Whew, what a month December was.
In retrospect, December was one of the best holiday seasons in recent memory. Credit that to the class of 2006. As a whole, it proved just how good it really is with a number of memorable games at some of the best high school events around.
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Jon Scheyer started the month at the Marshall County Hoopfest with a dazzling 36 point performance in a win against Memphis (Tenn.) Ridgeway. That was just he beginning for the future Duke Blue Devil. He erupted for 52 points later in the month at the Proviso tournament in Illinois. Moreover, he scored 21 points in a 75 second span. He did it in front of Coach K and Chris Collins, too.
There are few players doing more with so little around him than Scheyer. He's raising the level of play with the guys around him. That's an intangible that you can't measure with numbers.
Scheyer is joined by Gerald Henderson, perhaps the most athletic wing in the country. He enjoyed a great Decemeber as well. When he goes baseline, watch out. Henderson has the body to step in to the ACC and make quite the splash.
Greg Oden may be the most dominant player in the class of 2006 but Brandan Wright is close behind. The gangly forward from Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy had just about as good of a December as anyone in the country.
The future Tar Heel did just about everything imaginable at the Marshall County Hoopfest, City of Palms and the Arby's Invitational. Brentwood Academy went 9-0 in those events and Wright claimed MVP honors at all three.
Wright had to knock out his future Carolina mate Wayne Ellington at the City of Palms. Watching the two of them together it's easy to understand why so many are expecting to see Roy Williams standing on the sidelines with Thad Matta at the Final Four.
Scary thing is, Wright and Ellington make up one third of a stellar class coming to Chapel Hill next season. Mix Ellington, the nation's top shooting guard, with the quick wheels of Oak Hill point guard Tywon Lawson.
Lawson helped Oak Hill team claim it's third Academy National Invitational title in the last five years. The speedy point guard blew by all comers in Houston and while he didn't put up huge numbers like he's capable of, he set the pace for the nation's top team.
Lawson is quicker than Raymond Felton but not the passer the current Charlotte Bobcat is. But Felton didn't have an efficient scorer like Ellington. Or a versatile big man like Wright. Or depth inside with Alex Stepheson and Deon Thompson.
While the National Championship isn't being handed over to the Tar Heels, this 2006 class has a certain aura about it. But so does Matta's incoming kids.
Speaking of Matta, his future crew isn't doing to bad for themselves either. Oden and Mike Conley are off to a hot 8-0 start and beating teams by nearly 25 points a game. Guess there aren't too many 7-footers in Indianapolis that can hang with the most dominant teenage big man in the world.
Oden is averaging a modest 23.1 points and 11.4 rebounds a game all the while shooting, rather, dunking 71 percent from the floor. Big Ten basketball is looking up but teams are going to have a difficult time containing Oden.
These kids are less than a year away from putting on their respective college jerseys. Somebody get Dickie V some heart meds and a traveling defibrillator.
As good as the top 2006 kids were, the juniors weren't too shabby themselves. Nick Calathes dropped 50 at the City of Palms. Kevin Love pulled down 27 (or more) rebounds against Compton Dominguez. That's nearly a rebound a minute in a high school game. James Hickson was the best big man from start to finish at the Academy National Invitational, leading the National Division in rebounds and blocked shots and second in scoring. That's just to name a few.
Making a statement
When the early signing period ended this year, the talent pool at nearly every position looked to be slim pickings and unlike year's past, December actually seemed to produce a number of available and talented players that are still available.
The Peach State Classic in Atlanta may not have quite the national draw like some of the other post-Christmas holidays but a number of college coaches made it down to Atlanta for the event at Morehouse College. For those that made it, they were treated to a pair of 40-point performances from Casey Mitchell.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound shooting guard from Savannah (Ga.) High School is now being courted by schools from nearly every major conference.
One of the highlights of the City of Palms was the play of Eneil Polynice, a 6-foot-4 wing from Sarasota (Fla.) Booker. A complete unknown, Polynice was Mr. Versatility alongside future Florida Gator Gary Clark. Polynice played the point, knocked down big threes, rebounded and showed off a good overall game.
Then came the Academy National Invitational in Houston.
The event blew the doors off the hinges when it came to senior sleepers. Leading the way was 6-foot-7 wing Lawrence Gilbert. The New Orleans native is spending his senior season at Wheatley High School in Houston. He's a long, active and versatile wing forward that will probably catch on with a Big 12 level school.
Also at Wheatley is scoring point guard Dewayne Reed. Reed can pour in the points in a hurry. He's jet quick and loves to call his own number. While he's not as good as Boston College's late surprise Tyrese Rice, Reed is similar in his style of play.
It is hard to call Earl Pettis, a 6-foot-5 wing from Philly's Neumann-Goretti High School, a sleeper. How about one of the better players still available in the '06 class? Whatever the label, Pettis is certainly an Atlantic 10 player with Big East potential.
Other names to emerge from the ANI are: Brandon Dison, Westfield (Texas); Johnny Mayhanne, LeFlore (Ala.); James Florence, Wheeler (Ga.); Brandon Brown, Aldine (Ga.); Sam Hannes, Cornerstone Christian (Texas).
Countdown to Kingwood
With the 2005 Academy National Invitational in the books, the countdown to the Kingwood Classic has begun. Vision Sports head man Hal Pastner said he will run a day's worth of games at the spacious Aldine Campbell Center, home of the ANI, in April. With O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker headlining the 2006 event, the Kingwood Classic is already shaping up to be the premiere event in April once again.
Pastner said he is planning on running the power pool games at the 5,000 seat Campbell Center. At last year's Kingwood, the Westfield gym was a constant traffic jam as fans piled into the gym to see Mayo, Walker & Co. The move to Houston's finest high school arena is a welcomed one.
The field isn't just Mayo and Walker's D-1 Greyhounds. The Portland Legends, the reigning Kingwood champs, are back. The Atlanta Celtics, Boo Williams, Georgia Stars, Houston Hoops, New York Gauchos, Pittsburgh JOTS, SoCal All-Stars, Team Florida, Team Texas, The Family and hundreds of others highlight the loaded 2006 field already.
Around the nation
There is some scuttlebutt floating around junior Taylor King. Word is spreading that King is headed to Duke. That isn't the case, says the four-star forward.
"Nope," King said. "Nothing is really new. I think somebody misquoted me when I was at Myrtle Beach. I still have my top five."
His top five includes Duke, Gonzaga, North Carolina, USC and Villanova. He maintained he would like to wait until after the spring to make a decision. It's worth noting that King has unofficially visited all five programs already. Perhaps something is brewing but not ready to be let out of the bag just yet.
Texas Tech and Rockwall (Texas) High School forward Michael Godwin are parting ways. The 6-foot-8 forward inked with the Red Raiders in the fall but Texas Tech is releasing him from his Letter of Intent, according to Godwin's father.