Every year after Christmas, the high school basketball world turns its attention to the Academy National Invitational in Houston, Texas. This year's field looks as strong as ever as five top 25 teams take the court at the gorgeous Aldine Campbell Center in Houston, Texas on Dec. 27-30.
The Academy National Invitational is broken into two divisions – Texas and National – and tournament director Hal Pastner has secured some of the best teams in the country.
The National Division plays host to the nationally ranked teams, including No. 2 St. Anthony, No. 10 Kingwood, No. 15 Christ the King, No. 17 Norcross and No. 18 DeMatha Catholic. Rainer Beach is amongst the top ten teams in the West by USA Today as well.
Kevin Boyle brings his talented St. Patrick team to Houston this year with a pair of committed Rivals150 players in Corey Fisher (Villanova) and Jeff Robinson (Memphis). Budding star and a Rivals.com five-star sophomore Dexter Strickland is gaining momentum as the season goes along.
Kingwood, the local favorite, is not missing a beat since former star Nic Wise left for the University of Arizona. Keeping the ship straight is future Texas Tech forward Mike Singletary, who is having a great senior campaign.
The local boys will have a tough first round test in Christ the King, the 2004 ANI champions. Bob Oliva's teams will always play hard and tough and defend anyone. This year's club is led by future St. John's guard Malik Boothe while Ryan Pearson is a name to remember.
Norcross is looking to rebound nationally after dropping a disappointing loss to Oak Hill Academy earlier this season. With five Division I players – Gani Lawal (Georgia Tech), Jordan DeMercy (Florida State), Tony Neysmith (Oklahoma), Al-Farouq Aminu and Taariq Muhammad – Eddie Martin will suit a team that can compete with anyone.
DeMatha Catholic is a familiar face to the ANI. Mike Jones brought his club two years ago and watched then sophomore guard Austin Freeman torch the competition for nearly 20 points a game back then. Back again, the five-star guard could be the most dangerous scorer in the field. Joining him are a pair of deadly big men in 2008 Georgetown pledge Chris Braswell and 2007 Clemson signee Jerai Grant.
The Texas division, as always, is home to some of the top talent in the Houston area. The biggest city in the Lone Star State has been one of the biggest and baddest basketball hotbeds in the country of late. This year's talent pool is led by the nation's top available point guard Jai Lucas of Bellaire, who returns for his third ANI tournament.
Lucas's summer running mate, Gary Johnson, is back for his fourth ANI. The tournament has been a personal playground for the future Texas Longhorn in his high school career. Expect him to go out with guns blazing this season.
Other notables include Anthony Jones of Yates High School. The 6-foot-10 junior is versatile both inside and out. Future LSU guard Tommy Mason-Griffin leads the way for Madison High School. The sophomore guard is paired against Strake Jesuit, where fellow 2009 guard Stevie Rogers runs the show. Keep an eye out on Joey Brooks, another sophomore who starred at the adidas150 camp in San Diego this summer.
Weds., Dec. 27 schedule
6:30 p.m. – Beaumont Ozen (Texas) vs. North Shore (Texas) – Non-tournament game
8:00 p.m. – St. Patrick's (N.J.) vs. Alief Hastings (Texas)
Thurs., Dec. 28 schedule
11:00 a.m. – Klein Collins (Texas) vs. Yates (Texas)
12:30 p.m. – Bellaire (Texas) vs. Westbury Christian (Texas)
2:00 p.m. – Norcross (Ga.) vs. Rice (N.Y.)
3:30 p.m. – Aldine (Texas) vs. The Woodlands (Texas)
5:00 p.m. – DeMatha (Md.) vs. Rainer Beach (Wash.)
6:30 p.m. – Madison (Texas) vs. Strake Jesuit (Texas)
8:00 p.m. – Kingwood (Texas) vs. Christ the King (N.Y.)
All times are Central Standard Time.