The Academy National Invitational has quickly become a staple in post-Christmas hoops tournaments. Hal Pastner has put together another loaded event for the fourth consecutive year. Eight national teams, led by Westchester High School from Los Angeles, and eight Texas teams, led by Kingwood High School headline the fields.
Fans, family, college coaches and NBA scouts will stroll into the 4,700 seat Aldine ISD Campbell Center on Dec. 28-30 in search for great hoops. The won't be disappointed. Broken into two divisions, National and Texas, the 16 teams will play a total of 24 games over three days.
In the national division, the eight teams all are nationally recognized teams. Leading the way is Arlington Country Day from Jacksonville, Florida. ACD is ranked No. 4 by USA Today and No. 9 by Student Sports. The team is lead by five Division prospects beginning with Florida signee David Huertas, the No. 104 ranked player in the senior class. Joining the sharp-shooter is George Mason bound big man Sammie Hernandez.
ACD has a trio of youngsters that should also shine. Jason Bennett, a 7-foot-1 junior center, is the No. 88 ranked player in the class of 2006. Josue Soto, a 5-foot-11 point guard, is the No. 102 ranked junior in the country. Finally, 6-foot-7 sophomore Anthony Stewart could be the team's best overall prospect.
Coming from Los Angeles is Westchester High School, who is the No. 12 rated team in the nation by USA Today and No. 18 by Student Sports. The West Coast power has a pair of Johnsons that will do some damage.
Louisville recruit Amir Johnson is back in action after missing the start of the season with an injury. The five-star big man is one of the top players in the tournament field and when he's at the top of his game, he's a legitimate All-American candidate.
UConn signee Marcus Johnson is one of the most athletic players in the country. Expect a number of highlight reel dunks and a great transition game. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard is the No. 52 ranked player in the country.
DeMatha High School from Hyattsville, Md. one of the most storied programs in the country. After a year off in their standards, the team looks to have a group worthy of their national rankings. DeMatha is ranked No. 14 in the country by Student Sports and No. 18 by USA Today.
Led by two Division I signees, 6-foot-10 center Desmond Adedeji (Dayton) and 6-foot-4 shooting guard Mamadi Diane, the team has a formidable inside-out duo.
The team's underclassmen, 6-foot-7 forward Jeff Allen, the No. 96 rated junior in the country, and 6-foot-3 sophomore shooting guard Austin Freeman will keep the program going in the future.
Loaded with a number of international players, Montverde Academy out of Florida looks more like a National Team than a high school program. Head coach Kevin Sutton has put together a fine group of players and should compete nicely at the ANI.
The No. 25 ranked team in the country by USA Today is led by UCLA-bound Luc Richard Mbahamoute. The 6-foot-7 forward isn't alone. 6-foot-5 junior L.D. Williams, a N.C. native, will compete with Westchester's Marcus Johnson for top athlete honors.
6-foot-10 junior Luis Colon is also one to watch. The Puerto Rico native has great size and skills and could emerge as one of the top big men in the class of 2006. Lithuanians Arminus Urbutis, a 6-foot-8 forward, and 6-foot-1 Vytautas Valiulis round out the bunch.
Reserve Christian Academy out of LaPlace, La., will enjoy a couple of days off after playing at the City of Palms tournament and then head over to Houston. Baylor Bear fans will have a chance to see their future point guard Demond Carter pour in the points. Also one to watch is sophomore Kevin Branch.
Christ the King from New York, N.Y. is led by 6-foot-4 junior Larry Davis. Jeremy Barr leads the hometown Westbury Christian High School. Southern University Lab School out of Baton Rouge, La., will try to rebound from the graduation of Glen Davis and Collis Temple, III, who are both now at LSU.
Tons of talent in the Texas Division
While the National Division is stacked with talent, the Texas Division is equally strong. It should be. Crunch these numbers: 37 of the 350 ranked players in the classes of 2005, 2006 and 2007 all hail from the Lone Star State. Nearly 10 percent of the nation's top talent comes from Texas and several of these players will be showcased at the ANI.
Kingwood, who won the Texas Division last year, is led by Arizona 2006 commitment Nic Wise and talented sophomore Mike Singletary. Wise has been on fire all season long and Singletary, the No. 15 rated sophomore in the country by Rivals.com, has a world of potential. Kingwood, the No. 14 ranked team in the country by USA Today will play Cypress Ridge on Tuesday, Dec. 28 at 6:30 p.m.
Houston's Bellaire High School has been home to NCAA stars Emeka Okafor and John Lucas, III is also home to a number of future college stars. Class of 2006 prospect Dale Van Wright is the No. 59 rated player in the country. Five-foot-10 point guard Jai Lucas, the son of former NBA coach and player John Lucas, is a gem of a player. The sophomore is the No. 19 ranked player in the nation. Big man Isaiah Rusher, the No. 12 ranked sophomore in the country, can't be forgotten either.
The younger players will have to go through a senior-laden Alief Taylor team. Arizona bound forward Fendi Onobun and two-sport star Martellus Bennett are two of the toughest players in the entire tournament field. Their toughness is a nightmare for opposing coaches to defend.
Ft. Bend Marshall is led by future Texas A&M point guard David Devezin. The 6-foot floor general will look to 6-foot-8 forward Darius Santee often inside.
Oklahoma State raided the state of Texas for their big guns and one of the future Cowboys, Terrel Harris, will be on hand for the ANI. The sharp-shooting and athletic wing guard will be a force to be reckoned with.
Six-foot-7 sophomore Gary Johnson, the No. 28 rated player in the class of 2007, headlines Aldine. He'll have his hands full with Onobun and Bennett in round one.
Rivals.com will be on hand from start to finish and will bring daily and detailed reports from the Lone Star State. For more information on the ANI, go to www.visionsports.com.