DAYTON, TN - There are few events in the country quite like the National Athletic Christian Association. Tucked away at the Tennessee mountains, teams from all over the country find a way to the Fort Bluff Camp and kept the NACA Championships rolling on Thursday.
Veritas claims victory
Led by the great poise and leadership from point guard Jonathan Ellington and key free throw shooting from junior forward Catalin Baciu, Veritas Christian overcame a slow first half start and powered back to a 67-57 win.
Ellington, a 5-foot-9 junior from Ashville, N.C., scored 19 points and handed out eight assists in the victory and took his team be the collar and changed their focus at the break. He was vocal and commanded his teammates' attention with crisp passing and confident shooting.
Ellington said he has heard from Clemson, NC State (citing a long time relationship with assistant Monte Towe), Hofstra, American, Wake Forest and UNC Asheville. The junior will suit up for the Charlotte Royals on the AAU circuit, he said.
Baciu, a 7-foot-1, 230-pound forward, struggled throughout around the basket and didn't convert the shots you'd expect from a towering center. In fact, Baciu missed nine shots within five feet of the basket. His struggles came in large part to the physical play of North Cobb Christian forward Matt Shaw.
After Shaw picked up his second technical foul for disagreements with an official and sat down late in the third quarter, Baciu picked it up offensively. The Romanian did convert 12 of 16 shots from the free throw line, mostly late in the fourth quarter.
Baciu, the No. 49 ranked player in the class of 2008, finished 22 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. The big man said he has already visited Virginia Tech, Clemson, Wake Forest, Davidson, North Carolina State and Tennessee.
North Cobb Christian's point guard, Dustin Ware, really struggled with his shot. The class of 2008 Georgia commitment scored 16 points on six of 21 shooting from the floor and went a cold two for 13 points from deep.
Ware dished out six assists and showed a great ability for changing speeds with the ball in his hands. The future Bulldog helped pilot his squad to the GISA class 3A championship last week.
Before disqualifying, Shaw played a very solid game against his 7-foot counterpart. His hustle and energy resulted in 12 points and eight rebounds. Unsigned senior guard Elijah McDonald added 19 points and connected on five three-pointers in the defeat.
Genesis One hangs on against Our Savior
Southern Miss has a real steal in forward Brandon Cooks. The 6-foot-8 forward was outstanding inside the paint against a frontline that constantly rotated in 7-foot shot-blockers.
Cooks, a three-star prospect, put in 23 points and 10 rebounds in the 78-72 Genesis One Elite victory over Our Savior New American. The Louisiana native should be a nice performer for the Conference USA team next year. He's active, athletic and gets it done inside and out.
When watching four-star junior forward Malcolm White, you just anticipate when he's going to explode. And that is a good thing. For the packed house that watched White and his Genesis One team take on Our Savior New American, they were able to see the kind of damage he can do at the rim.
White soared high on a baseline in-bounds pass and threw down a disastrous dunk over Teeng Akol, a Rivals150 junior himself. Because White plays with that high energy and the refs where taking a very disciplined approach to managing the games, the four-star Louisiana was whistle for a technical foul for an understandable outburst of intimidation when he yelled so loud that the folks back at Genesis One could here.
White finished with 10 points, including two good looking 15 foot jumpers, eight rebounds and five blocks against players that stood over 7-feet tall.
Our Savior kept the game close thanks in large part to the play of senior Enrique Benitez and sophomore Gerardo Castillo. Benitez shined as a defender and with his 6-foot, 200-pound frame. He wasn't afraid to play right into his man and pick pocketed the opposition in the open court. Benitez powered his way to the bucket and showed off a game that could translate well at the low-major level.
Castillo, a skinny 6-foot-3 sophomore, has a chance to be a nice player over time. He had a good handle, attacked well, shot the ball well and seemed to always have a play to keep the game close.
Akol struggled with his shot, hitting just three of his 13 shots, including some easy ones right at the cup. The 6-foot-10 forward grabbed ten rebounds.
Events like the NACA Championships provide opportunities to uncover sleepers and lay some eyes on players that have talent with a slice of potential for better things to come.
Perhaps the most intriguing surprise of the day was Eladio Espinosa of Charlotte (N.C) Victory Christian. The 6-foot-7, 215-pound power forward played a huge role in his team's 64-61 win over God's Academy from Dallas, Texas.
Espinosa ran the floor incredibly well and played with great energy down low. His motor never seemed to stop. The athletic post scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the win and seemed to always make the right play.
He's still very much under the radar and said he's heard from a host of mid-majors as well as Clemson and Kentucky with the traditional questionnaires. He'll be a guy that could really surprise come AAU time as his game is seen by more coaches. Don't be surprised to see him enter the high-major radar.
Genesis One Elite has a nice California connection in the backcourt. Point guard Terrence Joyner and shooting guard Lavance Pennington left the West Coast for a more rural destination at Genesis One but they haven't forgot how to play an aggressive style of play.
Joyner is one of those guards that can win a game with little field goal attempts. He only scored eight points in the victory against Our Savior. Joyner was disappointing from the foul line, converting just six of 14 attempts.
The 6-foot-1 junior was unselfish to the tune of eight assists and found his shooters and big men with pin point passes. Joyner mixed it up inside and grabbed eight rebounds as well.
According to his coach Victor Evans, Joyner has interest from Florida State, Oregon State, USC, Pepperdine and Washington State.
Pennington, a 6-foot-4 San Bernardino native, finished with 21 points and five made three-pointers. The junior was good off of catching and shooting and creating with a bounce or a two. Pennington knows how to score but is most comfortable from behind the arc.
He said he's heard from Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Illinois State and USC. Pennington said he will suit up for Inland Reebok on the AAU circuit this year.
God's Academy lost a close one to Victory Christian but the team had good play from talented freshman K.C. Ross-Miller and unsigned senior combo guard Jordan Smith.
Miller, a 6-foot point guard, played with great poise and despite the loss, he put in a valiant effort against a good team. He knows how to play his position and mixes in great ball-handling skills that allowed him to knife his way through the defense for scores at the rim. Miller finished with 17 points and seven assists.
Smith, a 6-foot-4 combo, showed a nice sampling of everything. He's athletic, can shoot, can handle and can get to the rim. He'd be a nice get for a low to mid-major this late in the game.
All eyes on us
Coppin State, Florida International and Morehead State were on hand for the games at the main gym on Thursday. Word is from tournament officials, Cincinnati, Georgia, Kentucky, South Florida, Tennessee and Tennessee-Chattanooga were on hand on Wednesday.