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Monday, December 7, 2009
Penny Hardaway Classic recap

By Joel Van Meter
Special to ESPN.com

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The first annual Penny Hardaway Basketball Classic was an instant success. The tournament featured several of the top teams and players from the Memphis area as well as two out-of-state powers from Alabama and Georgia. On display were several members of ESPN.com's top-ranked recruiting class of the Memphis Tigers and coach Josh Pastner.

Standout players

Joe Jackson
Jackson chose to play at Memphis over programs like Tennessee, Kansas, Kentucky and Connecticut.

Joe Jackson, PG (5-11, 175)
2010, Memphis, Tenn./White Station

When talking about the elite players from Memphis and the nation you can't have a conversation without Jackson's name coming up. The diminutive PG is one of the best scoring PGs in recent years and he can score in a variety of ways. He can knock down 3s off the dribble or drive to the basket and make floaters. He has tremendous athleticism, especially in transition, where he wows the crowd with acrobatic finishes above the rim. On this night, he scored 38 in an overtime win where he struggled at times with double- and triple-teams in the full court. At the end of the day, though, he made play after play to win. You can't stop him from getting the ball and you can't keep him in front of you. He has it on a string, which allows him to go anywhere on the court he wants. Bottom line, this winner will continue to enhance his legendary status in the city of Memphis with another run at a state championship before heading down the street to be a Tiger.

Tarik Black, PF (6-8,230)
2010, Memphis, Tenn./Ridgeway

This beast on the inside is someone any coach would love to have. He has tremendous size and strength, which allows him to control the paint with rebounds and blocked shots. Throughout the night he showed his physicality in the lane. His strength was evident by his ability to keep guys off the block in the post. He was very active on the offensive glass, keeping balls alive and using his good hands to snatch balls off the rim. He's the one guy in the back of the zone talking on defense. Skill level is not his forte; however he did show a developed 15-foot jumper from the high post, and a much-improved stroke from the free throw line. It is obvious why Ridgeway will make a run at a state championship this year and Memphis will use this rugged PF immediately.

Adonis Thomas, SF (6-5, 205)
2011, Memphis, Tenn./Melrose

Thomas combines tremendous athleticism, skills, an unmatched work ethic and endless upside. He has great explosiveness off the floor and tremendous feet to go with a chiseled frame and high basketball IQ. He showed an ability to score in a variety of ways from pull-up jumpers to drives to the basket. He is a nightmare on the pick-and-pop from the wing. You can't contain him off the dribble, and when you back off he makes you pay with a consistent stroke. He is relentless on the offensive glass, playing with an energy level that is unmatched on the floor. A gifted passer who can see the floor, Thomas has a chance to be one of those special college basketball players in several years. As gifted and talented a player as Thomas is, he is an even better kid. Melrose High School has at least four other Division I-caliber players and he has no problem showing unselfishness and team play. There is a reason why the elite high majors are flocking to Melrose for Thomas' services.

Todd Mayo, SG (6-3, 195)
2010, Germantown, Tenn./Germantown

OJ is not the only basketball talent in this family. Todd showed tremendous maturity and pace to his game, while dispatching highly touted Wheeler High School (Ga.). He has a pure stroke from 3 with range out to 24 feet. He can get his shot off against anyone due to his ability to create space and several times he showed a nice midrange game when defenders ran at him. He plays like an aged veteran, never losing his cool or having any kind of body language. He was virtually unflappable. He has the size and strength to shoot over defenders on the perimeter or finish with contact in the lane. He consistently got to the free throw line, creating body contact like an NBA veteran. With his 37-point performance, he easily out-dueled Jelan Kendrick from Wheeler, and came into the game having put up 30-plus points several times in the early season. This guy will make some high-major program very happy in the late period because he has the ability to step in and help right away.

Surprise player

Nate Rucker, PF (6-6, 230)
2010, Memphis, Tenn./Melrose

The big, rugged post from Melrose caught my eye on several occasions throughout the game versus Liberty Tech. He is a little raw offensively with his back to the basket, but he did everything else you would want a post to do -- and did it with intensity. He showed very good athleticism off the floor, easily dunking balls around the rim without having to gather himself. He has very good hands and runs in transition on every play. He plays the game with a ruggedness and nastiness that will make him a very good PF at the mid-major level. When he got to the free throw line he made opponents pay. There is no question Northern Illinois and Ricardo Patton beat everyone to the punch for this PF.

Player to watch

Johnathan Williams III, SF (6-7, 205)
2013, Memphis, Tenn./Southwind

Remember this name because over the next year you will see his stock continue to rise with a chance of being one of the top four or five players in this class. At 6-7 and left-handed, the best comparison for J-3 is Lamar Odom. He is highly skilled with the ball; at times taking over the PG duties to give others rest. Throughout the night, he drove it coast to coast using crossovers and stutter dribbles to get to the rim, after pulling down a defensive rebound. His length allows him to finish at the rim as well as to be an intimidating presence on the defensive end of the floor. His repertoire included two step-back 3s against tough defense, which you just can't teach a young kid that size. When things settled down in the half court versus White Station, he displayed a nice jump hook over his right shoulder that is very tough to defend because of his length and being left-handed. Surprisingly, the young freshman also showed a lot of toughness and maturity battling a great White Station team point for point, while holding his composure and knocking down big shots. There is no question J-3 is one of the top players in the class of 2013.

Notes

Chris Crawford (Memphis, Tenn./Sheffield) is another fellow Memphis prospect Pastner scooped up in his top-rated recruiting class. He is an athletic wing who has very good skills, and will be able to flourish in Pastner's system.

Bobby Parks Jr. (Memphis, Tenn./Melrose) transferred from Olive Branch, Miss., and has made an immediate impact for Melrose. This lefty shooter, whose father played at Memphis in the 1980s, will be pursued by mid-level schools.

Cedrick McAfee (Memphis, Tenn./Craigmont) did not play in the game versus Mitchell, and the word around the tournament was he is soon to be transferring to Melrose. Just what they need, another elite guard.

Chris Jones (Memphis, Tenn./Melrose) showed why many believe him to be one of the elite players unsigned in the class of 2011. This 5-11 PG, who is the leading scorer in the Tournament of Champions history, can score in any way and in bunches.

Darius Paige (Memphis, Tenn./Southwind) went head-to-head versus Jackson and held his own the entire night. He was coming off a 47-point outburst, and will be a nice late pickup for a mid-major school.

Tim Peete (Memphis, Tenn./Central), who signed at Tulsa, showed why Doug Wojcik and staff scooped up him up. This shooter can make 3s in bunches and will fit right in with the Golden Hurricanes.

Austin Hollins (Germantown, Tenn./Germantown) showed why Tubby Smith and the Golden Gophers have to be excited. With added weight and strength, he's just the kind of player Smith has been successful with.

• The surprise of the night was the performance of Kendrick and the Wheeler Wildcats. The Memphis signee struggled throughout the night with the aggressive play of Germantown taking an emphatic 94-68 rout.