HOUSTON, Texas - Finally, a game with emotion, a star performance from a future star performer and the emergence of a couple of kids worth watching closer as the season goes along. It was a great night at the Academy National Invitational in the second day of action at the Aldine Campbell Center.
Gary Johnson, the No. 28 ranked player in the class of 2007, played like a national top five guy in Aldine's 52-33 upset victory over nationally ranked Kingwood. He came out strong and firing, scoring eight points in the first half for Aldine High School and set the tone against the nationally ranked Kingwood team. Johnson played with no fear and went right at anyone that got in his way.
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The 6-foot-8 forward pulled up from 17 feet, put the ball on the floor and pulled up with a jumper, connected on a three pointer, he kissed a couple of shots off the glass and he got after it on the defensive end, snatching a couple of rebounds as well as a couple of blocked shots. He finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Johnson plays a lot like Kansas forward Wayne Simien. And that isn't an unfair comparison. The humble, soft-spoken kid said he's hearing from the likes of Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky and UCLA but his two favorites Duke and North Carolina. Surprisingly, the two ACC powers have not even sent a letter, he said. You better believe they will send out some info on Thursday morning. Johnson is big time.
It all clicked for Dustin Hawkins after the 6-foot-2 junior guard took a steal down the floor for a thundering open court dunk. His energy level rocketed to new heights after that. He sprinted back to the defensive end and got on his man and kept him in check with some tenacious defense. Hawkins grabbed another board, he had a steal and then tried to blow the roof off of the building with another tranisition dunk. He fumbled it off of his knee and failed to convert. If he got the bucket, he may have combusted.
Aldine head coach Zeke Smith said Hawkins is "the best kept secret in Houston." The secret is out on the athletic slasher.
Kingwood, one of the pre-tournament favorites in both the National and Texas Divisions, didn't get the production they needed from their big dog, Arizona-bound Nic Wise. The 5-foot-10 point guard put in just three points on one of seven shooting. At times, Wise was simply non-existent.
Mike Singletary, another highly-touted sophomore forward from Houston, had 10 points in the loss. The 6-foot-6 forward took a number of perimeter shots but nothing fell for him.
Westchester rises up against DeMatha
Amir Johnson played in his first game of the 2004-05 high school season on Wednesday night but the future Louisville Cardinal's presence wasn't really needed in the 63-54 Westchester victory over DeMatha.
It was 20 points from the high-flying Marcus Johnson and a balanced attack from the rest of the Westchester guys. Ray Reese, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, did the dirty work inside and Ahmad Cook, a 6-foot-1 junior combo guard, put in 11 points with his sharp shooting from deep.
DeMatha ahs all of the tools to be called one of the best teams in the nation. With talented players at every spot, the Stags are a squad that will win on most nights. However, Westchester was the better team and played great defense, forcing the Maryland team to take bad shots.
Jeff Allen and Austin Freeman were the two key players for DeMatha in the loss. Allen, a pogo stick athlete, is an active body with a quick pair of feet, put in 17 points and had seven rebounds. He's a guy who will attract the likes of ACC and Big East schools.
Freeman, on the other hand, has a chance to be one of the top scoring guards in the class of 2007. He put in a team high 20 points and has the body to attack, attack and attack. Freeman has been one of the top scorers in the tournament field and doesn't appear to let up on the national level.
Finally, Nigel Munson is a guy that most people don't know about. They should. The 6-foot junior point guard is quicker than the majority of guys in his class and his court vision is amazing. There will be much more to be said about this youngster.
Good to see you again
Josue Soto just gets better and better. After suffering an overtime loss to Christ the King on Tuesday, Soto led Arlington Country Day to a 66-44 victory over Florida rival Montverde Academy. Too bad the fine folks of the Sunshine State didn't have a chance to see the point guard in action. He was "darn near close to brilliant" as one Texas fan said in the stands.
Soto was eight of nine shooting en route to a game high 23 points and dished out seven assists. He rarely turned the ball over and always came up with the right decision and just made plays. His jump shot is much improved and his decision making and understanding of the game is coming together nicely.
In a class with great point guards, Soto's name may slip a bit in "who is the best PG in the country" conversations but rest assured he'll end up at a high major.
Montverde has a world of talent, literally, but dismal shooting from everyone but UCLA bound Luc Richard Mbahamoute hurt the team in the end. Mbahamoute has shown a knack for scoring inside with trademark grit and hard work that most natives of Cameroon display. He is long, active and versatile. The Bruins snatched themselves a nice player.
Reserve (La.) Christian needed a win in the worst way. The Eagles had dropped four games in a row prior to their match up with Southern Lab out of Baton Rouge. Demond Carter and his club almost made it five consecutive losses.
Southern Lab put up a goose egg in the first half but responded to the giant zero on the scoreboard and rallied to send the game into overtime. In tradition Southern Lab fashion, the Baby Jaguars can clawing back with scrappy play, good defense and making Carter look to his young teammates for the offense. DeAndre Duncan, a 6-foot-3 senior, hit a three pointer with 12 seconds left to play in regulation and gave Southern Lab new life.
Carter, a Baylor commitment, shot five of 17 en route to 21 points. The last two of his nine made free throws helped Reserve get the win. The 5-foot-10 shooting guard had early help from talented class of 2007 prospect Kevin Branch, who scored 11 points.
In other news
South Garland (Texas) had a combined 41 points from guards Jeremie Hart and Trent Boone. Hart, a six-foot senior, had a game high 22 while Boone, a strong as an ox junior, had 19.
Boone has played well in two games here at the ANI and he said he's taken pride in knocking off one of Houston's top teams in Bellaire. South Garland, a suburb of Dallas, is the only non-Houston team in the Texas Division.
Terrel Harris just has that big play ability. The athletic shooter is going to be a guy that Oklahoma State relies on in tight games, a lot like Tuesday night's game against Gonzaga.
Bellaire continues to struggle. After starting the season strong, the team with three talented underclassmen - Jai Lucas, Isaiah Rusher and Dale Van Wright - have struggled to get into any kind of rhythm. Lucas, one of the top players in the class of 2007, had 18 points and six assists in the loss but his eight turnovers were lost points.
Van Wright took bad shots and failed to get after on the defensive end. Rusher, clearly one of the best big men in either division, struggles to get any touches inside (he had five field goal attempts) and wasn't rewarded for his hard work inside. Over time, and when the youngsters mature as players, they have a chance to be one of the top teams in the Southwest.
Christ the King took a physical beating yesterday against Arlington Country Day but the bumps and bruises were bandaged up and Bob Oliva had his troops rejuvenated for another battle. The New York squad came out strong and finished with a 79-53 victory over the hometown Westbury Christian.
With a swollen eye and a little bit of bloodspot, Larry Davis came out strong in the second half and helped the Royals take an eight point half time lead to a 26-point victory. Davis scored 17 second half points thanks in part to transition buckets that were generated from great defense. He ended with a game high 19 scores.
Sophomore point guard Malik Boothe is listed at 5-foot-8 and that's being generous. Regardless of his slight in height, the class of 2007 prospect played older and smarter than a lot of guys in his class. He isn't a kid that is going to get a lot of love based on looks alone but he'll be a guy that comes into college with a great understanding of the game.
Adam Walker, a 6-foot-8 unsigned senior post player, is going to be a highly sought after player before the late signing period. He's played the ANI with a stress fracture and suffered a contusion above his left eye from a Jason Bennett elbow yesterday. Nevertheless, he came out on Wednesday and scored 17 points and had seven boards.
In the 9:30 a.m. game, South Garland (Texas) senior guard Jeremie Hart was booed by his teammates and coach for laying up the ball at the end of regulation against Bellaire. A trailing Terrel Harris could have given the crowd a nice burst of energy to start the game.
Even though Westfield (Texas) lost to Marshall in the semifinals of the Texas Division, the young team has opened some eyes. Junior point guard Chris Hagan rose up with a hand almost at the top of the square for the best block of the day. Hagan is 5-foot-9 and that's being generous. His play here at the ANI has been strong.
Martellus Bennett and Fendi Onobun combined for 38 points in a convincing 70-50 win over Cypress Ridge. Bennett continues to disappoint hoops coaches when they find out just how good of a football prospect he is. He's playing some great basketball.
On tap for Thursday
9:30 - Bellaire vs. Cypress Ridge
11:00 - Montverde Academy vs. Southern Lab
12:30 - South Garland vs. Alief Taylor
2:00 - Arlington Country Day vs. Reserve Christian
3:30 - Westfield vs. Kingwood
5:00 - Westbury vs. DeMatha
6:30 - Ft. Bend Marshall vs. Aldine
8:00 - Christ the King vs. Westchester