The Tournament -
The first ESPN RISE High School Invitational will feature the eight best private/prep high school basketball teams in the country and seriously marquee talent, including Texas commits Avery Bradley, Tristan Thompson, and Myck Kabongo. Beginning today at 1 pm CT and finishing two days later, with the first round televised on ESPNU, the second on ESPN2, and the finals on ESPN. Taking place at the Hanley Center in Bethesday, MD, the tournament may not crown the eventual ESPN RISE national champion, as the current third and fourth teams in the rankings will not participate, but it will be an unprecedented opportunity for undefeated Oak Hill Academy and undefeated Findlay Prep, the consensus top two teams in the country, to meet for a single-game, winnter-takes-all national championship.
The Storyline -
The major storyline in the tournament, besides it's historical uniqueness, is the possible match up of 2010 Longhorn commit Tristan Thompson's current school, Findlay Prep, with his former school, St. Benedict's, if both teams reach the championship game on Sunday. Thompson currently plays with fellow future Longhorn Avery Bradley after having left his friend, countryman, and 2011 Longhorn, point guard Myck Kabongo. Quite the tangled web. On Thompson's end, he has put his differences with former coach Dan Hurley in the past (as, it seems, has surly Hurley) and is ready to compete:
We have what it takes to win, with our chemistry, players and coaches. I think we're ready to show what the West Coast is about. I'd love to play St. Benedict's. I'd love it. It would be like a dream come true, playing against old teammates and friends. It would mean a lot to me.
However, to reach that final, both squads would have to win two games against the best high school programs in the country, but the match up would be as compelling as it gets for high school basketball and an absolute bonanza for Longhorn basketball fans and both teams will be favorites in the first two rounds.
The Teams -
No. 1 seed - Oak Hill Academy
The undefeated Virginia-based perennial powerhouse, Oak Hill boasts five Division I signees: OU's Keith Gallon, Virginia Tech's Lamont Jones, Syracuse's Baye Moussa Keita, West Virginia's Byron Allen, and UNC-Asheville's Austin Alecxih. Perennial powerhouse is no exaggeration, as Carmelo Anthony, Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Jerry Stackhouse, and Stephen Jackson have all called Mouth of Wilson home, as well as some 140 other players over the last 30 years. The Warrior's 44-game winning streak survived a close game recently against third-seeded Montrose Christian, Kevin Durant's alma mater, as well as a 69-57 victory against Shawn Williams' talented Duncanville squad.
No. 2 seed - Findlay Prep
Findlay's star guard needs little introduction -- you might have heard about him winning the dunk contest on Monday night in association with the McDonald's game (though if you need one, just check here or here). Longhorn commit Avery Bradley is far from the only talent for the undefeated Pilots. DJ Richardson plays the combo guard (committed to Illinois), At 6-10, Carlos Lopez holds down the block and will play at local UNLV, while Bradley's fellow Longhorn commit, and Scout's number one player for 2010 is recent transfer Tristan Thompson. His Canadian countryman Cory Joseph leads the team in assists and is the third-leading scorer in the midst of a 16 for 26 streak from long range. Having outscored their opponents by nearly 1,000 points this season, the Pilots might be the favorites in the tournament with the addition of Thompson were it not for the recent dismissal of second-leading scorer Victor Rudd, , who was not reinstatement after he failed to apology for violating an undisclosed team rule, leaving the squad with guard Willie Hankins, the son of Rudd's guardian.
No. 3 seed - Montrose Christian
Only suffering two losses at the hands of Oak Hill Academy, including a double-overtime loss in the Iolani Classic finals, Montrose features 6-9 Villanova commit Mouphtaou Yarou, fresh out of Africa -- Yarou came to the country from Benin in January 2008. Powerful and explosive around the basket, Yarou has a relatively refined game given his background, though he somtimes struggles to change ends. On the wing are two talented youngsters standing 6-6, Terrance Ross and Justin Anderson, aided by senior Isaiah Armwood, a thin, athletic and active power forward somewhat in the mold of Tristan Thompson. A match up problem for opposing frontcourts, the four Montrose stars are too much for every team not named Oak HIll Academy, with several capable opponents ready to test their mettle and prove it isn't only Oak Hill that can beat the Maryland private school.
No. 4 seed - St. Benedict's
The loss of Thompson robbed the Gray Bee's of their best frontcourt player, leaving their guards to drive were the team. Myck Kabongo leads the way as an increasingly willing scorer and always-willing distributor, often looking for Tamir Jackson in the corner and Aaron Brown and future Pitt Panther forward Jamar Patterson on the wing. The only two losses on the season for Dan Hurley's squad came against third-ranked Mater Dei and fourth-ranked St. Patrick, both in a matter of days, shortly preceding Thompson's dismissal for insubordination, with the rare losses perhaps putting the strained player-coach relationship over the edge. Though the Gray Bees won their two games after Thompson left, they haven't played in a month, a time during which Hurley installed a new offense and plays ($).
No. 5 seed - St. Frances
At 6-7, small forward Terrell Vinson draws comparison to Antoine Walker, which is positive and negative -- the St. Francis star and Montrose Christan transfer tends to fall in love with the three pointer. Lead by 30-yeard-old former Temple player Mark Karcher, the team begins the second tier of the tournament -- teams that don't have the talent of the top four schools and don't play the same level of competition.
No. 6 seed - Friends' Central
Befitting their second-tier status in the tournament, Friends' star player, the 240-pound Dominic Morris has drawn offers from collegiate programs like Siena and Providence -- not exactly stars of the college basketball world. While the top four schools dominated nearly all of their competition over the course of the season, Friends' Central struggled to win the Pennsylvania Independent League state title.
No. 7 seed - Mountain State
Even against the best teams in high school basketball, versatile wings like junior Shaquille Thomas present even more difficult match ups than they do in college, where good wings have few equals. Rising Turk center Deniz Kilici is a recent immigrant and has shot up recruiting lists, with junior Noah Cotrill providing the scoring from the perimeter. Mountain State has played a tough schedule, dropping games to Oak Hill and St. Benedict's, never staying with more than 14 of either school in the three games played against the powerhouse schools, though Mountain State did pick up a victory against eighth-seeded Pinewood Prep
No. 8 seed - Pinewood Prep
The only McDonald's All-American besides Bradley in the invitational is 6-9 Clemson commit Milton Jennings, the only player over 6-5 on his team and destined to attempt checking Keith Gallon at only 215 pounds. Suffice it to say that Gallon has a few (dozen) biscuits on Jennings, which may well be the deciding factor in the first-round match up. It's probably not worth saying much more about Pinewood given their long odds and likely short stay, as they play the first game on Friday at 1 pm CT. In fact, Pinewood isn't even ranked in the top 100 high school programs in the country by Rivals.