Thursday, March 22, 2012
NHSI preview: St. Benedict's Prep
By Doug Huff
Team: No. 4 seed St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.)
Record, FAB 50 Rank: 33-2, No. 15 (No. 7 in the East)
Head Coach: Mark Taylor (1st year at school, 31-1; previously spent nine years at St. Joseph of Metuchen, N.J. and five at Ridge of Basking Ridge, N.J.)
NATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL INVITATIONAL
The ESPNHS National High School Invitational tournament is March 29-31. Eight boys' teams and four girls' teams will compete for the crown.
Melvin Johnson The 6-foot-3 senior guard is labeled by Taylor as "probably the best shooter" he's coached in 15 seasons at three New Jersey schools. That's high praise since Taylor coached Jason Williams at St. Joseph (Metuchen, N.J.) among 11 Division I players, including the Lakers' Andrew Bynum, in nine years at his alma mater. "Melvin can fill it up with unlimited range and driving floaters. He's special on the offensive side." The University of Miami recruit is ranked No. 92 in the ESPNU 100 and lived up to his billing with consistent play.
Tyler Ennis The 6-foot-2 junior point guard runs the offensive attack for the Gray Bees, which averages 82.8 points a game. Ranked No. 41 in the ESPNU 60, he leads the team in assists (7.1 per game) and steals (2.5 avg.) while scoring 15.0 points a game, second to Johnson on the squad. "Tyler and Melvin get everyone involved in the game," Taylor said. "Our three guard setup drives the engine and Tyler's at the wheel. Our team chemistry is very good with a trio of guards and trio of forwards and Tyler is a big part of that."
Isaiah Briscoe Not many freshman are starters, much less standouts, on FAB 50-ranked teams. But the 6-foot-3 first-year combo guard is no ordinary frosh. "Some analysts rate him in the Top 5 in his class," Taylor said. "He doesn't play like a freshman. He's very strong and plays above his age level." Briscoe is the team's third leading scorer (11.9 ppg) and second in assists (5.3 avg.). "With a senior, junior and freshman handling the ball much of the time, we have a mix that gives defenses fits," Taylor said.
Road to NHSI:
With a new head coach, some first-year players, and a regular season schedule not matching up with some of the top-ranked POWERADE FAB 50 teams after a 13-12 record in 2010-11, the Gray Bees were absent from the pre-season rankings.
But Taylor guided the Prep to nine straight wins in December before meeting up with defending FAB 50 champion St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.) in a Jan. 1 clash of unbeatens. The Gray Bees took the current No. 3 ranked Friars to the wire before bowing 51-50. The Gray Bees reeled off 22 straight wins and soared up the FAB 50 charts to No. 10.
They concluded their regular season at the prestigious Alhambra Catholic Invitational, where they dropped their second game of the season to FAB 50 No. 13 DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) 64-49 after opening the tournament with a 69-65 victory over John Carroll (Bel Air, Md.). They rebounded to defeat No. 46 Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.) for third place.
"We beat Gonzaga without Tyler Ennis and Jordan Forehand, who had a bad ankle, and led the whole way," Taylor said.
Coach Taylor feels strongly the Gray Bees didn't deserve to drop a few seeds after losing to eventual tournament champion DeMatha without the services of Ennis. He does understand the Alhambra Tournament served as a nice tune-up for the NHSI, where the Gray Bees will enter with confidence because Ennis will be cleared to play.
Taylor's two-trio attack has worked to near perfection. He uses three guards -- Johnson, Ennis and Briscoe -- out front and has three forwards, all Canadians, he rotates at the two front court spots. The inside players are 6-6 senior Kamalll Richards, 6-8 junior Isaiah Watkins and 6-7 senior Denzell Taylor. "The two-trio setup has worked well," Taylor said.
Richards averages 11.7 points and 7.0 rebounds; Taylor 5.7 points and 6.9 rebounds; and Watkins 8.2 points and a team-best 8.1 rebounds a game. The fact the Gray Bees are the only team which is playing in two major tournaments -- the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament in Frostburg, Md., and the NHSI -- over the course of three weekends hasn't escaped Taylor's watch. "We've played some good teams one at a time but this two-week pace is like the college Big East Tournament with back-to-back-to-back games against elite teams. It's survival of the fittest."