May 27, 2007

Tournament of Champions: Saturday 17U action

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Most our time was spent watching the younger players on Saturday but there were a couple of big time games that caught our eye.

May Madness

There was a March Madness feel to the Florida Rams-Triple Threat game. The big timers stepped up. The big shots were hit. Shooters made buckets and the big men blocked key shots. At the end of the game, the victors admired the effort and those that were defeated appreciated the game. The packed house at Duke's Wilson Recreation Center had to appreciate what transpired on Saturday afternoon.

The Rams fought off a never say die attitude from Triple Threat and held on to a well-earned 75-67 victory.

Led by Ray Shipman's 32 points, the Rams enjoyed a big time performance from the team's most active slasher. The 6-foot-5 wing had one of his best games of the spring. He stuck to his strengths (attacking the basket with an edge) and knocked down a couple of three-pointers and peppered in a couple of mid-range pull up jumpers. Shipman's top five includes Florida, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Miami and Clemson.

Five-star center Kenny Kadji did a great job of playing to his strengths in this game. The big bodied 6-foot-10 center was masterful inside as a shot-blocker and he came up big when the game was tied at two with three minutes to play. He sent to point blank shots back to mid-court and kept Triple Threat outside of the paint.

Kadji, who has a top three of Florida, Kansas State and Memphis, finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks. He understands his position and is starting to master simple things like pick and rolls and spacing. A lot of other elite level big men are still hanging their hats on size and athleticism. Kadji is turning the page with things that will make him an instant impact big next season.

Wing Dago Pena is a guy that the high-majors will be watching closely in July. He's a big time shooter and plays with a big time motor. The 6-foot-4 wing scored 10 points, which may seem modest, but his game has improved and every time out, he'll leave observers with a memorable game. South Florida has made him a major target.

Triple Threat was led by the great guard play of Georgetown bound Jason Clark and Maurice Creek. Clark scored 16 while Creek, a rising junior, led the team with 19 points.

Clark steadily improves every time he steps out onto the court. Playing more of the point guard role in this game, the 6-foot-4 guard looked comfortable setting his teammates up on offense. Clark just has the look of a college player compared to other guys at his position. He's broad-shouldered, has great length and is a confident ball-handler. Don't be surprise to see him thrive in Georgetown's style of play.

Creek, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard from Oxon Hill (Md.) High School, was a big shot assassin and he lived up to his rep as a perimeter threat. His hot hand kept the deficit small and helped Triple Threat battle back in the second half. It's easy to understand why the likes of Maryland and Georgetown have moved early on him.

Clark's future teammate Chris Braswell is returning to his form from last year on the AAU circuit. The 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward had his hands full with Kadji on the low block but had success facing up and even scoring on a couple of back to the basket plays. Braswell finished with 13 and we can't say it enough: he's a premiere passer in the post.

All eyes on Elliot

Due to a lack of players being courted by North Carolina and Duke in the tournament, the usual parade of reporters following around the ACC targets is smaller than usual. That was until Elliot Williams showed up. After visiting Duke unofficially the day before the TOC and with new interest from North Carolina, Williams had an impromptu press conference break out in the under belly of the Dean E. Smith Center. Nearly a dozen reporters stuck a recorder in William's direction and grilled him.

Oh yeah, Williams was brilliant in a morning game against the Queen City Prophets. The five-star combo guard scored a team high 26 points and looked effortless in doing so. He doesn't take a lot of shots to get a lot of points. His shot selection is disciplined. Williams split the defenders at ease and dished off to his teammates.

Williams is one of the few players that is leaving observers with a lot to talk about here at the TOC.

Coming off an unofficial visit to Duke, Williams will take a longer look around North Carolina on Monday. Tennessee is in there strong while Vanderbilt, Virginia, Georgia Tech and Memphis are also in strong.

Williams had help from sophomore wing Christian Watford. The 6-foot-8 Alabama native added 20 points. Smooth has been a common adjective to describe the youngster and it's spot on.

Watford is carving out a spot on the high-major list. He said he's holding offers from Marquette, Ohio State, Miami, Alabama, Ole Miss and Missouri. North Carolina and Connecticut are also looking at him, he said.

M33M point guard Terrence Joyner made a rare spring AAU appearance. He didn't take long to remind folks on why he's considered one of the better point guard sleepers in the country.

The Genesis One floor general said New Mexico and Arkansas are his top two. He is planning on visits to both schools this June. Oregon State and Washington State have offered while Tennessee is also looking at him.

Intriguing forward Terrence Henry said he's added interest from Arkansas, Alabama, Miami, Tennessee and Missouri since April. Prior to the spring, he was holding offers from Baylor, Ole Miss, Kansas and LSU. Henry said his top five is Baylor, LSU, Ole Miss, Kansas and Miami but he's eyeing a spring decision.

Queen City Prophets guard Lonnie Hayes dropped in a cool 38. Many of his points came by way of the foul line. He attempted an eye-popping 27 free throws in this one.

A losing win

Only two teams move on from each pool in the TOC and when a three-way tie happens, the rules state the combined points of the wins is the deciding factor.

So when the Lamar Odom All-Stars thought they won a 66-65 game, they would be playing in the bracket play. Unfortunately for them, they didn't know that they needed to win by nine in order to break a tie. The Westchester Hawks did and sat in a zone while the All-Stars held the ball, and the one point lead, for the final eight minutes of the game. The Hawks lost but moved on while the All-Stars won but went home. It was truly a bizarre incident.

But when the ball was moving and the kids were playing, it was a good one. Five-star sophomore Jordan Hamilton proved that he's one of the elite shooters in the country. He drilled six three-pointers en route to 28 points. He only missed one shot in the second half and did it against a pesky defense from the Hawks.

Westchester leaned on the great play of guard Tyshawn Taylor. Freaky athletic, Taylor snatched the confidence away from a couple of All-Star defenders with some crazy dunks in traffic. He's shooting the ball well and really established himself this spring as a high-major guy. Taylor finished with 19 points.

Wing Mookie Jones added 14 points and showed off his improved jump shot in the process.

News & Notes

Word is Latavious Williams put in 34 points against the Lamar Odom All-Stars.

One of the best point guard match-ups turned never seemed to materialize as Alabama native Courtney Fortson put in 27 points in a huge win over Brandon Jennings and the SoCal All-Stars. Jennings finished with 15.

Dominic Cheek put in 38 points in a Saturday contest. The recently crowned five-star told us his recruitment has sky-rocketed. Florida, Villanova, Connecticut, Maryland, Rutgers, North Carolina and Syracuse have made him a priority.

Actor Denzel Washington was at Chapel Hill High School to see his son, Malcolm, in action against the Atlanta Celtics in the 15 and under division.


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