RALEIGH, N.C. -- The action tipped off at the 36th annual GlaxoSmithKline Holiday Invitational on Thursday night and the locals did their best Santa Claus impression by handing out gifts to the packed house all day long.
Word of God teammates John Wall and C.J. Leslie must really love the holidays, especially the giving part. The duo gave the packed house something to be excited about in a 70-58 win on Thursday night over Southern Durham.
There is fast and then there is Wall fast. The top point guard in the class of 2009 has afterburners for feet and he knows what to do with his best natural ability. On Thursday night, he was giving up the ball to his teammates and most of the time found Leslie for scores.
Leslie, a class of 2010 commitment to NC State, was tremendous and was at his very best that we've seen from him. He scored a game high 26 points and did it was authority, scoring on the break, at the rim, with a nifty midrange shot and anything that required athleticism.
His offense was impressive but his effort, attitude and shot-blocking ability really showed. Leslie said he
"I'm settled down now," Leslie said. "I think I've finally found a place where I can be comfortable and play a really calm game."
Playing with Wall doesn't hurt either.
"Yeah, it's always nice to have a guy like him," Leslie said with a big smile.
"It was his night to make people smile," Wall said of Leslie. "He got me tonight. But we both, no, our team, had a great time. This was worth (the price of admission."
Wall, who finished with 14 points and five assists in the win, said his recruitment is about the same as it always has been. Translation: it is very busy. Duke is the latest high-major school to throw a hat into the mix, he said. Wall made an unofficial visit to the nearby ACC school and saw the Blue Devils take on Albany last week.
There is no rush to decide, he says, and will continue to listen to all comers.
For the time being, he is having too much fun with Leslie and the rest of his teammates.
Kinston rolls, Kelly shines
After a solid week of work in Fort Myers and a strong -point game on Thursday night, Bo Ingram of Kinston should see his recruitment take off. The 6-foot-4 guard scored 17 points in the first half for his team as they took care of Ravenscroft 60-49 in what was the best match-up of teams on the opening day of the event.
In the sense of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, Ingram took a page out of Smith's book for Taft. Ingram hit three three-pointers in the first quarter and scored 13 of his team's 15 points in a 15-2 run to start the game. He finished with a team high 23 points.
Ingram has great size at his position, has proven he can knock down the long ball and get to the glass with regularity. He said he has offers from East Carolina, Charleston Southern and UNC Wilmington while Clemson has inquired of late, he said.
When Ingram trailed off in the second half, sophomore guard Reggie Bullock stepped up on both ends of the floor. He scored the majority of his 14 points in the final 16 minutes of the game and looked every bit like a top 50 prospect in the class of 2009.
Bullock can shoot or get to the foul line or knock down a midrange jumper. Offensively, he's content with being a set up guy as well as being the primary ball-handler for his team. He's putting the pieces together and developing into a terrific young ball player.
Bullock said Ohio State, Wake Forest, Indiana and North Carolina are strong with him early on the process.
Perhaps there isn't a more researched and more watched player in the class of 2009 right now than Ravenscroft big man Ryan Kelly. The skilled 6-foot-9 junior showed off his entire skill package in a tough loss.
The 6-foot-9 forward scored 28 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked three shots. He was impressive in nearly all facets of the game, showing off a versatile game inside the paint and facing up at the elbows. He knows his position well and plays a smart game for a big man.
Nearly every high-major on the Eastern seaboard has taken notice in one way or another. It is easy to understand why. His improvement since his freshman year, when he was a 6-foot-5 rookie, has been impressive. Kelly was not only the most productive player out on the floor, he was one of the most intriguing prospects to step onto the hardwood despite a tough loss.
California dreaming in Carolina
After a good week of work in Fort Myers, unsigned senior guard Bryce Smith came out hotter than the Southern California weather that he is used to this time of year. The 6-foot-4 shooter put in four three-pointers in the first two minutes of the game and clearly set the tone for Taft in a blow out win over Jordan.
Smith finished with 21 points in the win and his hot hand was about as automatic as it gets to start the game.
Because of Taft's pressure defense and costly turnovers, Jordan didn't cross the ball over it's own half court line until 5:33 to play in the first quarter. Taft went on a 16-0 run and Smith scored 12 of those points.
Larry Drew played the role of the pesky defender quite well and accounted for eight steals in the win. The future North Carolina Tar Heel has a lot of faithful fans on hand to see him play and he calm, cool and collected, as he always is in the backcourt.
Drew finished with 14 points in the win and took off shortly after the game with his team to catch UNC in action on Thursday night against Nevada.
Word is starting to spread about Justin Watts, a well-built 6-foot-5 unsigned senior from Durham (N.C.) Jordan High School. Paired against Taft High School out of California, last year's runner's up in the event, Watts had the spotlight to show why schools are looking a little closer at him.
He's a big time athlete with a college body. Watts does his best work at the rim and cleans the glass with little trouble. He finished with 24 points but struggled as a shooter and did his best work at the basket with dunks or put backs.
Watts said he is planning on visiting South Carolina and Michigan and some point this year. Temple, East Carolina and a long line of others are starting to show significant interest.
Ross steps up
Four-star junior Earnest Ross scored a game high 27-points and rallied his troops in the second half with calm and collected free throws to help his Panther Creek (N.C.) club walk away with a 54-48 opening day win over Broughton (N.C.).
Ross scored eight of his team's 16 first half points and found his groove late in the game.
"He was willing to step up," Panther Creek head coach L.J. Hepp said. "That is who he is."
Ross won't wow anyone with his ball-handling (check the nine turnovers) or his creativity on the wing but his poise and big shot capability came up big in the second half. He's a well-built athlete that will thrive in the open court. It didn't come as a big surprise that his success came when Panther Creek played it's brand of basketball in the final 16 minutes.
He is still very much the prospect at this stage in the game and it doesn't come as a big surprise that he has a number of programs taking a good look at him at the moment.
Ross said he is holding offers from East Carolina and UNC Wilmington. Clemson, NC State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Maryland and Boston College were also listed by the four-star junior as schools that have shown interest to date.
The honor roll student said he hopes to make his decision by the start of his senior season next year.
"I thought it was real important for me to show my team that I'm willing to be the leader," Ross said. "My team needs me to do those things."
Young and talented
The current DeMatha (Md.) team might be the youngest in the storied history of the program. It might also be one of the deepest and most balanced. The Stags relied on youth and a deep, deep bench to knock out Knightdale (N.C.) in the night cap.
Sophomore guard Josh Selby led the charge with 19 points while three other players added double digits in scoring.
Selby, a 6-foot-2 combo guard, is a long and wiry guard that does his best work going hard to the basket and uses his length and athleticism to score on acrobatic moves to the hole.
Sophomore Marcus Rouse and freshman Quinn Cook each scored 12 points in the victory. Rouse, a 6-foot-2 combo guard, always seemed to make plays and was effective with the ball in his hands. Cook, a 5-foot-11 freshman, was a three-point threat throughout.
Junior guard Naji Hibbert added 11 points in the victory.
All eyes on you
College coaches from Clemson, Duke, East Carolina, Gardner-Webb, Michigan, Oklahoma State, The Citadel, UNC Greensboro, UNC Wilmington and William & Mary were in the gorgeous Broughton High School gym throughout the day for the first day of action.
Odds & Ends
Broughton High School is rich with tradition and the Holliday Gymnasium has played home to some fine players. Perhaps the most famous prep star to ever lace them up at the school was Pete Maravich. The Pistol played his junior and senior year at the school before heading off to LSU.
Every once in a while you'll come across a name of a player at one of these big tournaments that just makes you shake your head for approval. One of the best basketball names we've ever uncovered is on the Kinston (N.C.) roster. Guard Mister Height just screams basketball, doesn't it? He is only 6-foot-1 in case you are wondering.
Northern Durham 70, Green Hope 61
Panther Creek (N.C.) 54, Broughton (N.C.) 48
Taft (Calif.) 69, Jordan (N.C.) 48
Kinston (N.C.) 60, Ravenscroft (N.C.) 49
Word of God (N.C.) 70, Southern Durham (N.C.) 58
DeMatha (Md.) 72, Knightdale (N.C.) 60
Rivals.com will jump on Interstate 85 and head south to Charlotte for the Bojangles Shootout at Marvin Ridge High School.
Word has it that five-star junior Derrick Favors went for 42 points, 20 rebounds and 12 blocks in a blowout win for his South Atlanta (Ga.) team against Jeanette (Pa.) and the nation's top football player Terrelle Pryor.
Favors will lock horns with Samardo Samuels and St. Benedicts. Samuels turned an ankle and was slowed down by the injury. The two big men will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.