As expected, the H Squad upset run came to an end against the deeper SoCal All Stars in the all Southern California championship game of the Tournament of Champions. Once again, leading the way for SoCal was tremendously talented small forward Chase Budinger, who will head back west as the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
Budinger made a variety of shots just like he had all weekend to score 18 points on 7 of 13 shooting in SoCal's 83-74 win. Budinger has the total package in as a small forward prospect. He can score at all three levels-inside, midrange and long range and can run jump and rebounder. A solid ball handler right now, he does have room to tighten up his handle. He is an adequate defender right now, but will improve has a defender as he gains strength. In a nutshell, more strength and a tighter handle will equal a long basketball career for Budinger.
Also standing out for the SoCal team was Taj Gibson. He did a fine job of limiting Davon Jefferson to limited scores in the half court offense and only two offensive rebounds. Gibson used his length and quickness to force the fatigued Jefferson to take shots over him and keep him away from the rim.
On the offensive end, Gibson finished with a team high 19 points on putbacks and post moves. Gibson has tremendous length and is quick off the floor and quick with his post moves. The questions about Gibson's game are how he will do against bulkier players with size and if he can be effective away from the basket.
Presently Gibson is listing a top three of Connecticut (offer), Louisville (offer) and Pittsburgh. He plans on visiting all three schools in the fall, and said he is also being recruited by Cincinnati (offer), Arizona, UCLA, USC (offer), Oregon State and Arizona State.
Taylor King was the third leading scorer for SoCal with 16 points, primarily on three-pointers.
Other pivotal players for SoCal were 2008 prospect Brandon Jennings and California commitment Taylor Harrison. Jennings played a nearly flawless floor game at point guard. Harrison stepped up big by hitting four midrange jumpers when UCLA commitment James Keefe was struggling to find the basket. The smaller H Squad team was doubling Gibson down low and giving up the 17-footer to the SoCal power forwards, and Harrison took advantage.
Fatigue clearly affected the play of Jefferson and Seketoure Henry. Henry's heavy legs cooled down his hot shooting although he did finish with 14 points. Jefferson, who only played with about half the energy he played with in the morning, was not the intimidating factor around the basket on both ends like he had been in the two earlier games Sunday. He did still manage to finish with 21 points on 9 of 17 shooting from the field, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals.
Danny Williams, however, kept his energy level up throughout the game, scoring a game high 23 points on an array of three-pointers off the dribble and catch, floaters in the midrange and punishing finishes at the rim.
Spiece Gym Rats take the 16-under crown
The Spiece Gym Rats lived up to their moniker as they played with a basketball IQ well above that of any of the other teams Rivals.com saw in the tournament. They easily took down the more athletic Playaz AAU club in the semifinals before taking care of the Arkansas Hawks.
"Every guy on our team has at least a 3.0 GPA," said Spiece Gym Rats head coach Pat Mullins. "We aren't always the most athletic team, so we have to play smarter. These guys really know how to play."
The Spiece squad was led by a 21 point effort by Matt Howard, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound power forward from Connersville (Ind.) High School. Howard runs the floor very well, passes well and can finish with either hand. During his sophomore season he averaged 17 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks per game.
Currently being recruited by in-state schools Purdue, Indiana, Butler and Valparaiso, Howard's recruitment is certain to intensify.
Also playing well for the Spiece was 6-foot point guard Zach Hahn from New Castle Crysler (Ind.) High School. A heady left hander with a strong handle and great floor vision, Hahn is also a threat to score. Butler and Valparaiso have shown interest.
And perhaps the best long term prospect for the Spiece is 6-foot-10, 190-pound center JuJaun Jones. Long and with a soft touch on a fade away jumper, Johnson is getting interest from Purdue, Iowa State, Illinois, Xavier and Indiana.
Promising prospects for the runner up Arkansas Hawks are Michael Sanchez and Nate Rakestraw. At 6-foot-8, 210-pounds, Sanchez is a chiseled forward who can put the ball on the floor and hit the 17-footer. Often the Hawks offense, for better and worse, consisted of four on the baseline and Sanchez going one-on-one from on top.
Rakestraw, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard from Silaorn Springs (Ark.) High School is a dead eye shooter with limited quickness. Having missed most of his high school season with a wrist injury, Rakestraw is not yet on the recruiting radar. Look for a significant development of mid-major interest in him.
Look for more scouting reports and final observations from the Tournament of Champions after the Memorial Day Weekend.