NORCROSS, GA - Those looking for a glimpse of what big time basketball players are all about found just that at the Prime Time Tour at Norcross High School on Saturday.
Complete effort from Norcross
With three Division I senior signees on the roster, a national top 25 ranking and a spotlight bigger than the circumference of the Interstate 285 loop around Atlanta on them on Saturday, Norcross had a lot to live up to.
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Boy, did they live up to the hype in a big way.
The Blue Devils knocked out Arlington Country Day (Fla.) with little trouble to the tune of 88-69.
"We had a lot of great individual efforts in this game but this was our best team effort all year long," Norcross head coach Eddie Martin said. "And we've played some pretty good games but this had to be our best team game."
Martin said playing eight out of state teams and making three trips outside of the Peach State has helped gel his team together this year.
"This is game number 20 for us and we've been together long enough and played enough games and been on the road to figure each other out," Martin said. "I think that was it. When you are living with someone 24/7, you get to know them a little better than just practicing with them. That's been a big plus."
On the national stage, the Blue Devils have struggled to have a complete effort from the five starters in one game from start to finish. That wasn't the case on Saturday.
The five Division I players combined for 85 of the 88 points for Norcross, including 48 big points from big men Gani Lawal and Al-Farouq Aminu.
Aminu, a five-star junior, was outstanding. He joined rare company in Prime Time Shootout history by breaking LeBron James's record of 21 rebounds in a game. James's 54 points remain in the record books though.
"There is no way I'll get that," Aminu joked after his stellar performance.
Aminu "settled" with 23 points. Outside of his three monstrous dunks, the 6-foot-9 versatile forward banged home a pair of three-pointers and a pair of midrange shots. Athletically, he's at the top of his class and has shown off a great ablity of handling the ball and running the floor unlike so many other big men in the class of 2008.
There are times when Aminu, who is the No. 9 ranked junior in the country, looked every bit a top five player in his class nationally on Saturday. Few guys can do what he does inside and out. Consistency is the key for him.
Part of Aminu's progression can be credited to playing with Lawal, who is playing his best basketball to date. The future Georgia Tech big man put in 25 points and 10 rebounds in the victory and absolutely took the spirit out of the Arlington Country Day frontline. He was 11 of 12 inside the paint and scored whenever and however he wanted down low.
Thought to be a bubble McDonald's All-American coming into the high school season, Lawal has shined on the big stage all season long and has done the work to get a spot on the team this season.
Taariq Muhammad, a sophomore point guard, did a fantastic job of controlling the pace of the game all the while scoring the ball when he needed to. The 6-foot-1 floor general scored 13 points and handed out 12 assists.
"He took control of the game. He pushed it when he needed to push it and he backed it out when he should have," Martin said. "I think there was one time the whole game where I felt like he should have probably should have given it up but hey, when your point guard is playing like that you can live with that."
Muhammad is playing strong basketball and brought his game up a level since the Academy National Invitational.
Norcross enjoyed the good shooting touch from Tony Neysmith, whose shot continues to improve as the season went along. The Oklahoma bound guard was the perimeter spark that the Blue Devils needed in order to balance the interior attack.
He wasn't alone, though. Future Florida State wing Jordan DeMercy added nine points, including a three and a good looking midrange shot. He added three blocks and four assists. His alley-oop dunk down the baseline was Sportscenter worthy.
Arlington Country Day was led by Devon Lamb, who scored a team high 19 points. The 6-foot-1 unsigned senior did a fine job of scoring against the big and athletic Norcross frontline. Lamb has enjoyed a big senior season for the Apaches and certainly showed why he's become a hot target for the low-majors and some mid-majors.
Kentucky signee A.J. Stewart scored 13 points and collected a half dozen rebounds but trying to pound away at Aminu and Lawal all game was a difficult task for the 6-foot-8 forward.
Norcross (18-2) will have it's biggest in-state challenge on Tuesday when they play host to Peachtree Ridge, a region rival and the No. 2 ranked team in the state. Peachtree Ridge boasts Ole Miss bound Zach Graham, Tennessee Tech signee Bassy Inameti, Kevin Anderson, the top unsigned point guard in the state and forward Cameron Heyward.
Putting the Glove-r on Wheeler
"Tyreke Evans or J.J. Hickson, who are you here to see?" asked one fan to another in the stands before Evans's American Christian (Pa.) team took to the floor against Hickson's Wheeler team.
While both five-star players put on shows, it was Michael Glover of American Christian that had everyone talking afterwards.
The future Seton Hall big man seemed to get whatever he wanted inside paint. The 6-foot-6 block of granite scored 28 points, with 22 coming around the cup on dunks or layups. Bobby Gonzalez and staff will use his toughness and no-nonsense to bolster the Pirates' frontline next season.
Glover was the answer inside while Evans controlled the pace of the game beautifully. The 6-foot-5 junior added 22 points, seven assists and seven rebounds in the victory and looked incredibly comfortable at the point.
Evans was patient with the ball and picked his spots to score or penetrate into the lane, using his incredibly long strides into the paint. For those that have never watched Evans before got a glimpse of why so many elite level programs are standing in line to get into the mix with the five-star junior.
Hickson didn't miss a shot in the first half and owned the post just as much as Glover was. The likely McDonald's All-American finished with a cool 30 points and looked every bit like a guy that will be spending a good part of March in Louisville.
Hickson brought the full of array of offensive post moves and was the day's most impressive post player on the offensive end of the floor. He scored in more ways than dunks or putbacks.
Junior Dequan Jones finally looked like the player that he was in the summer time on the AAU circuit, scoring 17 points. The promising junior is still working on his jumper and knocked down a three ball and a 18 foot jumper on the wing. Jones added five rebounds in the defeat.
Columbia wins battle of top 25 teams
Both teams are ranked nationally in the USA Today top 25 poll but that didn't matter to Columbia (Ga.) High School and LeFlore (Ala.) High School. It didn't come as a big surprise that the teams went back and forth and held off each other's runs in Columbia's hard fought 68-65 win.
Columbia (17-1), the defending Class 3A state champions in Georgia, relies on the play of seniors Jeremy Price and Lance Storrs as much as possible but it was a junior that came up with the big plays in the victory.
Travis Leslie scored 20 points, 10 rebounds, blocked three shots, handed out three assists and collected a pair of steals. The 6-foot-5 small forward has been a great surprise in the Peach State this year and certainly played his way onto high-major watch lists this season.
Certainly not lacking top flight athleticism, Leslie attacked the basket time and time again and was a match-up problem one on one because of his ability to get to the rim and score above it.
Price, a Georgia signee, was strong with 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists for the victors while Storrs, a Georgia Tech signee, added eight points and six important assists. Price has improved his body and is doing things he didn't do for Columbia last season. The Bulldogs will enjoy having the 6-foot-9, 240-pound big man in the frontline next season.
Storrs has played the point all season long and the experiment will only help him see the floor more next year at Georgia Tech because he's improved his ball-handling skills and versatility in the backcourt.
LeFlore, a team that never lacks for effort, rose the versatile play of unsigned senior Chris Blake. The 6-foot-4 prospect scored 18 points, grabbed six rebounds and handed out four assists and collected four steals. Blake is a mid-major steal and it is still baffling why more schools aren't recruiting him.
Dunwoody starts fast, wins fast
Dunwoody (Ga.) High School locked Pinecrest (Fla.) down early in the second quarter and claimed the game before the teams broke for the half. The Peach State power rode the solid play of Zac Swansey and Delwan Graham to claim the 87-61 victory.
Swansey, a Georgia signee, scored 24 points and handed out six assists. Swansey recently went over the 2,000 point career scoring mark this year and has the Wildcats primed for a third straight state championship.
Swansey did a fine job of controlling the pace of the game, as he has all season, for Dunwoody (17-2).
Graham flirted with perfection, going for 22 points on 11 of 12 shooting from the floor. The bouncy forward also collected 20 rebounds in the victory. For the second time this season, Graham went for 20 and 20 in a big stage. He did the same thing against five-star junior Tony Woods earlier in the year.
Graham maximizes his game around the cup with constant movement and putting himself into position to score with drop off passes from Graham and the revolving door of solid guards for the Wildcats.
Pinecrest point guard Brandon Knight emerged at the Nike All-America camp this summer, long before he ever suited up in a high school uniform, and part of the problem of playing well as a youngster on the national stage is a giant microscope that follows.
Time is certainly on his side but simply put, Knight played like a freshman in his first national stage since Indianapolis. He forced shots in the first half and dribbled into double and triple coverages.
He calmed down in the second half of the game and lessened his shot selection and converted on more attempts. Knight finished with 12 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Junior guard Brandon Reese scored a team high 25 points in the loss for Pinecrest.
All eyes on us
Coaches from East Tennessee State, Toledo and Western Kentucky took in the action on Saturday.
Dunwoody (Ga.) 87, Pinecrest (Fla.) 61
Columbia (Ga.) 68, LeFlore (Ala.) 65
American Christian (Pa.) 79, Wheeler (Ga.) 71
Norcross (Ga.) 88, Arlington Country Day (Fla.) 69