Last Saturday's playoff "warm-up" exhibition game between the No. 1 teams in Texas' Class 5A, Cedar Hill, and Class 4A, Dallas Lincoln, was the game that the state's high school hoops fans had wished they could see. The teams were not scheduled to meet at all, but as the season progressed and each moved solidly into the national top 10, supply met demand, and the Dallas Morning News arranged the matchup, one of three games that drew some 17,000 fans to Dallas' Reunion Arena.
By contrast, Lone Star preps followers seemingly regarded a game between Cedar Hill and the No. 2 team in 5A, The Colony, to be their birthright. In a preview of the 5A playoffs, the Morning News stated that "the biggest game, if all goes according to plan, is a regional quarterfinal game (between The Colony and) Cedar Hill."
"That's the one game we can't avoid," Cedar Hill's star guard, 6-3 Michigan signee Daniel Horton (right), told The Wolverine last month. Horton's father commented on the same occasion that the two teams appeared to be "on a collision course."
The countdown has now reached t-minus three days and counting; on Tuesday, Cedar Hill and The Colony will collide in the Class 5A Region I quarterfinals.
The game does not need any additional hype, but anyone who undertook to promote it could choose from a cornucopia of storylines. As the Morning News noted, the two teams met at the same point last year, and The Colony staged a furious comeback in the final minute to end Cedar Hill's season.
"We had them beat," Horton told The Wolverine. "We were up seven with a minute to go." He and his teammates have been longing for revenge ever since.
The game also presents some appealing individual matchups. The Colony has a pair of Big Ten-bound senior guards, 6-3 Bracy Wright (Indiana) and 6-2 Deron Williams (Illinois), while Horton's younger brother, Jason, is a 6-0 point guard who is regarded as one of the best sophomores nationally.
And, of course, they are the state's two top-rated teams in their classification. Furthermore, both are ranked in the top dozen nationally by SchoolSports.com, which ranks Cedar Hill No. 8 and The Colony No. 12. USA Today has Cedar Hill at No. 10 and The Colony at No. 21 in its Super 25.
The anticipation was nearly frustrated on Friday. Before they could meet, Cedar Hill and The Colony had to get past Lewisville and Arlington Bowie, respectively, in their playoff openers. Good teams in their own right, Lewisville and Bowie had identical 24-8 records going into Friday's games. Bowie came within a missed buzzer-beater of toppling The Colony, but a 43-43 tie at the end of regulation turned into a 54-49 The Colony win after an overtime period.
Cedar Hill had an only slightly easier time against Lewisville. The Longhorns jumped out to an 18-8 lead after one quarter, but Lewisville cut the deficit to 28-23 at the half. Cedar Hill extended its advantage in the third period, which it ended with a 43-31 lead, and held on to win, 59-47. Horton knocked down four three-pointers to lead the way for the Longhorns with 18 points.
As was reported here earlier in the week, Horton will participate in the 2002 McDonald's All-America Game on April 4 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. "This is something I have always worked for, something I've always dreamed about," Horton told the Michigan Daily. "This means that I will be part of history. People will look back and say I was part of the 2002 McDonald's All-America game."
For the time being, though, Horton is focused on other things. "It really hasn't hit me yet," he said. "I have to concentrate on the rest of my season. Maybe later on it will make a difference, but now I just have to stay focused on winning the state championship."
On Tuesday, Cedar Hill will try to clear the biggest obstacle yet to its pursuit of that goal.
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The postseason is right around the corner for 6-11 Michigan power forward/center signee Chris Hunter and his Gary (Ind.) West Side Cougars. West Side wrapped up an impressive 16-4 regular season with a defeat of Gary Horace Mann on Feb. 19. The Cougars jumped out to a 24-11 lead after one quarter, then just held on from there for an 83-66 win.
Hunter (right) was dominant in the win, notching a triple-double with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 steals. His final regular-season averages are 22 points and 11 boards per game.
West Side remains the No. 1-ranked team in Northwest Indiana by the Munster (Ind.) Times. On Tuesday they open play in the Class 4A, Sectional 1 tournament at East Chicago Central against a 13-7 Munster squad. If the Cougars win, they will meet either Lowell (10-10) or Lake Central (12-7) in a semifinal on Friday. The two teams in the other half of the Sectional bracket, East Chicago Central and Lew Wallace, both have losing records.
"We wanted the stiffest competition, and Munster has to be one of the favorites," West Side coach John Boyd told the Times. "We think they're gonna be a very formidable opponent."
In addition to Hunter, a member of the All-Sectional Team, West Side boasts two other Division I signees: guard Brandon Cameron (Penn State) and forward Keith Christmas (Idaho). That gives the Cougars a significant advantage, but it also brings with it some weighty expectations. And, of course, they also have the target on their back that comes with being ranked No. 1.
"It's like an open door for us," Hunter told the Times. "I think our people have finally realized how good a team we are, how good an opportunity we have to win state.
"The past two seasons, we went home with tears in our eyes, but I learned a lot from those two games. In past years, we had better talent and more depth, but this has been a better 'team' atmosphere. Less egos (and) more people understanding their roles."
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Just a week after sustaining their second loss of the season against Pontiac (Mich.) Central, Pontiac Northern finally got the better of its crosstown rival with a convincing 62-47 win in the Oakland Activities Association playoffs. U-M signee Lester Abram helped lead his team to victory with a 23-point, 10-rebound performance.
Abram (right) has the Huskies playing their best at just the right time. After tumbling out of the top 10 in some rankings, the preseason favorites are now ranked No. 5 in Class A by MichiganPreps.com, the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News and the Associated Press.
Northern beat Saginaw High, currently ranked No. 1 in the state by the Free Press and the Associated Press, and No. 2 by the News, last Saturday.
"I got a thrill watching Abram play," Saginaw coach Marshall Thomas told the Free Press afterward. "You like to see good talent . . . . I looked at Abram and said: 'Good Lord, he's talented.'"
The future Wolverines got to rest his talents on Feb. 22 when the Huskies took on Bloomfield Hills Lahser. It was unquestionably a good decision, as Northern still obliterated Lahser by a larger margin than any other team this season, 83-43.
The 15-3 Huskies now move into the opening rounds of the state tournament. Although they have been focused on the Class A state finals in East Lansing ever since they claimed the title there a year ago, they must first make it out of their District, where they can expect to meet tournament host Pontiac Central for a fourth and final time.
In its title defense, Northern will no doubt rely heavily on its Michigan-bound senior, as it has all season long. "Sometimes I don't have to stop practice to correct something because Lester is already talking to a player about it," Huskies coach Robert Rogers told the Michigan Daily. "We look for him to score, we look for him to create and we look for him to rebound."
In the coming weeks, Northern will also look to Abram to lead it to the promised land one more time.
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Some updates on top underclassmen in Michigan:
U-M target Dion Harris and his Detroit Redford Huskies hoped to play in the Detroit Public School League championship game on Feb. 22. After being upset by Detroit Martin Luther King a week before, though, Redford found itself on the undercard, facing Detroit Rogers in the consolation game instead.
Harris, a 6-4 shooting guard, scored a game-high 26 points, thanks in part to 10-of-10 free-throw shooting, and led the Huskies to a 70-66 win. Rogers played without senior Ohio State recruit Ricardo Billings. Harris was selected to the PSL All-Tournament team and the PrepSpotlight.com All-PSL First Team.
Redford opens District Tournament play ranked No. 2 in Class A by MichiganPreps.com, No. 3 by the Detroit Free Press and the Associated Press, and No. 4 by the Detroit News. The Huskies tumbled from the SchoolSports.com national top 25 after the King loss, but managed to hang on at No. 25 in the USA Today Super 25.
Like Harris, 6-3 U-M point guard target Brandon Jenkins of Detroit Southeastern made the PSL All-Tournament team, and he was selected to the Prep Spotlight All-PSL Second Team. He had 18 points and 10 rebounds for Southeastern in its 51-47 win against Detroit Renaissance.
The Wolverines have an eye on yet another PSL junior, 6-7 power forward James Matthews of Detroit Denby. He is not as well known as players such as Harris and Jenkins, but a big part of that may be the fact that he began his high school career at Vermum Dei High School in California before moving to Detroit.
"He is a big, strong, powerful athlete who could also be a bigtime tight end if he so desired," Prep Spotlight's Vince Baldwin wrote on this site's Basketball Recruiting message board. "He is also a good student with a 3.0 GPA and is a very personable young man." Baldwin mentioned that Michigan, Michigan State, Marquette, Southern California, Ohio State, Toledo and Kent have been expressing interest."
A member of Prep Spotlight's All-PSL Third Team, Matthews was absolutely dominant in Denby's 92-68 win over Detroit Communication & Media Arts on Feb. 19. He led all scorers with 33 points and controlled the boards to the tune of 20 rebounds.
Junior forward Olu Famutimi of Flint (Mich.) Northwestern has been very impressive individually this season, but too frequently his efforts have gone for naught in Wildcats losses. On Feb. 19, though, Northwestern earned an upset win despite a relatively modest output from Famutimi. He scored 17 as the Wildcats overcame a career-high 32-point showing from Michigan State football signee Matt Trannon to defeat Flint Northern, 79-78.
Northwestern returned to form against Saginaw Arthur Hill, though. Famutimi scored a game-high 32 points and grabbed 13 boards, but saw his team fall to 7-13 on the year with an 81-64 loss.
North Muskegon (Mich.) High School center Drew Naymick is a big part of the reason for the Norsemen's hot play in recent weeks. On Feb. 19 he distracted defensive attention as North Muskegon rained three-pointers on Holton, yet managed to score 13 in a 59-36 win. At the other end of the floor, Naymick provided all of the defensive attention the Norsemen seemingly needed, blocking an incredible 16 shots.
On Feb. 22, he led his team to its eighth win in a row, scoring 18 points to lead all scorers and adding 14 rebounds, six blocked shots, five steals and three assists in a 40-35 win over Shelby.
Naymick, who took an unofficial visit to U-M last weekend, is one of the Wolverines' top targets in the Class of 2003. According to the Muskegon Chronicle, he is visiting Ohio State this weekend.
Arguably the top sophomore in the state, 6-6 forward Ron Coleman of Romulus High, has posted impressive numbers recently. Coleman has 25 points and 10 rebounds in his team's 57-53 defeat of Carleton Airport on Feb. 19. On Feb. 22, he posted totals of 21 points and 11 boards as Romulus beat Inkster, 70-50.
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Michigan has given out all five of its scholarships for the Class of 2002, signing a class that is ranked among the 10 best nationally by many recruiting services. While the Wolverines may have bagged their limit of scholarship recruits, though, that does not preclude them from bringing in walk-ons. One possible "priority" walk-on for U-M is 6-2 guard Anthony Hamo of Flint Powers.
"Hamo is an intriguing prospect should he walk on," opined MichiganPreps.com. "He's as good a three-point shooter as you'll see in Michigan high school basketball. This year he's gone against gimmick defenses and shown an all-around guard game. Anthony's scoring has come on, though, and he's getting 26 a game the second half of the season."
Hamo has teamed with U-M signees Lester Abram and Graham Brown and freshman forward Chuck Bailey on Michigan's The Family AAU program.
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