Monday, December 21, 2009

Above the Rim: Coming Attractions

I recently had the pleasure of attending the High School Basketball showdown between #1 Findlay Prep (Las Vegas) and #5 (or #7 or #13 depending on the ranker) Northland (Columbus). The matchup featured some of the best high school basketball prospects in the country including Ohio State bound Jared Sullinger (6’8” and 260 lbs. according to of Northland and future Texas Longhorn Tristan Thompson (6’9” and 240 lbs.) of Findlay in the post and an exciting point guard matchup between Northland’s Trey Burke (Penn State in 2011) and Findlay’s Cory Joseph (uncommitted, but considered the 3rd best point guard in the country). The game also featured Rivals top 100 players Godwin Okonji, Jabari Brown, Nick Johnson, and Winston Shepard of Findlay. Northland’s other Ohio State commit, JD Weatherspoon did not play with an injured ankle, however sophomore Jalen Robinson (West Virginia commit) stepped up big to play some great defense in the post.

Going into the game, I was expecting a high scoring shoot out featuring Northland’s talented OSU commits and Burke challenging the high scoring attack of Findlay Prep (just under 100 ppg coming in). However, Northland’s suffocating defense kept Findlay on its heels early with Sullinger and Robinson both locking down the paint and Burke harassing Joseph on the perimeter. At the half, Northland had opened a 29-15 lead. That’s right; Findlay Prep, who was averaging 96 points per game, was held to just 15 in the first half.

In the second half, Findlay got hot from the outside and used an aggressive full court press to force a few turnovers and convert them into easy buckets to get back into the game. The score was 39-35 heading into the fourth. With the teams trading the lead down the stretch, both teams went to their go to guys. Northland was feeding Sullinger in the post nearly every time down, playing a two man game with Burke, and Findlay was leaning on Thompson and Joseph. With under a minute left, Burke beat Joseph on the perimeter and dumped it off to sophomore Kechaun Lewis who converted the layup after a nice backdoor cut, but the referees waived off the basket because of a blocking foul on Findlay before the pass. With a one point lead, Burke missed the first half of a one-and-one, his only mistake of the game, giving the ball back to Findlay. After Findlay scored with ten seconds to go, Sullinger received the inbounds pass and dribbled up the sideline, being bumped by Thompson the whole way. With four seconds left, Sullinger got the blocking call on Thompson and converted both free throws to give Northland a one point win, 53-52.

The victory was impressive for Northland in many ways. Not only was Findlay the #1 team in the nation, but they had a 45 game winning streak, an all-time record of 75-1, and were held to 52 points for the game despite averaging 96 on the season.

Individually, there were a lot of impressive players on both sides that should be making names for themselves in college in the near future and possibly the NBA.

  • Jared Sullinger showed why he is considered one of the best players in the country. He finished with 32 points and 17 rebounds, and one monster block, to lead Northland, but his most impressive contributions were his perfect night from the free throw line (10-10) and his clutch performance down the stretch to put Northland on his back and help them keep pace with Findlay. His 17 rebounds were also huge in limiting Findlay to one shot per possession most of the time.

  • Tristan Thompson showed that he is a top post player as well. He finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks and was the only player with the strength to try to stop Sullinger in the post. If Thompson, who fouled out when he fouled Sullinger with 4 seconds left, would have stayed out of foul trouble early, he may have been more aggressive with Sullinger down the stretch which could have made the matchup even more exciting.

  • Trey Burke made a case for himself being considered a top point guard in the class of 2011. Not only did he show an amazing handle with the ball and good court vision, but he also scored 10 points to go with 7 assists. He also hit 4 of 5 free throws. Most importantly, he did not turn the ball over at all and held the high scoring Joseph to just 8 points.

  • Corey Joseph did not get going scoring the ball, but showed his value in other aspects of the game. Joseph still scored 8 points to go with 4 assists, 6 rebounds, and 1 steal and was a big part of the full court press that got Findlay back into the game in the third quarter. Like Burke, he has a great handle and only turned the ball over once.

  • Nick Johnson and Jabari Brown quietly scored 14 and 10 for Findlay, respectively. When a game features as many top players as this one, it is easy to fly under the radar a little, and Johnson and Brown were victimized by this on Thursday. Both played solid games but were overshadowed. Johnson and Brown, both juniors, were averaging 14 and 17, respectively.

  • Finally, the Northland trio of sophomores Kechaun Lewis, Jalen Robinson, and Devon Scott, while scoring only 3, 2, and 2 points on a combined 3-5 shooting, were the unsung heroes of the game. These three provided lock down defense from start to finish and committed only one turnover combined to help Northland maintain possession and control of the game. Defensively, Lewis was solid on Findlay’s wings and played a big part in limiting their perimeter game while Robinson (3 blocks) and Scott contested every shot in the post. While their stat lines were not impressive, these players were the keys for Northland in the one point victory as they stepped up and made plays on the defensive end repeatedly.

Overall, Sullinger provided one of the best high school performances I have ever seen, probably better than when I saw LeBron James go for 40+ against Zanesville in 2003. While LeBron put up a near triple-double and 40 points in three quarters, it was also against Zanesville who was not ranked in the state, let alone the country. Sullinger put up 32 and 17 against the #1 team in the country that was loaded with 5-star recruits. Not to be outdone, Burke, Joseph, and Thompson all showed that they will be college starters when their turn comes around. Findlay’s Johnson and Brown showed potential and they should be the leaders of Findlay next season when Thompson and Joseph graduate. Finally, Northland’s sophomores Lewis, Robinson, and Scott showed heart, determination, and athleticism and should have Northland and central Ohio excited for the next few years as they finish their high school careers. All three have a chance to play college basketball when they graduate.

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Anonymous said...


Adam said...

UPDATE- Prep has Northland ranked #1 in their polls that came out today. Findlay Prep fell to #4. Oak Hill Academy, who meets Northland on a neutral court in Massachusetts in January is now #3.