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January 19, 2014

Gill-Caesar on the rise

MORE: Five-stars Russell, Simmons impress

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The Hoophall Classic held at Blake Arena on the campus of Springfield College has emerged as the top winter event in high school basketball. The action certainly didn't disappoint on Saturday as some of the nation's top teams took the floor for a series of big matchups that will continue through Monday evening. Seattle's Rainier Beach put together an impressive team performance while others like Montaque Gill-Caesar, Daniel Hamilton and Emmanuel Mudiay shined.

Rainier Beach loaded with talent

Out in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle Rainier Beach has been smacking teams around all winter. A traditional hoops power, the Beach was up to its usual tricks -- even if it didn't quite bring its A game -- in a 65-60 win over Arlington (Va.) Bishop O'Connell. Simply put, the Vikings are absolutely loaded with lengthy, versatile and athletic players who play a swarming style and make life miserable for opponents.

The headliner of the group is Louisville signee and potential McDonald's All-American Shaqquan Aaron. A 6-foot-7 small forward who can handle the ball and shoot from deep, Aaron is one of three high major wings on the team. After a little bit of a slow start, the No. 27 player in the class of 2014 finished with a solid across the board 11 points, five assists, four rebounds and three blocks.

Recently committed to Washington, combo guard David Crisp is a deadeye three-point shooter. Technically a senior, the stocky lefty is planning to attend prep school for a year, making him a class of 2015 player. With point guard size and a spot up shooter's game, the three-star is somewhat similar to Oklahoma State sophomore Phil Forte in the way that he operates.

Next is the first of the other two high-major caliber wings on the Rainier Beach roster, unsigned senior Dujuan Piper. A 6-foot-6 athlete with long arms, an outstanding first step and great body control, the three-star's game screams upside. He maneuvers to the cup through traffic with great fluidity, has a nose for the ball and his quick feet and reach should make him an outstanding defender as he gets stronger. His coach, Mike Bethea, mentioned offers from Washington, Oregon, Minnesota and USC for Piper, who added in Gonzaga himself.

Finally, junior shooting guard Dejounte Murray is going to be one to watch down the road. Already a four-star prospect who ranks No. 92 in the class of 2015, Murray has significant room for growth and could make a charge up the rankings. He didn't have his best day shooting the ball, but the 6-foot-4 wing is a long and spidery athlete who can do a little bit of everything. He rebounds exceptionally well, can play above the rim, defends in space and is an outstanding passer. Murray said that he already has offers from Washington, Washington State, Gonzaga, USC and Oregon. Arizona has been in to see him three times this season.

Hail Gill-Caesar

In the Saturday evening nightcap, Huntington (W.V.) Prep squared off with Dallas Prime Prep in a big-time battle. The action was a bit sloppy at times, but very hard fought. When the dust settled, Huntington had held off a late charge from Prime Prep and the No. 2 player in the class of 2014 Emmanuel Mudiay to score a 52-48 decision. Playing a huge role in Huntington's balanced effort was small forward Montaque Gill-Caesar.

Currently ranked as the No. 24 player in the class of 2015, the 6-foot-6 junior played a very balanced and steady floor game. He hit jumpers from mid-range out to the three-point line and hit a huge three late in the fourth quarter to help give Huntington some breathing room. Gill-Caesar also played good defense and was very active on the glass while scoring a team-high 13 points and corralling nine rebounds.

Currently, Gill-Caesar finds himself in a unique position because he has to make two decisions about his college future. Because of his academic standing, the current junior could choose to graduate in the spring and enroll in a school as a member of the class of 2014. He rattled off Michigan State, West Virginia, Kansas, Missouri, Florida State, Alabama, Memphis and Kentucky as having varying levels of interest and said that Michigan State and Memphis stood out as places he might like to visit officially.

He has been to West Virginia and Kentucky unofficially and the four-star wing didn't give any hints about whether or not he would stay in the class of 2015 or make the move to 2014.

"It's a possibility right now," said Gill-Caesar when asked if he could make his class decision at the same time as he makes his college choice. "It's just going to be a game-time decision right now, I don't really know. I'm just not sure."

Bosco one-two punch

Four-star sophomore Vance Jackson set the table and then five-star senior Daniel Hamilton ate dinner as the duo combined for 51 points to help Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco claim a 63-60 win over Baltimore St. Frances in a tightly contested ballgame.

A sure top 50 prospect in the class of 2016 when the rankings get updated during the spring, Jackson is a 6-foot-7 small forward with a crisp jump shot and deep range. Because of his size, Jackson can shoot over the top of most defenses and doesn't really need a lot of space to get his shot off. Because defenses focus so much on defending him at the three-point line, he can get lost away from the ball and is very sneaky about making his way into the lane for easy buckets. He is still lean and needs to continue to assert himself on the glass and become more dangerous attacking off the dribble, but he is a player and looked good scoring 26 and grabbing eight rebounds. Jackson told Rivals.com that he has early offers from Connecticut, Arizona, Washington and Arizona State.

Signed with Connecticut, Hamilton deserves to be a McDonald's All-American. After struggling to make shots during the first half, the 6-foot-6 shooting guard put things into overdrive during the second half as he scored 19 of his 25 points. A very crafty ball-handler with a quick first step, Hamilton is string bean skinny and has to get stronger. However, when he adds strength to his high level of skill, he will be virtually impossible to stop. He finished with 25 points, nine rebounds, four assists and a pair each of blocks and steals.

More Saturday notables

Maryland-bound four-star shooting guard Romelo Trimble did everything he could to keep Bishop O'Connell in it, but it wasn't easy. The 6-foot-3 senior finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and four steals, but also had seven turnovers, no assists and shot just 7-22 from the field (0-6 from three). Trimble is an intelligent player who is strong and crafty, but Rainier Beach's ability to throw one long-limbed and quick defender after another at him clearly frustrated him.

It wasn't the best of days for five-star shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead in Brooklyn (N.Y.) Lincoln's 90-66 win over Houston Yates. But, the Seton Hall signee did pick it up in the second half and he got so much help from teammates Desi Rodriguez and Elisha Boone that his off day didn't matter.

After scoring just two points and turning the ball over six times in the first half, Whitehead picked things up to finish with 12 points, six assists, seven rebounds and four steals to go along with nine turnovers. Rodriguez and Boone were the story for Lincoln. Headed to Seton Hall with Whitehead, Rodriguez is an energetic and athletic 6-foot-5 combo forward. A tad undersized as a four man, Rodriguez plays with tremendous energy, isn't adverse to physicality, is a pogo stick around the rim and really runs the floor. Rodriguez finished with an impressive 25 points and nine rebounds. Earlier this week, Boone committed to St. Peter's and the 6-foot-3 three-star shooting guard celebrated it with a monster effort on Saturday. A physical beast who attacks the rim in transition, Boone had 26 points, 11 rebounds and three steals in a terrific outing.

Looking at things long term, Dwayne Morgan could ultimately end up a better prospect than some currently ranked ahead of him. Standing 6-foot-8, Morgan is along and lean forward and ultimately projects as a small forward. But, given his size he has to play a lot on the interior as a high schooler and will likely have to do so in college. When aggressive, he is awfully tough to stop as a slasher to the rim, rebounder and playmaker. But on nights like Saturday he can get caught between whether he is an interior or perimeter presence. Morgan finished with 13 points and six rebounds and could have been more productive, but at the end of the day it is about the long-term ability and the five-star has a lot of it.

A very familiar script almost played out late in the Huntington Prep/Prime Prep game. Prime's Emmanuel Mudiay just patiently went about his business until he took over down the stretch. As Prime attempted a furious comeback, Mudiay scored 13 straight of his team-high 19 points during a five-minute stretch of the fourth quarter. There's nothing left to write about him from an evaluation standpoint. He is elite in every regard and has an extremely bright future.

Also for Prime Prep, class of 2016 five-star Terrance Ferguson continues to make strides. A 6-foot-6 shooter with big time hops and fluid athleticism, Ferguson was aggressively looking for his shot from deep and hunting dunks in transition during a 13-point effort. A freak athlete with a sweet shooting stroke, the next step for Ferguson is to develop an in-between game.

While Montaque Gill-Caesar was huge in closing out Prime Prep, class of 2015 big man Thomas Bryant was huge in putting Huntington Prep in position to win. The 6-foot-10 center was very active in the first half as he worked the glass and ran the floor to run up nine points and seven rebounds. Because of Prime's small and quick lineup, Bryant had to sit for long stretches of the second half, but still came up big when called upon late. Up one in the final minute and a half, Huntington ran a play to get him the ball at the rim and he fought for position, made a good catch and then hit two clutch free throws when fouled to finish with 11 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. Bryant mentioned West Virginia, Kentucky, Syracuse, St. John's, Seton Hall, Rutgers and UConn as some of the schools showing interest.

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