St. Patrick's Day was last week so it made perfect sense when the Atlanta Celtics and the South Carolina Celtics met up in the championship game in the Southern Shootout at Georgia State University this weekend in downtown Atlanta. Led by top 2006 guard, Javaris Crittenton, the Peach State power program knocked of it's understudy at the 18th annual event that kicks off the AAU season.
The Atlanta Celtics ran every team they played from baseline to baseline but found out that their sister program from the Palmetto State wasn't going to be an easy win. The two programs fought it out on Sunday for the championship at the Southern Shootout. In the end, the experience and speed of the team from Atlanta paid off but they learned quickly that the Celtics from South Carolina meant business. Here is a look at the top players for both teams.
It would be hard to argue that Javaris Crittenton was the best player at the Southern Shootout this weekend. The 6-foot-4 guard from Southwest Atlanta Christian had to be the premiere scorer for the Warriors this season and he did an admirable job, scoring 25 points a game. With the Atlanta Celtics, the 45 ranked player in the class of 2006 has a chance to get back to what he enjoys doing best and that is setting up his teammates.
The Celtics are loaded with quick, athletic guards and Crittenton did a great job of finding all of his options and set the tone on the fast break. His court vision is strong and found every single one of his athletic teammates at the right times. Crittenton will be a hot recruit to watch in April as the high-majors from across the country try to get a better look at the four-star prospect.
Paired with Crittenton, Senario Hillman gives the Celtics another quick as lightning guard. In fact, if the 6-foot-2, 170-pound guard from Wilkinson Co. High School plays full-time at the 17 and under circuit, he and Crittenton will form one of the best backcourts in the nation.
Hillman has an incredible first step and blows by defenders with his power drive. The 17 ranked player in the class of 2007 has athleticism to match. He had his memorable moments the tourney by going baseline and throwing down some nasty flushes on multiple defenders. Still working on his jump shot, Hillman is still a work in progress - a very good work in progress. He drips high-major talent.
John Tiller isn't going to win style points but he'll score well in all categories. Celtics head coach Hulio Smith believes the 6-foot-3 strong-bodied guard is his team's best sleeper. Tiller does know how to win. He was a key contributor in Wheeler High School's victory over the Louis Williams-Mike Mercer train at South Gwinnett.
The Celtics aren't just guards though. Getting prep school bound Jonathan Mandeldove, a wiry 6-foot-11, 215-pound center, and Uriah Hethington, an athletic 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward will help boost their interior defense.
Mandeldove is a good shot-blocker that changes the way teams attack the basket. He isn't the strongest player around and opponents have little trouble powering through the former Virginia Commonwealth signee. However, Mandeldove sticks to his plan and will finish the game with five or more blocks, double digit points and rebounds.
Grades kept the high-majors away after last summer but with a good senior campaign and daily improvements, the big man could land on his feet at a high-major school after getting it done at a prep school. Where he ends up at is still being determined.
Hethington, a Middle Tennessee State signee, will also be headed to a prep school. He's always had the potential to be a big-timer but inconsistency in the summer last year and needed work in the classroom kept him from getting offers from the big dogs. Perhaps that will be his motivation this year.
The lefty big man is an explosive athlete that attacks the basket with aggressive moves and rattles just about every rim he finds. However, he still needs to improve his skills as a rebounder.
Joining in the dunkfest for the Celtics was An'juan Wilderness, the No. 78 ranked player in the country in the class of 2006. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound small forward showed off his athleticism with some two-handed flushes in transition.
This is an important spring and summer for Wilderness. He'll have a chance to be a wing forward for the Celtics and show off his perimeter skills, a part of his game he's been working on in order to make the transition to the college game.
South Carolina Celtics make a strong impression
For the first year program South Carolina Celtics, the Greenville-based club didn't look intimidated at all. They came to play and made sure people took notice in the process. We did. Head coach Steve McNeely has a solid, and young, group of kids that should make some noise this year on the AAU schedule.
D.J. Moore, a 5-foot-10 point 2006 guard from Broome High School in Spartanburg, S.C., is a strong floor general that has great quickness. He runs the team with efficiency and makes the right decisions at the right times. Moore is the engine of the machine for the Celtics. He just makes things happen.
The two-sport prospect (he's also a speedy kick returner and wide out) is also a bouncy guard that shocked the crowd with his ups over two Atlanta Celtic defenders in the championship game. McNeely said NC State has shown an interest for both sports.
Junior Salters led South Carolina in three-pointers last year and he didn't take long to let everyone know it. The 6-foot-2 shooter from Broome HS led the tournament in trifectas made and sent the message against the Atlanta Celtics, dropping seven long bombs on the squad. The Atlanta team went to a box and one in order to stop him on the wing.
Salters has terrific form and uses high screens to his advantage for open looks. He can create off the dribble and gets high on his jumper. A great student in the class (he's No. 1 in his class of 2006 at Broome), Salters should be a guy that the high-major academic schools look long and hard at. He has high-major skills.
Big man Trevor Booker, a 6-foot-7 lefty from Union (S.C.) High School can play both inside and out. He has a bit of a Big East flair to his game and doesn't shy away from anyone that wants to challenge him under the basket. Clemson and Pitt are looking early on. Booker will be a guy that Rivals.com watches closely on the circuit this year.
The S.C. Celtics are young and some of the younger players have a chance to be just as good as their elder teammates.
Lu Griffin, a 6-foot-4 guard from Greenville (S.C.) High School, is an explosive athlete that is still working on the other points of his game. But he ranks right up there with the best pure athletes in the Southeast.
Class of 2007 prospects Mike Jenkins, a 6-foot-6 forward from Greenville HS, and Jesse Rice, a strong 6-foot-5 forward from Union HS, and Chris Talley, a 6-foot-2 wing guard from Easley (S.C.) High School all showed glimpses of good things to come.
The S.C. Celtics will play in the Kingwood Classic in April, make a stop at the National Showtime tournament in Atlanta this July and make a stop in Las Vegas at the end of the month. They are a team certainly worth a look from the top hoops conferences.
Stay logged onto Rivals.com for the second round of our evaluations from the Southern Shootout. We'll look at the prospects with the Southeast Elite program from Alabama, the Birmingham Raptors, Worldwide Renegades, Team Georgia Elite and others.