HAMPTON, Va. -- Two of the top 17 and teams packed the house on Saturday night. Too much balance, strong shooting and firepower helped Boo Williams move on in the playoffs.
Emotion, energy and excitement have been lacking this year in the 17 and under division so when two of the top teams in the field squared off in the quarterfinals, the bleachers were packed hip to hip for the match-up between Boo Williams and the New York Gauchos.
The outcome was one of the better games of the weekend.
Boo Williams rode the hot shooting of Steven Pledger and Tristan Spurlock and the continued steady play of point guard Kendall Marshall to a hard fought 71-58 win over the Gauchos.
Pledger has been the biggest guard surprise in the entire 17 and under field and had his big moment on the big stage. The 6-foot-2 guard scored 24 points and hit big three-pointer after big three-pointer.
Usually coming off a screen on the wing, Pledger always seemed to find a way to free himself up for an open look. When the coast was clear, he squared up and fired away with a great looking jumper.
He has used the event to springboard himself into the national spotlight and has the makings of a must-see guy for the high-majors next week when the evaluation period opens up for the April period.
Spurlock started the game strong, knocking down three three-pointers in the first four minutes of the game. The five-star prospect finished the game with a cool 15 points in the victory. At 6-foot-7, Spurlock is one of the most intriguing players at his position in the tournament field. He's a cool competitor that understands the finer points of the game.
One of the reasons why the entire Boo Williams club works with such a cool demeanor is the steady pace that Marshall plays at from the point guard spot. The North Carolina bound 2010 prospect takes the game at his own pace, finds the hot hands (like Pledger and Spurlock on Saturday night) and doesn't let his team get rattled by a team that will throw everything at you like the Gauchos so successfully do with other teams.
Marshall has been impressive from start to finish all week in Hampton Roads and is racking up wins with few turnovers and steady production.
The Gauchos spread out the wealth and had a balanced attack, perhaps too balanced. There were times when the team was paced by the play of 2010 prospect Doron Lamb. Foul trouble handcuffed him early and clearly knocked him out of his rhythm.
He has an array of offensive moves and doesn't go into gunner mode like some players in his class. Perhaps his best move, at least on Saturday night, was a great floater on the baseline. He scored 10 points in the defeat.
Lamb has certainly proved himself as one of the true elite scoring guards in the 2010 class this weekend.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
With the change of venue to the incredible Boo Williams Sportsplex this season, on-lookers were treated to a deeper look at the younger divisions more than ever before in the Invitational history.
The by-product was several great games in the 16 and 15 and under divisions. Several underclassmen took advantage of the opportunity of great exposure.
Team STAT freshman Austin Rivers is as good as they say he is. The 6-foot-2 freshman from Winter Park (Fla.) knocked down the game-winning shot against the SYF Players
Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, didn't look like a freshman down the home stretch in highly competitive game in the 16 and under division. He's a crafty ball-handler with great poise. His killer instinct is impressive.
Scary thing is, Rivers definitely didn't have his best game. He'd go through stretches where his touches were limited within the flow of the game. When it mattered though, he delivered.
Down by as many as 17-points in the second half, the Georgia Stars 16 and under black team rallied back to a big win over Team Melo thanks in large part to the overall play of class of 2010 forward Neiko Hunter.
Hunter, a powerfully built wing forward from Greene County (Ala.) High School, delivered in the final five minutes of the game. He scored 12 points in the late run that helped give his team the victory. Hunter has a man's body in the 16 and under division and he knows exactly how to use it. The local high-major schools are already hot after him.
The Baltimore Stars won their won pool thanks in large part to the play of Will Barton, Antonio Barton and Tobias Harris.
The trio will put up points. There is no question about it. The Barton brothers are intriguing prospects. Will is the bigger of the two at 6-foot-5. He's a better shooter while Antonio is quicker with the ball and gets to the rim at ease.
Harris, a 6-foot-7 forward, is coming off a big sophomore season in New York. Here in Hampton, he used his big body for easy and uncontested buckets in the paint. Think Samari Spears meets Tyrell Biggs for Harris.
All three are on the high-major radar for a number of programs.
Keep an eye on Carolina Cougars prospect Damien Leonard. The class of 2011 prospect tallied 36 points and hit seven three-pointers for his club against the Baltimore Stars. He scored 24 points in the first half.
Leonard, a 6-foot-3 prospect from J.L. Mann in South Carolina, was one of the top 2011 prospects we saw on Saturday and has all of the makings of a big-timer in the freshman class. The local programs are certainly aware of him and have made their interest known already.
SCHOOL LIST CENTRAL
Pledger, the night's star in the Boo Williams-NY Gaucho game, said Oklahoma, Michigan, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Hampton, Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason comprise of his early school list.
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Iowa State, Arkansas, Illinois, Miami, Michigan State and Southern Cal were mentioned by Minnesota forward Royce White.
Don't be surprised to see Derrick Nix see his list grow this month. The big man said his list currently consists of Michigan State and Missouri.
James Still is claiming offers from Memphis, Xavier, Purdue, Central Michigan, Kent State, Iowa and Dayton. Syracuse, Michigan State and Michigan are also looking closely.
Donovan Kirk South Florida is the latest school to turn it up. He took a visit to the Big East school last month and said the Bulls are "definitely in the mix" along with Miami and others.
DaShonte Riley rattled off a list of Georgetown, Kansas, Ohio State, Michigan State and North Carolina State.
NOTES FROM THE NOTEPAD
* With the overall depth on the Boo Williams 17 and under roster, guys like Ricardo Ratliffe will emerge and show just enough at the right times to know that something good will happen to him this spring and summer. The class of 2008 prospect from Kecoughtan High School here in Hampton came off the bench and provided Boo Williams with quality minutes at the four.
Likely headed to Hargrave Military Academy, the 6-foot-7 power forward could see his recruitment take a similar route that Mike Scott did in the past. Scott was a reserve for Boo Williams, played well at the right times, went to Hargrave and eventually signed with Virginia.
* Pittsburgh quietly landed Lamar Patterson during the high school season and the commitment probably didn't generate the kind of buzz that it deserved. Patterson is the real deal. He has been the most consistent player for Team Final this weekend and showed off all the facets of his game. His passing ability was on showcase on Saturday.