ATLANTA, GA - DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors, two of the top three players in the class of 2009, met head to head in the first round of the Peach State Holiday Classic at Morehouse College on Wednesday. Rivals.com was there to exclusively cover the action.
Sophomores square off on big stage
DeMarcus Cousins, the No. 1 ranked sophomore in the nation, matched up with Derrick Favors, the No. 3 ranked sophomore in the country, is about as good as you'll get in the sophomore class this season.
But for the large crowd that waited around for the five-star showdown had to settle for an ugly 39-31 win for Favor's South Atlanta squad.
Cousins looked every bit of 6-foot-9 and a solid 235 pounds but he moved with a smoothness that guys his size don't normally do. On the first possession of the game, the Birmingham, Ala., native sunk a beautiful 17 foot jumper over the outstretched hands of Favors. Things looked good for Erwin and Cousins early on.
However, the game hit a lull and the energy seemed to be sitting on pause. Both players sat on four points at the half.
The third quarter provided a spark for the game. Cousins had his dunk attempt blocked by the front of the rim, which gave the Atlanta crowd a buzz. On the rebound and sprint down the floor, Favors skied for a thundering dunk over a helpless defender that awoke Forbes Arena, a place that had been sleeping for a good part of the day. On the next South Atlanta possessions, Favors did it again and powered home another loud dunk.
Favors was more of a force on the defensive end as he blocked eight shots by our count. More importantly, he was a disruptive presence inside the paint. Cousins and his teammates were frustrated by Favors' ability to thwart anything that came into the lane. Cousins missed eight shots five feet from the basket. Favors had everything to do with that.
Offensively, Favors, who is a year younger than his class of 2009 peers, was simplistic and played like a big man. There was little flash about his buckets in this game and he did a good job of finding his way to the line in the second half.
Cousins showed flashes of why he was placed at the top spot of the 2009 rankings. His first bucket of the game was, as one coach who was in attendance, "a flat out pro move." Cousins can do a lot inside and away from the basket but once Favors seemed to channel the energy in the gym after his back-to-back dunks, he claimed the game as his own and helped South Atlanta win the match-up.
Inside the five-star numbers:
Favors – 17 points, 10 rebounds, eight blocked shots, three steals, 6-10 FG, 5-6 FT
Cousins – 7 points, 8 rebounds, 7 blocks, two steals, 3-16 FG, 1-6 FT
Another 2009 player playing big
Mfon Udofia really only played two quarters. It's scary to think what he could have done in four quarters of action if he plays like he played in the first round of the Peach State Holiday Classic. The 6-foot-1 sophomore guard scored 26 points in a 16 minute stretch and put the control into the hands of his Miller Grove team.
After going scoreless in the first quarter, Udofia scored 13 points in the second quarter that helped open up a lead that finished as a 63-41 win over Banneker.
"More or less, this is his first real big tournament of this magnitude and I think it just took him a little bit longer to get to get into the right state of mind," Miller Grove head coach Sharman White said. "I told him to just let the game come to him. When he did, he does what he always does."
Playing more off the ball this year as a sophomore, Udofia is finding more opportunities to score the ball instead of playing the distributor's role.
"I prefer to play more on the ball but with this team, I'm needed to be more off of it and be a scorer," Udofia said. "When the game comes down to it, I like to have the ball in my hands and be able to be the guy that can set things up for my teammates or decide if I need to score."
On Wednesday, it was time to score.
White coached Udofia last year and watched the then freshman lead a senior-less team to the state tournament and open a lot of eyes along the way. White said the difference with Udofia this year is a little more moxy and a little more fearlessness to his game.
"He's a confident kid. There is no questioning that. I don't know of anyone that believes in him more than himself. He knows what he can. But this year it a little different than last year. He's more confident and I can't wait to see what he's going to look like next year."
Neither can the number of high-major schools recruiting him. Udofia said he is hearing from Florida, Georgia Tech, Georgia, LSU, Kansas, Georgetown and NC State the most up to this point. He added that he has already visited Florida, Georgia Tech and Georgia. Paul Hewitt put a pair of eyes on him on Wednesday as did Mike Jones from Georgia.
News & Notes
Jeremy Simmons of Tucker High School is one of the top unsigned players in the event this season. The 6-foot-7 forward had a solid first game outing with 21 points in a big win over Bradwell Institute. Simmons said his recruitment is still the same but added that he has heard from Florida State of late. Simmons, a three-star prospect, remains as one of the top unsigned players in the Peach State.
Marshon Brooks, a 6-foot-3 unsigned senior guard from Tucker, said he has heard from Tennessee Tech, Chattanooga, Toledo, Campbell, Grambling, Georgia State and Wofford. Brooks has enjoyed a strong senior campaign so far and will likely be a solid low-major signee.
Tucker sophomore wing Manny Atkins looked like he just stepped out of a boxing match after the game as he held a big ice pack over his right eye and a pair of small cuts over and under his eye. The 6-foot-5 scorer took a pretty good shot that kept him out of action for a good part of the game. Atkins will be one of the more recruited players in Atlanta's loaded 2009 class. He said he is already hearing from Georgia Tech, Georgia, Florida State and Wofford.
Events like the Peach State Classic are great places for coaches to uncover hidden gems like Creekside guard Kevin Murphy. The long and lanky sophomore guard showed off a keen ability to score the ball from all spots on the floor. The 6-foot-4 shooter finished with 16 points in Creekside's victory over Griffin. Murphy said his recruitment is starting to pick up speed as Georgia, James Madison, High Point and Kent State are in early.
Mays High School, right in the heart of Atlanta, is no stranger to success. The storied program won two state titles with Georgia State forward Rashad Chase running the show. Now head coach Floyd Mack is looking at a 5-foot-10 baby-faced freshman, Aloys Cabel, to help pilot the program back to the postseason. Cabel is a Flint, Mich., native and he must have taken note of the pedigree from his old town. The kid knows how to play and is poised under pressure. He looked perfectly comfortable with the ball in his hands and the responsibility of running the show.
In all reality, the first day of action didn't provide many big match-ups or any big time performances from anyone. So when a guy like Banneker's Steven Fowlkes showed off a simplistic and strong post game, the pen hit the paper and notes were certainly scribbled. Fowlkes has a good, muscular frame on his 6-foot-7 body and the lefty made a couple of plays inside that stood out in a lackluster day for big guys. He'll be a name to follow in the 2008 class for the mid-majors.
With the games running nearly two hours behind and a 6 a.m. flight waiting for us on the other end of the clock, we didn't get a chance to see North Clayton sophomore guard Andre Malone in the last game of the night. But it is worth noting that the 6-foot-4 shooting guard is having a huge year and is one of the top players that coaches want to see at the Peach State Classic. He'll be a name that will pop up a lot over the next two and a half years.
Up the road at the Deep South Classic, word has it that sophomores Richard Howell, a five-star forward for Central Gwinnett had a big game and played well in front of assistants from Tennessee and Texas. Howell, a 6-foot-7 forward, is having a big year and quietly emerging as a must get guy for the high-majors across the country.
Also playing well was 6-foot-9 sophomore big men Jeremy Olsen of Collins Hill High School, who put in 28 points in a loss. The fundamentally sound forward's play is keeping a number of high-major schools in town for an extra day.
Both Howell and Olsen stopped by Morehouse College to see the Favors-Cousins match-up.
All eyes on me
Coaches from Alabama, Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Appalachian State, Auburn, Campbell, Charleston, Chattanooga, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Jacksonville, Murray State, Stetson, Tennessee, Texas, Tulane and huge number of Division II, JUCO and NAIA schools filled the giant Forbes Arena at Morehouse College to take in the first day of the event.
Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt laid a set of eyes on Mfon Udofia, Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins.
The Peach State Holiday Classic runs until Dec. 30 at Morehouse College.