Commentary

Houston's Yates sweeps Elite 25 powers

Originally Published: December 30, 2007
By Christopher Lawlor | ESPN.com

HOUSTON -- Greg Wise spoke about community pride.

Wise, the first-year coach of Yates High, stressed the history. He mentioned the support of their diehard fans could not be forgotten or forsaken.

"I gave them a tough talking at halftime," Wise said, smiling.

Yates had something to prove this weekend. So did the rest of the Houston area teams participating in the Houston vs. the Nation.

Yates completed a sweep of national powers in the ESPN HIGH Elite 25 high school boys' basketball rankings, capping with a 66-60 over No. 1 St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) Saturday night before more than 4,000 at the Campbell Center.

Yates fired its first salvo Friday, defeating No. 9 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), 82-80. OHA began the season top-ranked but uncharacteristically has dropped three games in the last three weeks.

"Before the game both Yates and Madison players were high-fiving each other; they were pulling for one another," Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said. "I noticed these teams play together. There isn't a lot of individual play."

The event, sponsored by Nike and presented by Foot Locker, tweaked its format this season. The showcase featured 14 Houston area schools and five from out of state was well attended with exuberant crowds.

"It's a much better concept having the Houston teams playing against the national team; it just makes sense for the Houston fans to see their teams up against the best (in the nation)," said Tony Dorado, Nike's national director of high school basketball.

Nike has been involved with the event since the inception in 2001; however, this was the first year of the shootout format.

Previously, the Academy National Invitational (as it was known), featured two eight-team brackets -- Texas and National -- crowning separate champions. Powerhouses such as Oak Hill, Christ the King (Queens, N.Y.) and DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) had won the National Division championships but crowds for the National games were usually smaller than when the local teams played in the Texas Division.

The final two games Saturday were shown on ESPNU as part of the Old Spice High School Showcase. The series is highlighted by teams from 11 states and several players in the ESPN 150 player rankings.

Houston schools held a decisive 9-2 edge as both OHA and St. Patrick registered wins on separate nights against Madison (Houston). De La Salle (Minneapolis) went 0-3 and Albany (N.Y.) Academy lost both games.

Hal Pastner of Vision Sports, the master promoter of grass roots boys' basketball, pulled off another coup for his hometown.

"I love the (Houston) kids' attitude," he said.

Yates' swagger was evident in the second half against St. Patrick (6-1), which lost for the first time in 13 games dating back to last February.

"They keep coming at you," St. Patrick coach Kevin Boyle said. "They (Yates) play with a tremendous amount of energy; seems like they play nonstop."

Yates (11-2) trailed 31-30 at the break but took the lead for good at 47-44 as 6-9 Anthony Jones canned a three-point field goal from the top of the circle. The willowy Jones, who will attend Baylor, scored a game-high 25 points, making 8-of-10 shots and a trio of three-pointers. He totaled 47 points in two games.

"His (Jones') upside is huge," said Wise, whose son Nic is a guard for the University of Arizona. "Once he packs on some weight there's no telling. He's at the beginning of the ladder."

Yates played with passion and purpose. Representing a hardscrabble neighborhood near downtown, Yates ticked off two key wins which will put them in position for a national ranking.

Wise's club has lost twice to Houston schools. First it fell to Madison (Houston) without six of its key players (including four football players still competing in the postseason) and to Cy-Springs (Cypress) in the final of a local tournament before Christmas.

"When we found out that we'd be playing Oak Hill, everyone thought we'd lose by 40 points," Wise said.

Yates knocked off OHA by two points as Xavier Roberson hit a 15-foot jumper with one second left, snapping an 80-80 tie.

The victory whipped the locals into a frenzy.

Wise, a veteran coach of the AAU summer circuit, felt Houston may get overlooked on the national scene. He knew better.

"The Houston players are as good as any from around the country," he said. "Our top teams reach the finals or semifinals of top tournaments each year. Everyone thinks of Texas as a football state but we play good ball down here."

Recently Houston high-profile players such as T.J. Ford, Emeka Okafor, Daniel Ewing, Daniel Gibson, Jawann McClellan and Ndudi Ebi have excelled in college and NBA.

"The players are quick, athletic," Boyle added. "They (Houston schools) did a great job."

Quintrell Thomas, an active 6-8 post player and Kansas recruit, contributed 22 points and 13 rebounds (10 on the offensive glass) for St. Patrick.

Local recruiting expert Alan Branch of houstonboysbasketball.com said Houston's success this weekend "is the continuation of a long list of basketball accomplishments that has occurred over the last 10 years. This debunks a myth that good basketball isn't played here."

In other Saturday games at Houston vs. the Nation:

• No. 4 Montverde (Fla.) Academy, which came to Houston without a loss since February 2006, fell for the second consecutive day in a nail-biting 45-43 loss to Klein (Texas) Collins.

Montverde (12-2) scored one point in fourth quarter but nearly rallied. Texas A&M-bound guard Dashan Harris' three-point attempt from the left wing fell short as the buzzer sounded.

Klein Collins (17-3) trailed throughout the game, including 42-39 after three quarters. The Tigers took the lead for good with 1:54 left as Derek Craig drained a long three-pointer for a 44-43 edge. Klein Collins could have salted away this one but made one free throw in eight attempts during the final period.

Craig, the game's top scorer with 20 points, made 4-of-10 three-pointers. Demetri Goodson, a Gonzaga recruit, scored 10 points but took a player control foul with 35 seconds left.

Harris topped Montverde with 13 points.

• Wheatley (Houston) downed Albany (N.Y.) Academy, 82-53. Wheatley, located in Fifth Ward, is considered Houston's first traditional powerhouse. Wheatley jumped to an 18-11 lead after one quarter and stretched the lead to 39-21 at halftime.

DeShaun Garrett topped Wheatley with 19 points while Joseph Franklin and Carlos Cook each scored 17.

The Fields brothers, Jamel (19 points) and Shavar (15), teamed for 34 points to lead Albany Academy, which entered the event undefeated.

• Oak Hill Academy (15-3) brushed aside a Friday loss to defeat Madison (Houston), 108-88. Brandon Jennings, the No. 1-ranked player in the ESPN 150, continued his successful senior season. The Arizona-bound Jennings, who entered the tournament averaging nearly 40 points, scored 36 points and handed off seven assists. Jennings scored 67 points in two games.

"I was proud the way we bounced back today," Smith said. "At the shoot-around (Saturday morning) the players weren't so upbeat; Friday was a tough game."

Tiny Gallon, a beefy 6-8 junior who attended school for the previous two years near Houston before transferring, added 24 points and 15 rebounds.

"Houston schools had something to prove. I've played against most of these guys and know how hungry they are," Gallon said.

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also for worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y. and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.

Christopher Lawlor

High School Basketball
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years.