort almost put his Christ the King squad in the winner's column.

Christ the King went on to win both of their remaining games thanks in large part to Walker's play and his poise.



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