LAWRENCE, KS -- The action was hot, really hot, on opening night at the Jayhawk Invitational inside the historic Allen Fieldhouse on the campus of Kansas University. And the player that the crowd was in the gym to see put on a show that will certainly be remembered.
Tough loss, big performance
Make no mistake about it. Everyone that was not associated with an AAU team in the tournament field came out to see one specific player on Friday night. And boy did Xavier Henry put on a show.
The 6-foot-5 guard from Oklahoma scored 36 points on the same floor his father, Carl, shined as a collegian. Despite scoring an outstanding 28 points in the second half, Henry couldn't put away the host team KC Pump 'N Run.
Henry put on an offensive clinic in the second stanza and poured in point after point. His array of moves, particularly in the final 16 minutes, was a thing of beauty. He posted up the opposition, scored with a cross-over, step back three pointer over an outstretched defender and finished around the rim when he could connect from the perimeter.
Henry, who said he is still looking at the same familiar trio of Kansas, North Carolina and Memphis, hit 13 of his 27 shot attempts and four of 12 from deep. His shot selection was questionable in the first half but he brought his Athletes First team back into the game almost on his own. Despite the effort, Henry and his teammates dropped a tough one 72-61.
Local flavor steps up the effort
KC Pump N Run rode the strong play of Marcus Denmon, who was also a second half stud. The 6-foot-2 guard scored 13 straight points for his club and finished with 17 in the game.
Coming off a strong showing in Dallas at the Next Level tournament, Denmon proved that he can pour in the points at a rapid pace. He's quick to the rim and nailed three three-pointers. Denmon distributed the ball nicely, finishing with four assists.
The Hogan Prep product was always around the ball and grabbed rebounds and mixed it up inside.
On the recruiting front, Denmon said he has offers from Missouri, Kansas State and Creighton while Arizona, Clemson and Texas have all shown interest. The Longhorns stopped by his school to see him in the last couple of weeks and nearly the entire Missouri Valley is looking at him, he said.
Dominique Morrison, a 6-foot-6 forward from Raytown (Mo.) High School, had a nice breakout night and quickly established himself as a guy that needs to be a priority for programs in the Missouri Valley, Mid-Con, Sun Belt and Ohio Valley conferences.
Morrison scored 17 points in the win, grabbed roughly seven rebounds and handed out a handful of assists. He made plays. It is as simple as that. His game doesn't need a lot of flair as he just produces. It was a nice first impression from Morrison.
Big man Steve Moore didn't make a big impact on the offensive end of the floor but he showed a knack for rebounding and blocking shots. The 6-foot-8, 235-pound post missed a tough shot on offense, fell to the floor but sprinted down the hardwood and blocked a shot on opposite end of the floor. It was good to see a big man with that kind of motor and determination to make up for a big move a few seconds earlier.
Moore said Creighton and Missouri State have extended offers while Virginia and Washington State are very interested at the moment.
Athletes First big shine inside
The 1-2 punch of Daniel Orton and Kyle Hardrick were effective and certainly looked the part of high-major studs down the road. Hardrick, an Oklahoma commitment, went for 10 points and 10 rebounds. He secured nine boards in the first half and set the tone early that the game was going to be played with strength and physical toughness.
Orton struggled with fouls and his numbers (two points, three blocks and seven rebounds) were rather ho-hum but his giant presence was certainly felt. Make no mistake about that. Orton, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound manchild is every bit the high-major and will be an enforcer in a very good and deep big man class in 2009.
Taylor, a 6-foot-1 chiseled point guard, put together a great showing by running the show, distributing the ball, powering his way through the Ft. Sooy defense and has a body that can step into the Big Ten today.
In a class that lacks impact point guards, Taylor is carving out a niche for himself in the 2008 class with his play. Outside of Henry's awesome outburst, Taylor had the second most important impact on the game on Friday night. The Badgers have the luxury of waiting for him. However, if Taylor plays like he did on Friday night, Bo Ryan and his staff may not have to wait that long.
Berggren is a big big man at 6-foot-10 and 240-pounds and moves well for his size and he knows what to do with it. His bounce off the floor continues to improve and he moves well for a player of his size.
Keep an eye out for Armond Battle. The 6-foot-6 wing for Howard Pulley came out firing with a couple of good looking three-pointers to start the game and made basketball play after basketball play in the first half. In the second half, he went scoreless.
Battle is a guy that will certainly make a splash with the mid-majors and a guy that the high-majors will chart. After a "so-so" spring, Battle is considering offers from Western Michigan and Wisconsin-Green Bay while he said Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa State, TCU and Tulsa have him on the mailing list.
Jones shows flashes
There has never been a question about Verdell Jones's basketball IQ and tremendous ball handling ability. Those two skills were on display from the Peoria, Ill., native on Friday night. The 6-foot-4 lead guard has a great feel for the game and his passes are generally always towards the basket for his teammates to score.
Offensively, it just wasn't his night. His shot wasn't dropping and his teammates where having a hard time converting his pin point passes. Added strength will change his game dramatically. Finding a place that can redshirt him will do wonders for his long term potential.