Make no mistake, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m used to being in weird environments. Last year, I helped set the Guinness Record for participating in the largest gathering of zombies. But from a sports perspective, sitting at the Hoophall Classic last week, I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t help but think the whole thing was pretty perverse.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not about to tell you itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s entirely possible to make decisive empirical conclusions based on watching someone, particularly a high schooler, play exactly one game. With that disclaimer, I think it is possible to frame an idea of what a playerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s strengths and weaknesses are. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one of my favorite pastimes at high school tourneys: trying to figure out what a player is going to be like on the next level.
I caught most of the games on Sunday and all of them on Monday, and here are some thoughts on some of the significant players I saw last weekend at Hoophall.
The night Prayer for a Perfect Season premiered on HBO, I sat in a banquet hall watching it with the people who had the most personally invested in it.
The documentary was moving, but as it portrayed the fading vestiges of a golden era, the reactions of the St. Patrick High School community while watching it were far more so.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll never forget this: Back in 2002, my first year home from college, I had this running route I liked that took me through six towns in North Jersey. That winter, on one of those runs, I passed a mid-60Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s gentleman in a St. AnthonyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s varsity jacket, and I stopped to talk to him.
The man told me that though he hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t attended St. AnthonyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, he had become a fan of their style of play over the years. He described how it was crisper and more precise than anyone elseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s. He said he tried to make it to as many games as he could, and I vowed to him IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d check it out sometime.
At that time, basically all I knew about St. AnthonyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s was Bobby Hurley had gone there, and his dad coached there. And I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know a thing about Bob other than he was BobbyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father.
Obviously, I had a lot to learn.
One of our favorite players at the Primetime Shootout this past weekend was Montrose Christian point guard Tyrone Johnson, who was sensational in outclassing Findlay PrepÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Myck Kabongo in a Montrose rout.
Johnson, playing at home after transferring from Plainfield High School last year, played brilliantly on Saturday, tallying 25 points and eight assists as Montrose surprised everyone by bouncing back from an upset loss to Linden on Friday night with a 63-37 takedown of Findlay.
He was superb in general, but the lasting memory for everyone in attendance was JohnsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ridiculous dunk in traffic over Findlay PrepÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Amir Garrett, sending the crowd at Kean University to its feet with a raucous celebration.
Terry Rains of Blue Devil Nation and I caught up with Johnson following the game and talked to him about his dunk, his matchup with Kabongo, how he prepares for games and what heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s working on before heading to Villanova next year.
One of my favorite things about high school basketball is discovering and subsequently following a talented player before he blows up. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s almost like investing in a stock before it skyrockets in value, or going to see an underground rapper before he gets a deal.
Watching him against St. AnthonyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on Saturday, I became more and more impressed with Hotchkiss freshman point guard Makai Mason. Mason is a good shooter with nice handle, every pass he threw was a bounce pass, and he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t appear daunted in the least in facing off with the No. 2 team in the nation. I honestly had to keep checking the program and asking people around me, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Are we sure this kidÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a freshman?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Hotchkiss ended up losing a tightly contested game, 74-63, but Mason ended up with 12 points, 2 assists, 3 steals and 2 three-pointers. As he gets older and his body gets stronger, I expect to hear very big things about him — heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s already very impressive and still has three years of high school to go.
Terry Rains of Blue Devil Nation and I caught up with Makai on Saturday and discussed what college and pro point guards he identifies with, his lofty expectations for his own game, and whether heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s considering any schools at such an early stage.
I went to a good half-dozen St. Patrick games last season, primarily to watch Kyrie Irving and secondarily to see Michael Gilchrist. I ended up becoming a fan of the program in general, and besides the two players I mentioned, I grew to really like freshman Austin Colbert.
In particular, I watched him against Trenton Catholic in a game Gilchrist missed with an injury, and Colbert was a force off the bench, scoring 11 points as St. PatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t miss a beat. After that game, I talked to Austin for a few minutes and found him to be very gracious with a terrific temperament. (He even put up with me asking him if I could see his St. PatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Jordans.)
Colbert hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t put up big numbers this season as a sophomore, but it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mean heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s slipping at all — heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still a top 10 sophomore in America on most lists — itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more that he fits a role within the regimented system of the absolutely loaded No. 1 team in the country. We were, however, disappointed not to see very much of Austin against St. Thomas More on Sunday, mostly sitting in favor of freshman Dakari Johnson, who had the requisite size to bang with No. 1 Junior Andre Drummond. AustinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time will come.
Terry Rains of Blue Devil Nation and I caught up with Austin on Saturday night and talked about what colleges are on his list, his experiences in St. PatrickÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s game vs. Winter Park and Austin Rivers, playing with Michael Gilchrist, and what his goals are for the rest of the year.
For a guy who never deigned to spend a day in college, LeBron James has become quite the big man on campus.
The Jordan Classic is everything I love and everything that prevents me from completely enjoying big-time high school basketball all at the same time.
Here are some quick thoughts on some of the players that stood out to me at the Jordan Classic this year.
Kyrie Irving, Duke: What can I say that I havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t said this year? Jay Williams said Irving was a combination of himself and Chris Duhon and that sounds about right. So creative, so smooth in transition, with a feathery jumper. He completely took over the game and the crowd in the final three minutes, when nobody could stop him going coast to coast. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the total package, and when Mike Kryzewski gets him playing that hard man-to-man defense, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re looking at a future Chris Paul in the making.