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April 8, 2007

Boo Williams: Saturday

HAMPTON, Va. - The big men held the keys to the Boo Williams Invitational, turned the engine on and put the pedal to the metal on Saturday. Guys like Ed Davis, JaMychal Green, Greg Monroe, Samardo Samuels and Kyle Hardrick had it rolling on day two of action.

Elite big men step it up

Kevin Durant started his upswing two years ago at the Boo Williams Invitational with his mind-boggling play. On Saturday, Ed Davis took it to another level on a big time stage like Durant did. Easy Ed definitely made it look easy in a pairing against a big, strong and deep frontline from the Alabama Challenge.

Davis was flawless in the first half, connecting on his first six shot attempts and made tough shots look easy and made easy shots with his eyes closed. Things were definitely clicking with the five-star big man.

He scored on whatever he wanted inside the paint and took advantage of his dominant left hand, his primary hand, and scored on defenders time and time again. Davis scored on a pretty little finger roll, an up and under move and used the rim as a helpmate to score and never strayed too far from the paint. He got it done against the likes of JaMychal Green, no slouch himself. Davis finished with 16 points and missed only three shots while grabbing seven tough rebounds.

Davis has played the part of a top-notch prospect all weekend long. The Richmond native performed at a different level than most players in the event and had a confidence to him that he didn't play with last year. The light has certainly come on now that he is the go-to guy of a loaded Boo Williams club.

On the recruiting front, Davis said Virginia and Connecticut are sitting pretty while a host of others continue to hit him hard.

Green had a mission at the Boo Williams Invitational. There were challenges awaiting him on Saturday and the 6-foot-9 Alabama native stepped up to the plate on every occasion.

Paired with guys like Ed Davis, Ty Walker, Reggie Johnson, Daniel Orton and Kyle Hardrick, Green stepped up to the challenge of playing against the revolving door of big uglies.

Green struggled on the offensive end against Boo Williams. Walker's 7-foot length gave him trouble as a scorer but he made it a point to crash the boards harder than anyone on the floor. He collected a dozen rebounds by our count in the one-point loss to the host team. Against Athletes First, Green was a scorer, shot-blocker and rebounder and played as physical as anyone in the tournament from start to finish.

Green is as good of a kid as you'll find off the court. He is studious in the classroom and personable as you'd expect from a Southern kid. Don't let the nice guy fool you. Green showed a nastiness to his game that may go unnoticed and really brought a toughness against some mean dudes in the process.

It was a separation weekend for Green who certainly cemented himself as one of the best rough and tough big men in the country here in Hampton. The state schools - Alabama and Auburn - have put in the work with him while Georgia Tech, Florida, Virginia and others are very much in the picture.

Samardo Samuels could only go for one half against Team Melo because of leg cramps. One half seemed to be enough to put in an honest day's work. The big fella was unstoppable in the paint. He scored the first 11 of 17 points for the Metro Hawks and finished with 22 points and eight rebounds and shot seven of nine from the floor. That kind of game has been typical of the top 10 player all weekend. He couldn't go in the playoff round against The Family and his absence may have cost the Metro Hawks the tourney title.

Samuels said North Carolina, Georgetown and Florida remain high on his list. He is off to his native Jamaica on Monday for a week of relaxation and hopefully some healing of his leg.

When Greg Monroe brings his game inside the paint and focuses on scoring in the post, he is absolutely unstoppable. That was the case against Team Florida at 8 a.m. and in the coldest gym in America with a half an inch of snow on the ground outside. The Louisiana native shook off the cold air and put in a memorable 22-point effort.

Monroe was difficult to defend because of his ability to play away from the basket. He set the bait on the perimeter and Team Florida bit at it and then the 6-foot-9 forward put the ball on the hardwood and made them pay with drive after drive to the cup. His play here in Hampton has been nothing short of great and has his team ready for a huge 9:30 Sunday morning game against Boo Williams.

The Spotlight

Luke Loucks plays quarterback at Clearwater (Fla.) and set a number of school records with his crafty passing. Loucks could make a splash in the Arena League because he works so well in a quick game and tight spaces. He did a great job of slicing his way through the Louisiana Select defense with tight ball-handling, quick burst of speed and crafty moves to split double teams.

As a passer, Loucks found his teammates with great zips and soft bounce passes for quick buckets. As a shooter, he pulled up from three and connected a couple of times for trifectas. He finished with 13 points, all in the second half. He single handedly brought Team Florida back from a big deficit.

On the recruiting front, Loucks will visit Georgia Tech on Monday unofficially. He will also trip to Central Florida in a week. Once strongly considering West Virginia, Loucks said he is now looking at Michigan since John Beilein left for the Big Ten school. Minnesota has recently inquired, too. Florida State, St. Joseph's and Ole Miss are also still very much in the picture.

Matt Gatens will be a player for Iowa. He might be a better player under the new coaching staff than the old one, too, because he fits the new style of play a little better. Gatens is a fun basketball player to watch because he gets the game and plays with a toughness and competitive fire. The 6-foot-5 guard has quietly been one of the top overall performers at the event and earning a lot of respect along the way.

On Saturday night, a team that watched Gatens play saw his picture on the lobby computer and rattled off a handful of compliments for the Iowa native. When the kids are offering up compliments, you know he's struck a cord. Gatens put in the work in Hampton and has a very good team to work with this spring and summer. Don't be surprised to see similar reports about him this year. He has a chance to he really good.

The Mean Streets are flat out getting it done here in Hampton. The Chicago based club is knocking out the big timers with some big punches. Each game it is a different player stepping up in the spotlight.

Against Howard Pulley, it was guard Kevin Dillard. The 5-foot-10 guard was clutch and fearless. He has been consistently strong each game out and has an undefeated record going into the semi-finals. Dillard is a very capable and confident scorer that can put points up in a hurry. His speed, quick trigger and team high 16 points opened up a back-and-forth game late in the second half to help land the hard fought 57-48 win.

Dillard said Wisconsin, Illinois, Xavier, Western Michigan and Iowa all stopped by his high school this season but paid little attention to who is in or who is out. At the end of the day, he's one heck of a mid-major guard that will be battle tested for college.

Dillard didn't do it alone. After a so-so showing on the first day, big man Josh Crittle picked it up on day two. Crittle, a 6-foot-8 mammoth of a forward, turned up his energy level and made it a point to hurry up the floor on both ends and he was rewarded. Defensively, Crittle crashed the boards and wasn't being pushed around. Offensively, he did the dirty work and scored buckets inside. Word is, he was even better in a big playoff win over King of the Court to advance to the semi-finals.

Crittle said he is hearing from Iowa State, Virginia, Valparaiso, DePaul, Oregon and Tennessee at the moment.

Mean Streets guard Matthew Humphrey did what he does best in the middle of the day. He knocked down five plus three-pointers and played a more well-rounded game against Howard Pulley. The 6-foot-5 lefty guard has been a key part of Mean Streets run, looking comfortable in a lead by example role. Humphrey said he is hearing from Oregon, Connecticut, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kansas State, Notre Dame and others these days.

Smooth. That has always been the tag to describe Sylven Landesberg and he looked like that on Saturday. The New Yorker didn't miss a shot in the first half against Team Melo, scoring all 13 of his points in the first 16 minutes. He went cold in the second half, missing all four free throw attempts and two shots from the floor. Nevertheless, he knows how to put the ball in the bucket and lived up to hi billing as the top prospect in NYC this year. Landesberg said he is hearing from Kentucky, Texas, Florida, Virginia, Georgia Tech and St. John's these days.

When Samuels went down with injury and when Landesberg couldn't get it to go, sophomore guard Dexter Strickland picked up the slack. Few guards do what he can do. When it is time to score, he scores. When it is time to hand out the assists, he drops the dimes. When it is time to rebound, he hits the boards. When it is time to jump out the gym, he is ripping down the rim.

Strickland has a mature feel for the game and a confidence that the young guys lack at this level. Think Derrick Rose. Strickland has a chance to be that kind of special. He isn't one to crave the spotlight, ala Rose, but the spotlight will chase him. Strickland has certainly not changed his status one of the truly elite in the class of 2009. It was a great weekend for the St. Anthony's guard.

Baltimore guard Sean Mosley doesn't have Donte Green or Malcolm Delaney anymore to lean on with Team Melo. This is Mosley's team this year and he seems ready for the challenge of keeping the bar high. The 6-foot-4 guard showed his young teammates what it is like to play at the level he was playing at on Saturday. Down by as many as 17 to the Metro Hawks, Mosley went on a tear in the second half, scoring 12 points in a five minute stretch. He finished with 18 very good points and hit in the midrange, from deep and at the basket. Maryland, Florida State, Clemson, Syracuse, Virginia and Virginia Tech are all on his short list, he said.

After a so-so first game, Tyreke Evans looked like the player he is known to be. The five-star Philly native struggled with bad shots against the New York Gauchos and saw his Team Final against the ropes against the Big Apple power. But as often as he does, Evans came out of the corner and jabbed away.

He finished the come-from-behind victory with 24 points on nine of 17 shooting, grabbed six rebounds, five steals, four assists and blocked three shots.

The kids are alright

The three-headed monster of Xavier Henry, Kyle Hardrick and Daniel Orton just keep getting better and better for Athletes First. The class of 2009 trio had it rolling on Saturday.

Henry, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, is one of the finest scorers in the field and just makes it look easy. His jumper is textbook and his game just oozes confidence. He has all the makings of becoming an elite level scorer at the college level. His perimeter game is deadly, he knows how to post up guards and play the midrange game. Henry just has fun playing the game.

His recruitment is down to three - Kansas, Memphis and North Carolina. All three jumped in early for good reason. He might be the best pure scorer in his class at the two spot.

Hardrick, an early Oklahoma commitment, was outstanding on Saturday. Against Martin Brothers, he missed just one shot and was six for seven from the floor and finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Against the Alabama Challenge, he finished with 18 points and did a fine job on the glass, playing the most physical of any player we saw on Saturday and passed the ball very well from the post. Already a five-star player, Hardrick is making the move upwards with his game. It will be fun to watch him evolve his game even more this year. He has the makings of being a very special player for the Sooners.

Orton, an inch taller than Hardrick, is one big kid for a 15-year-old. He isn't as far along as his talented teammate but he isn't too far off. Playing with another top shelf post player like Hardrick is only helping the five-star big man with confidence, understanding of his position and feel for the game. Orton isn't afraid to throw his body around either.

Boo Williams has coached a number of big-time players over the years so when he says something like: "Kendall Marshall will be the best point guard in the country in two years," you tend to perk up. The long time grassroots coach said that of the Bishop O'Connell (D.C.) High School freshman and he might be right. Marshall, a 6-foot-2 rookie, started for Williams and ran the show with great confidence.

Marshall didn't take a lot of shots. He doesn't need to really when he has options like Davis, Ty Walker and the rest of the loaded Boo Williams roster. But when Marshall did shoot, he converted his buckets. The freshman rarely, if ever, took bad shots. He shot only when he was open. Marshall went four for six to the tune of 10 points against the Alabama Challenge and handed out a half dozen assists. It is early in the recruiting process and expect the big dogs to get in early with Marshall. The bar has certainly been set high for him.

A good majority of the top 2009 players are playing in the younger divisions but there are a couple that snuck up on Saturday. Two youngsters play for the Howard Pulley Panthers and these sophomores are going to be pretty darn good at the end of the day.

Royce White, a 6-foot-7 forward from De Lasalle High School, and Rodney Williams, a 6-foot-6 wing from Cooper High School in Plymouth, Minn., both showed flashes of big time potential.

White, a 15-year-old, is a good looking combo forward that can pick and pop for a face up jumper but he can also get out and run the floor and play at the rim. He is a physical player with a good frame and already receiving initial interest from a host of Big Ten schools.

Williams is the more athletic of the two. In fact, he was one of the better athletes that hit the floor at Hampton University's Convocation Center on Saturday. He can really get out and go and showed off a nice shot from the wing.

Both players will be names to follow over the next couple of years. They should play themselves right into high-major offers if they can play at the level they did on Saturday against the Mean Streets club.

Surprise, surprise

It is a given that every year at the Boo Williams Invitational, a player will step up and put his name onto the high-major radar. And in a year where things appear to be wide open in the race for high-major scholarships, this year's event should certainly produce a good amount of names to remember for the spring.

Team STAT from Florida rode the solid play of Mike Davis in key situations. The 6-foot-8 forward got it done around the basket with big time athleticism. Davis, an upcoming 2007 graduate from T.C. Williams High School in Virginia, is likely headed to South Kent (Conn.) School next year.

Williams is a hot target right now though. Auburn offered a scholarship for this season, he said, but Davis said he wanted to wait a year and re-explore his options. Davis said he is high on Maryland while Wake Forest, Illinois and Texas have all shown various amounts of interest of late. The three-star forward said Syracuse and Connecticut are two schools he would like to hear from this season.

Talk about making a great first impression. Alabama Challenge big man Corey Smith, a burly 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward put his stamp on the event with great play on the blocks. He is small town country strong and home-grown big to boot. Smith is pretty nimble for his size, hit shots 15 feet and in and has big, strong hands that clamp down on rebounds when they come his way. His coaches say he is laying low under the radar at his Pleasant Grove High School in Birmingham. Not for long. He really opened his recruitment up to high-majors here in Virginia. Smith has already made a blip on the University of Alabama radar screen and should be on even more after this weekend.

Get ready to read the name Flenard Whitfield. The bouncy 6-foot-7 forward from The Family and Martin Luther King High School in Detroit was one of the nice surprises of the day. He had a big game against YOMCA and came back with a couple of mind-boggling plays against the Metro Hawks in the night cap. Whitfield is a player making the shift from mid-major target to high-major must-see. To date, Tennessee, Central Michigan, Kent State and Oakland are on the radar for him.

Boo Williams forward Reggie Johnson is this year's version of Big Baby. The 6-foot-7, 285-pound power forward has the obvious size comparison and a personality that could charm the hardest of souls. That is how he plays too. Don't sleep on his quickness or his easy to assume so-so lift off the floor. The big man can get up quick and has a set of paws that are soft and strong. The class of 2008 prospect is a mid-major must get right now with Virginia Commonwealth, East Carolina, UNC Wilmington and Fairfield hitting him hard while Virginia, Florida, Clemson and Virginia Tech all recently making inquires.

"I'm interested in…"

One time Kentucky commitment Draymond Green said he is wide open and looking at his options again. He plays high school ball under a former Tubby Smith player in Lou Dawkins. Smith coached Green at Tulsa.

Lance Goulborne, a 6-foot-7 forward with Team Final, is an interesting prospect. He brings a bounce to the floor and versatility to the four spot. The Hun School prospect said Vanderbilt, Rutgers, Seton Hall, St. Joseph's, LaSalle, Northwestern and from the former staff at West Virginia have all been in touch. Goulborne said all of the schools have offered him a scholarship. Vanderbilt is sitting pretty at the moment with the Brooklyn native.

Philly area sophomore Dalton Pepper is probably a year away from making a splash at the 17 and under level. However, he is on the radar for Villanova, Virginia, Pittsburgh and Florida early on.

Iowa big man L.A. Pomlee is coming off a year off from the game because of blood clot in his leg. He looked surprisingly fresh for a guy that has been out of the game for while. His recruitment, however, needs some freshening up he said. Bradley and Wisconsin stuck with him this season while he was out. Will new Iowa coach Todd Lickliter make him a priority in state?

Tyler Storm of the Martin Brothers is holding an offer from DePaul and the 6-foot-7 wing said he is hearing from Northern Iowa, Bradley, Illinois State, Creighton, Nevada and a good majority of the Missouri Valley Conference.

Notes from the notepad

Coming into the spring period, North Carolina forward Kenny Gabriel is a hot name amongst the mid-majors in the Southeast. However, the 6-foot-7 forward is hoping to use the grassroots schedule to springboard his recruitment to land high-major offers. He is looking like a good inside-out guy that showed off a perimeter touch but then crashed the boards and blocked shots. His offers include East Carolina, UNC-Wilmington and High Point. Clemson, Wake Forest, Miami and Virginia Tech are showing interest. It will be interesting to watch his growth this spring. Odds are, he'll earn the ACC offer he is hoping for.

Wisconsin knows how to find quality big men and build them into effective college players. The Badgers have done it again in 2008 with big man Jared Berggren. The 6-foot-10 center is a good pick up for Bo Ryan and his staff. Berggren is a strong post player that isn't afraid of a couple elbows to the chest. He isn't afraid to hand them out either. He's a tough cookie and paired with Howard Pulley teammate Jordan Taylor, another Wisconsin pledge for the 2008 class, the duo is a nice 1-2 punch already on board for the Badgers.

Future Marquette guard Nick Williams was Mr. Jumpshot for the Alabama Challenge on Saturday. He seemed to always come up big with the buckets when he team needed a score and despite a pair of one shot losses to two good teams (Boo Williams and Athletes First), Williams dialed it up for 20 plus in both games. At times, he takes some questionable shots but he had it rolling with good looking scores in the Challenge's two challenging losses.

There is no question that Andrew Steele will be playing at the high-major level once he finishes his two-sport career at John Carroll High School in Birmingham. The quarterback/combo guard played the slasher role perfectly for the Challenge, showing a great ability to get to the rack and score. He's much more of a scorer than older brother Ron. In the final game for the Challenge, the younger Steele looked a lot like Ron with some crisp passes. Overall, it was a strong weekend for the four-star guard. Alabama will be tough to beat for him but Kansas, Tennessee and Georgia Tech are in the picture, too.

On tap

The semi-finals tip off tomorrow morning and four teams remain in the race for the championship in the Gold Division. Mean Streets out of Chicago will play The Family out of Detroit on one side of the bracket. On the other is Boo Williams against Louisiana Select. The winners of each game will play each other at 12:30 p.m. EST for the title.

Other teams still playing include: Georgia Stars vs. Team Melo, Athletes First vs. Georgia Blazers, Howard Pulley vs. Albany City Rocks and California Hoops vs. Team STAT.


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