In one of the top high school games of the 2007-08 season, No. 1 Oak Hill Academy (Va.), led by McDonald's All-American candidate and Arizona signee Brandon Jennings, will take on No. 9 St. Benedict's (N.J.), led by McDonald's All-American candidate and Louisville signee Samardo Samuels, Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. Besides those two stars, at least 12 mid to high major college prospects are expected to play.
Thursday night's game will be all about tempo; whichever team is able to impose its will on the other will win the game. St. Benedict's will attempt to slow down the game and pound the ball inside to the 6-9 Samuels while Oak Hill will attempt to make the game fast, picking up full court and attempt to get the 6-2 Jennings, who is averaging almost 40 points per game, out in the open floor.
Jennings is an exciting player who you will be a big-time player next year for Arizona and will play in the NBA in the near future. He is a scoring machine, and many people have likened his game to Allen Iverson. Jennings is lightning quick, can create his own shot and get to the rim at will. He will take a high volume of shots in this game, and for Oak Hill to win it will need him to score anywhere from 35-45 points. Coach Danny Hurley's squad will need to make him take tough and contested jumpers, and when he comes at the rim, Samuels and 6-8 junior Gregory Echenique must block and alter his shots -- even knock Jennings down -- if needed.
Oak Hill has been beset with some problems this year with the transfer of Willie Warren in October back to Texas and the recent expulsion of Malik Story. The loss of these two big-time players has made coach Steve Smith start one senior, two juniors and two sophomores. Everyone has had to move up in the rotation, playing more minutes than expected and carrying more of an offensive load.
In addition to Jennings, Oak Hill will count on 6-8 junior forward Glenn Bryant. Bryant is tall, thin and athletic and reminds Smith of a young Michael Cooper. Bryant may be Oak Hill's second scoring option, and it will need him to put up 10-15 points in the game. Smith will also start junior center Keith Gallon, a skilled inside player who weighs in at 330 pounds. He will have to guard Samuels and must be able to keep him in check for Oak Hill to be successful.
Oak Hill is a bit suspect with the rest of its backcourt and wing players because of their age and lack of experience. Smith will start two sophomores in 6-2 Pe'shon Howard and Bryon Allen, a transfer from DeMatha (Md.). Howard is a combo guard and will handle the ball so that Jennings can just concentrate on scoring. Allen is a strong wing player who can defend and attack the basket.
Hurley has built St. Benedict's into a national powerhouse in a very short time. Samuels and Echenique comprise one of the most formidable frontcourts in the country. There are very few back-to-the-basket players left in high school, college and pro basketball, but Samuels is the best low post player in the high school ranks. He is a strong, physical post player who loves contact and has a very high skill set. Samuels, who is averaging 20.3 points and 8.3 rebounds, has all the post moves in the low post and a very soft touch from the perimeter. In addition, he is a big-time rebounder and shot blocker. Echenique is a rapidly developing young player who came to this country several years ago from Venezuela. He gives Hurley another strong physical post player and is averaging 14 points and 15.5 rebounds.
St. Benedict's sophomore Tristan Thompson, who transferred from Toronto, is a talented 6-8 forward who can play both the small and power forward positions. He is one of the most talented young players in the country and already had some of the top coaches and programs in the country in the St. Benedict's gym to see him work out.
The key for Hurley's St. Benedict's team will be the play of his backcourt and perimeter players. He has some talented players in Scott Machado, who currently has 17 assists and only 2 turnovers, Tamir Jackson, averaging 11.3 points and shooting 46 percent from the field, Stevie Frankowski, who is a big-time 3-point shooter, and talented freshman Myck Kabongo from Toronto. The problem for Hurley is not the ability of these young perimeter players, but their lack of experience and playing under the bright lights. If they can play with composure, then Benedict's has a very good chance to win this game.
Turn the dial to ESPN on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET to see some of the most talented players in the nation. Hurley and Smith are two of the most respected high school coaches in the country, and they get kids to play the right way. Jennings and Samuels will be McDonald's All Americans and be highlighted players next year at Arizona and Louisville, respectively. In addition, they will both be in the NBA within a few years. The high school basketball package on ESPN, ESPN 2 and ESPNU gives us all a glimpse into the future of college and NBA basketball. Sit back Thursday night and enjoy watching a good basketball game. I know I will.