In recent years we have seen the rise of high school athletics to the forefront of mainstream sports coverage. High school athletes are becoming folk heroes amongst fan bases, mainly because of the exposure of networks like ESPN and the accessibility through social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. This has since shined the light on many tournaments and invitational’s that showcase the best talent across the nation, including Springfield’s (MA) HoopHall Classic.
2013 marked the 12th annual Spalding’s HoopHall Classic, held at Springfield College (MA) the self proclaimed “birthplace of basketball”. The event is held over 5 days, culminating on MLK day with the nations elite talent displaying their skills on the ESPN family of networks. I last attended this event in 2010, when I saw Kyrie Irving put on a show in the second half, before falling just short of upsetting the nations #1 team, Findlay Prep led by current NBA players Tristan Thompson and Corey Joseph.
I was only able to take in Monday’s games in Springfield, and by days end I was sure I picked the right slate of games to attend. The first game I saw showcased the #3 ranked team in the country Lone Peak (UT) taking on Archbishop Mitty (CA) led by the nations #6 overall player PF Aaron Gordon. The game was nothing short of a blowout, win Lone Peak coasting to a 35 point victory. Led by BYU signee Nick Emery, Lone Peak was simply to much for Mitty to contend with, even after a tremendous performance from Gordon.
Gordon stole the show, drawing the biggest reaction from the crowd after terrorizing the rim on many occasions. Gordon, who finished with 27 and 12 impressed me more with what he did away from the rim. The young man, even at power forward is a true extension of his coach on the floor. He talks on every possession, often telling his teammates where to be and what to do. He has very nice handle for a big man, great court vision, and hustles on each and every play. Gordon will excel around elite talent like himself, and I believe Kentucky or Arizona will be getting a star at the next level.
Next up was the Simeon Wolverines and the Oak Hill Warriors. Simeon was led by Duke verbal and the nations #2 player SF Jabari Parker, while Oak Hill was missing their PG and future Tar Heel Nate Britt. Both teams were evenly matched, featuring numerous D1 verbals and signees’ and the game was close throughout with Simeon pulling out a close victory. Oak Hill was led by South Carolina signee Sindarius Thornwell who picked up the slack for the missing Britt, but the game was dominated by Parker.
The future Blue Devil poured in 28 points and grabbed 5 rebounds, scoring his team’s first 11 points, with those 11 coming three different ways (dunk, 3 pointer, jump shot). Parker, who played all 32 minutes looks to be back healthy after a foot injury that hampered him early in the season, but I don’t believe he’s 100% yet, and that’s scary. Parker had his way against Oak Hill and displayed his many skills such as, passing nicely out of the double team, asserting himself on the defensive end, his smooth jump shot and his overall basketball IQ, which is unmatched by any other high school baller. Parker isn’t quite as explosive as the nations #1 player SF Andrew Wiggins (WV) but I believe he is the better basketball player at this point, and possesses an array of moves on the court, that will have him fit in nicely next year in Durham.
And now for the main event, #1 vs #2, Montverde (FL) vs Findlay Prep (NV). This was the highlight of the weekend and the game that showcased the most high major talent at the classic. Montverde features Florida signee and the nations #8 and #12 overall prospects PG Kasey Hill, and Kentucky verbal PF Dakari Johnson, respectively. The Pilots of Findlay Prep feature future Washington Huskies, PG Nigel Williams-Goss and future UCLA Bruin SG Allerik Freeman.
After a slow start, a very slow start, Montverde took control of the game as Hill facilitated and Johnson controlled the boards. Freeman was in some foul trouble and seemed out of sync, and Williams-Goss simply didn’t seem to be asserting himself enough. Freeman never bounced back from the foul trouble and Hill found the foul trouble, eventually fouling out of the game in the 4th. It was at that point where Williams-Goss put the team on his back and took over. Johnson was somewhat neutralized in the post and Williams-Goss was penetrating at will and finding his was to the line. He got Findlay back in the game, and the ball was in his hands with ten seconds left and a tie ball game.
As the crowd rose to our feet, Williams-Goss pulled up for a three with 2.5 seconds remaining. The crowd went silent, and as the ball went through the hoop, the crowd went nuts. Findlay had once again upset the top ranked Eagles of Montverde. Johnson was the top performer for the Eagles, using his 6’11” frame to control the boards and create second chance points for Montverde, but Williams-Goss dominated this one, delivering on the biggest stage. He finished with 26 points, 18 of them coming in the 4th quarter. He was able to get to the rim at will, either finishing himself or dropping it off to a teammate for an easy lay up, ultimately showing off his range with the game winner. While Williams-Goss isn’t as highly regarded as some of the other recruits who participated in the HoopHall Classic he is a gamer, who was blessed with the clutch gene, and he’ll surely turn some heads while at Washington.
The HoopHall Classic is just one of the many high school invitational tournaments that gives these young men a stage to showcase their skills and get a taste of the attention that they will garner at the next level. It’s somewhat of an audition for the college game. They face off against other elite talent nationwide and are under the microscope of large crowds and the national media. This is beneficial for these young men and makes the transition to college, smoother and easier for many of them.