HOUSTON -- Even an uncommitted 7-foot-2 high school senior can manage to avoid the spotlight. That much was obvious during the first round of games at the Kingwood Classic on Friday night.
While elite prospects like O.J. Mayo and mega-talented teams like the SoCal All-Stars drew the biggest crowds of the night, one of the tallest players in the class of 2006 played in front of about two dozen fans and several rows of empty seats (coaches weren't allowed to attend games until Saturday).
Those who didn't show up missed one of the fastest rising prospects in the class of 2006 and a performance that proved why.
Hasheem Thabeet threw down a handful of powerful, two-handed dunks and swatted a number of blocks to lead the Houston Junior Hardballers to a 54-52 win in overtime over the Illinois Wolves. Monice Garrett banked in a jumper at the buzzer to seal the victory.
Recruiting interest has exploded for the lanky African center, who recently took a visit to Connecticut.
"UConn, Miami, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are all involved," Houston Junior Hardballers coach Rory Coleman said.
Coleman said that Thabeet isn't leaning anywhere yet and hasn't planned anymore visits either. He wants to wait and see what other schools will get involved as the AAU season rolls on and they get a chance to see him.
Most college coaches hadn't heard of Thabeet, who has been in the U.S. for about a year and a half, a month ago. After moving from California and enrolling at the Cypress (Texas) Community School last year, he was ruled ineligible to play for last season.
But, that hasn't stopped the imposing big man from working on his game. Thabeet did a good job getting position in the post and drew several fouls. He also did a solid job on the boards.
"Hasheem is improving every time he gets on the court," Coleman said. "It's unbelievable. Just six months ago he couldn't even catch the ball. He has come so far in such a short time."
Thabeet may have to spend another year working on his game before getting to college. Coleman said he hasn't achieved a qualifying score on the SAT yet and if he doesn't will go to prep school next season.
KINGWOOD CLASSIC: DAY 1 NOTES
A year at Genesis One prep school in Mendenhall, Miss. has clearly helped Thomas Manzano. The left-handed 6-4, 185-pound junior guard who moved from New York City made several big plays to lead MBA Hoops to a victory over the Illinois Fire, showing off his explosive first step and much-improved outside shot as well.
MBA Hoops coach Devon Jenkins thinks that Manzano will emerge as major prospect this summer much like Alabama-signee Verice Cloyd did last year. Mazano has already been invited to the NBA players camp in Richmond in June.
"I really believe Thomas is capable of being one of the nation's top players," Jenkins said.
Nearly every SEC school has shown interest in Manzano and Cincinnati got involved in the recruiting battle last week. He said he has no favorites yet.
MBA Hoops was also led by a pair of promising big men from Genesis, Jovan Adams, who is also from NYC, and Brandon Cook from Louisiana. Look for both to start receiving interest from major programs soon.
Rivals.com learned that Kodi Augustus will be reclassifying to the class of 2007 and enrolling in Lee Academy, a prep school in Maine. Augustus, who was a member of the Rivals150, hopes to work out his academic issues there and polish his game.
"It's going to be freezing there and I'm going to have to buy a lot of big jackets," Augustus joked. "But, it's a disciplined environment there and they have a good coach."
Augustus said many of the schools that were battling for his services are still in contact, including Arkansas, Florida, Miami and Tennessee.
Illinois Warriors power forwards Brandon McGee and Demond Watt both put together solid performances in a win over Derek Smith's All-Stars.
McGee, who coach Larry Butler called an "emerging star," has the face-up game to step away from the basket and a quick first step. Watt showed plenty of athleticism, blocking shots and out leaping others for balls around the basket.
McGee is receiving interest from Illinois, Iowa, Northern Iowa, Saint Louis and a number of Pac-10 programs.
California, Northwestern, Notre Dame and USC have all inquired about Watt. Butler said the Irish are on the verge of offering a scholarship and Watt said if that happens he will likely commit.
"I've watched Notre Dame a lot on television this year and really like them. I think it would be a good fit," Watt said.