SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The Hoophall Classic has become one of the premier stops on the high school circuit
Played over three days during the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, this event in the birthplace of basketball and home to the Basketball Hall of Fame has improved each year. Combining local high school teams with some of the top high school and prep programs from the entire country, this year's Hoophall Classic included teams from more than 14 different states and from as far away as California. In addition, ESPN360.com broadcast three games on Saturday and ESPNU aired three games on Sunday, giving the tournament tremendous national exposure and adding to its elite reputation as one of the top tournaments.
Players of Note in Class of 2008
John Riek (7-2, 240)
Senior, Winchendon, Mass
The biggest question mark in the Class of 2008 may be Riek. You can see he is learning and continuing to grow as a player. However, he is so far away from where he needs to be. In Sunday's game with the Patterson School of Lenoir, N.C., Riek had 14 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, had several blocks and quite a few goaltending calls. But the questions you ask yourself as a college or pro scout when you look at Riek is could he handle the rugged, physical nature of the college game or, God forbid, the NBA game. And the answer is no. If he was in an NBA camp next fall, he would get hurt. He would get hit, banged, elbowed by someone trying to take his paycheck and Riek would be in the training room. In addition he does not have an offensive skill set. He does not have an offensive move to go to because it takes him so long to get into a shot, and he does not have the leg strength to get position and get to the rim. Can he block shots? Yes. Would he be able to block shots in the NBA right now? No. Because the strong, physical NBA players would just go up and through him and hurt Riek as he is today. Riek should go to college. However, I know he may not because of academic issues and language barriers. But he needs several years of acclimating himself to the level of play and physicality he will encounter in the NBA. He is not ready for that today.
Brandon Jennings (6-2, 165)
Senior, Mouth of Wilson, Va.
What do you say after the No. 1 player in the country puts up 32 points on 11-of-24 shooting, going 2-for-7 from the 3-point line, 8-for-9 from the foul line and getting three assists and three steals? I say that Jennings put on a lackluster performance, went through the motions and only turned on the motor when he felt like it. He is so talented and has been given a gift, and on Sunday he did not give a big-time effort on either end of the floor. This is not an overly talented Oak Hill team that we have come to know, and Jennings must do a lot for this team to win, but he is in for a rude awakening at Arizona. He has all the tools, but he must have a total transformation in terms of work ethic. He must learn quickly about playing hard every game and every possession because the Pac-10 has become one of the toughest leagues in the country. Next year will be an eye- opener for Jennings if he does not get with the program. From a skill standpoint Jennings is ready to play high level basketball, but the ability to play hard, and not fall into ruts of getting bored, is a skill that he must learn quick to be the No. 1 player in the country.
Henry Sims (6-10, 225)
Sims was very impressive for Mt. St. Joe's on Sunday. He is a long, athletic big man who can run the floor, score, rebound and block shots. He has really improved in just one year. I saw him a year ago in a double header we did on ESPNU against Chris Wright and St. John's Prep. Coach Pat Clatchey and his staff at Mt St Joe's have helped Henry expand his offensive game and become more than just a rebounder and shot-blocker. On Sunday versus Oak Hill, Sims was the dominant big man on the floor scoring 32 points on 10-16 from the field and 12-of-16 from the foul line. He ran the floor like a deer, finished around the basket and showed a tremendous improvement in his overall offensive skill package. Sims has chosen to attend Georgetown and will be a pleasant addition for John Thompson III next year.
Samardo Samuels (6-9, 235)
Senior, Newark, N.J.
Samuels provided us with a glimpse of why he is considered the top low post prospect in the country. He toyed with the smaller, less capable frontline of DeMatha and was dominant with 22 points on a very efficient 8-of-10 from the field. Samuels finished an impressive week for his St Benedict's team, playing big at Madison Square Garden on Monday in a close win over Rice and then providing the Gray Bees 24 points and 15 rebounds versus Paterson Catholic on Saturday afternoon.
Courtney Fortson (6-1, 175)
Senior, Lenoir, N.C.
Fortson proved this weekend he is ready to lead Arkansas next year. He is a fearless competitor who ran the show for the Patterson School and did not back down to Riek when he took the ball to the rim. Fortson finished with 21 points and four assists and was impressive in Patterson's one-point win over Winchendon.
Isaiah Thomas (5-10, 175)
Senior, South Kent, Conn.
With his college coach Lorenzo Romar from the University of Washington in the house, Thomas gave a sub-par effort even though he scored 18 points. The entire South Kent team played an uninspired game against Hargrave Military and was beaten badly by 22 points. Thomas, like Jennings, has all the tools and talent but sometimes does not turn the motor on for the full 40 minutes. This small point guard can blow by anyone and pull up on a dime with deep range, but he must learn how to play hard all the time. He is the primary ball handler for this team and must learn how to lead this talented group and keep everyone involved. Romar has some talented young guards, and if Thomas expects to see time next year he must learn how to make others better and stop dribbling the ball and become a leader on the court.
Demarquis Bost (6-1, 175)
Postgraduate, Chatham, Va./Hargrave
Bost was so good on Sunday evening that he even had his own cheering squad in the stands, dressed out in orange shirts with B O S T spelled out. Dee put on a tremendous scoring performance versus South Kent, going 5-12 from the 3-point line and some of those threes were from the NBA 3-point area. Bost finished with 21 points and added five assists and three steals.
Damier Pitts (5-11, 165)
Senior), Chatham, Va./Hargrave
Bost's teammate Pitts was also spectacular in the game against South Kent. Bost and Pitts dominated the backcourt matchup, with Pitts coming up with 22 points. In addition, Pitts handed out 10 assists. I had heard a lot about this young man, and many said he was a steal for Marshall University out of Conference USA. They are absolutely right. Donny Jones got himself a very good point guard.
Chris Braswell (6-8, 220)
Senior, Chatham, Va./Hargarve
Braswell has been a highly-touted kid since he was a youngster coming up in Washington, D.C. He spent an up and down year at DeMatha last year and should have been the go-to guy for a young Stag team this year but academic issues forced his transfer to Hargrave Military. Braswell is a bit of an enigma. He is talented enough to sign with Georgetown in the fall, but his game is not Big East ready.
Players of Note in Class of 2009
Gregory Echenique (6-9, 260)
Junior, Newark, N.J./St. Benedict's
There may not be a better high school one-two frontline punch than Samardo Samuels and Gregory Echenique. They form an imposing power forward/center combination that gives opposing coaches cold sweats. Echenique keeps getting better every time I see him play. He is becoming more fluid and less mechanical. He knows how to seal his man, call for the ball and finish inside around the hoop. He finished with 12 points against DeMatha. He is strong, physical and knows how to play. This young man is being followed by the top college programs in the country and combined with his strong academic foundation will have some interesting choices for college.
Tamir "Pops" Jackson (6-2, 180)
Junior, Newark, N.J./St. Benedict's
Jackson has been a consistent performer for Dan Hurley all year and did it again on Sunday with a 20-point scoring performance. Jackson has been a perfect complement to the talented frontline of Samuels, Echenique and Thompson. When teams load up on the "big three" of St Benedict's, Jackson finds openings for him to drive or hit the open perimeter shot. He has done a great job improving his perimeter stroke this year. Jackson was 8-for-15 from the field against DeMatha and 3-5 from 3-point range. In addition he also had six steals on the defensive end of the floor.
Jin Soo Kim (6-9, 200)
Junior, South Kent, Conn.
This talented junior has a long way to go until he can help Gary Williams at Maryland. Kim committed to the Terrapins back in the fall, and although he has raw talent he needs to improve his ability to play hard. He goes through the motions way to much and must impact the game way more than just with his perimeter jump shot. Kim is a terrific spot-up shooter with great length but needs to work on his handle and become better with the ball. In addition, he just needs to get after it on both ends of the floor and increase his energy level.
John Carroll is a national recruiting director for Scouts Inc.'s basketball recruiting coverage.