Last Thursday morning, Rene Castro found himself boarding a plane from Logan Airport at 5:50, destined for Orlando. And upon touching down at Orlando International Airport at 10 a.m., greeted by his Boston Amateur Basketball Club teammates, he wasted no time getting down to business.
Mind you, this was a kid who hadn't picked up a basketball in ten days; he was down in Mexico, visiting his ailing grandfather. Yet with two words -- "I'm ready" -- he laced up the shoes at 1:20 p.m., and provided great spark for BABC throughout the rest of their run at the AAU Boys Basketball National Championship, at the Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.
With Castro added to an already-competent lineup, BABC downed the Georgia-based Southern Kings (63-47), Illinois Rising Stars (48-33) and All-Ohio Red (56-52) to take the 16-and-under National title.
"I don't think we would have won this thing without Castro down there," BABC director and head coach Leo Papile said. "He was an extra ballhandler, extra set of eyes, for us. He's had a hell of a July."
Such a monstrous July, in fact, that Papile said the University of Kansas may soon extend a scholarship offer. Castro, who transferred to Beaver Country Day and re-classified after helping Milton High win a Division 2 state title in 2009, is already receiving interest from many Big East schools.
In all, the BABC allowed just 40.7 points per game in the tournament, which was played with 32-minute high school regulation. Most prominent among the defensive stoppers was Tilton School's Nerlens Noel, who averaged nearly 10 blocks a game for the tournament. In the BABC's win over All-Ohio in the final, the 6-foot-10 Noel had three blocks over the final 90 seconds, including one with 15 seconds left that allowed teammate Jaylen Brantley to scoop up the loose ball and ice the game with free throws.
Playing at what Papile roughly estimated "75-80 percent" due to a hip flexor, Noel still managed to impress the scores of high-major Division 1 coaches on hand. In the final, he had just one point, but seven blocks and nine rebounds.
Noel is still building his quadricep back up to strength after a nasty leg break last February that damaged his growth plate, but there is tremendous upside. From correspondent Adam Finkelstein:
"Noel has put on a defensive clinic all week to lead his team to the U-16 finals. A long and athletic player with incredible instincts for blocking shots, Noel has terrific mobility and agility for a player his size and phenomenal timing. Undoubtedly the best pure shot blocker in Orlando, Noel's defense is still far ahead of his offense. Still, he shows flashes on the offensive end as well, scoring with both hands from inside six feet, making quick spin moves, and passing out of the post."
The BABC also got great offensive performances during the week from Tilton's Georges Niang and King Philip's Jake Layman. Eight of the BABC's 14 players will be eligible for 16-and-under games next year, including Noel, Castro, Brantley, Wayne Selden, Goodluck Okonoboh and Kamali Bey.
Connaughton turns heads
The other local to open many an eye down in Orlando was Arlington resident Pat Connaughton, playing for the Middlesex Magic under head coach Mike Crotty, jr. Connaughton put on quite the show in front of a slew of big-time Division 1 coaches, averaging nearly 30 points a game throughout the tournament. Connaughton, who excels in both basketball and baseball at St. John's Prep during the school year, has expressed a desire to play both at the next level. He may just get his wish; Notre Dame, Tennessee and Iowa State are among the schools that are offering him that chance.
Noel overseas venture not out of realm
A few weeks ago, Papile raised a few eyebrows when he told the recruiting website HoopScoop that Noel could forgo his senior season at Tilton School and play overseas. Noel, who transferred from Everett High and is repeating his sophomore year at Tilton, would turn 19 in April of 2013.
When asked to clarify those comments this afternoon, Papile reaffirmed his disposition.
"He's talked about that," Papile said. "Long term, it's something he's interested in, but there's nothing (formal) at this point...Definitely not ruling it out, it's definitely something we want to look and see what it means terms of his education and in terms of his long-term future."J