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Slam Dunk to the Beach Summary

January 8, 2004 Columns No Comments


Slam Dunk to the Beach – Wrapping it all up

by Phil Kasiecki

LEWES, Del. – Another holiday has come and gone, and with it another Slam Dunk to the Beach Tournament. 33 teams competed in 46 games, with blowouts and great finishes mixed in along the way.

Attendance on the final day was sparse in the morning, just like it was at times on the first day, but overall attendance was good. Tournament director Bob Jacobs said attendance was up slightly from last year, and several games saw a packed house at Cape Henlopen High School, including the championship game on the last night and a couple of games prior to it as fans arrived early for the last game.

Before we get into a few notes on the 14th annual Slam Dunk to the Beach, a note on one story after the tournament is in order. On New Year’s Day, a van carrying members and supporters of the basketball team from Our Savior New American School flipped over several times in North Carolina as the team traveled to Charlotte from Lewes for the Dell Curry Shootout. Kevin Mormin, a 7’2″ junior center who showed a lot of potential, was killed, while several other players were critically injured.

Having just seen this team play, and knowing how well-liked and respected they are on and off the court, adds an extra feeling of sadness at hearing the news. Our thoughts and prayers go to the players, coaches, staff and supporters of the school and program at this time.

Format: This year, Jacobs dropped three of the divisions, the National Power Series, Tip-Off Classic and Mayor’s Cup, making most of the games Tommy Jacobs Memorial and not in a real tournament mode. Jacobs said that the state associations have everything to do with this – many are moving towards not allowing their members to play against prep schools or in a tournament that has them, and this tournament had schools like Durham (NC) Mt. Zion Christian Academy and Laurinburg (NC) Institute. Just like every year, the easy part proves to be getting the schools to commit to playing in the event.

“Scheduling for this is just an absolute nightmare,” Jacobs said after the tournament. “With what state associations are doing, you’re going to see more events that are shootouts instead of true tournaments.”

Best Game: As usual, there were several candidates. The championship game in the Slam Dunk to the Beach bracket is an obvious choice, certainly with all that was at stake being one reason, but it’s too easy to choose that one. Instead, we have to give the nod to the semifinal game between Reserve (LA) Christian and Los Angeles (CA) Westchester.

The Comets looked to be in great shape as USC-bound guard Gabriel Pruitt dominated the first half, but the Eagles stayed in during the third quarter. Then in the fourth quarter, the Eagles ran off 16 unanswered points and eventually took the lead and seemed to have the momentum. But Pruitt, who had been quieted in the second half, didn’t go quietly and gave the Comets the lead with clutch plays. In the end, it was George Brozos – one of just three seniors on a team loaded with young talent, and also the ultimate gunner – who stole the show with clutch plays and free throws as the Eagles pulled out the win to move on to the championship game.

Coming Out Party: Last year, it was Bloomfield (NJ) Technical that was introduced to the basketball world at large in Lewes. This year, Reserve (LA) Christian became known with its showing in the Slam Dunk to the Beach bracket. The young Eagles – they have just three seniors, which is matched by an eighth grader and two freshmen on the young end – knocked off national power Los Angeles (CA) Westchester before falling in the championship game of the Slam Dunk to the Beach Bracket. This is a school we will be hearing about for the next few years, and not just because Demond Carter is one of the top sophomores in the country.

Biggest Disappointment: A couple of schools could get the nod here, but we’ll give it to Tuscaloosa (AL) Hillcrest High School. They lost all three of their games by double digits, after showing well here last year, and they looked very overmatched against Mt. Vernon in their first game.

Feeling A Draft: By all indications, Dwight Howard (6’11” C, Atlanta (GA) Southwest Christian HS) will bypass college for the 2004 NBA Draft, and is projected by several to be the top pick. This would mark the third time in four years that the top pick came from the high school ranks. But Howard is not alone; one recruiting analyst says that it wouldn’t be a surprise if six players decide to bypass college. Howard is the only one who played at this tournament, with the other five being Howard’s AAU teammate Josh Smith (6’9″ SF, Atlanta (GA) Oak Hill Academy), Al Jefferson (6’9″ PF, Prentiss (MS) High), Shaun Livingston (6’6″ PG, Peoria (IL) High), Robert Swift (7’1″ C, Bakersfield (CA) High) and LaMarcus Aldridge (6’11” C, Seagoville (TX) High).

Young Talent: There were many underclassmen who showed promise here, perhaps moreso than previous years. In some cases they were overshadowed by upperclassmen on their team and their turn will come, but they showed promise in relatively limited time. Some of the players to keep an eye on after their showing here include:

Greg Batieste (6’4″ SF, 8th grade, Cleveland (TX) Heritage Christian Academy)
Kevin Branch (6’4″ Fr. SG, Reserve (LA) Christian)
Michael Coburn (5’11” Fr. PG, Mt. Vernon (NY) High)
Corey Fisher (5’10” Fr. PG, Elizabeth (NJ) St. Patrick’s HS)
Erick Green (6’1″ So. PG, Orlando (FL) Dr. Phillips HS)
Quentin Guidry (6’2″ So. SG, Cleveland (TX) Heritage Christian Academy)
Eugene Harvey (5’11” So. PG, Newark (NJ) St. Benedict’s HS)
Michael Johnson (6’0″ So. PG, Scotch Plains (NJ) High)
Tracy Smith (6’6″ So. PF, Durham (NC) Mt. Zion Christian Academy)
Martez Walker (6’6″ SF, 8th grade, Reserve (LA) Christian)

Tournament Studs and Duds

Which players shined and raised their stock, and which ones hurt it? Here’s a look at some who stood out in either respect.

Studs

Derrick Caracter (6’8″ So. PF, Scotch Plains (NJ) High) Without question, the change of scenery agrees with Caracter. He really seems to be enjoying the game, and now the vast potential he showed only in spurts appears ready to come out on a regular basis. In Lewes, he showed the post moves, with some quickness at times, and even made plays from the perimeter with drives to the basket – is this really a 280 pound post player? It looks like we have a star coming alive.

Anthony Farmer (6’1″ Jr. SG, Richland (NJ) St. Augustine Prep) Farmer has always been able to score, but the jumper is the key to his future. Well, it looked pretty good during this tournament, as he knocked down shots even from long range while still scoring on drives and looking quicker. He also handled the ball well, which will only help, though he is certainly a shooting guard.

Steve Harley (5’10” Sr. PG, Washington (DC) Marriott Charter School) Harley played three solid games and led his team to a good showing, going 2-1. He showed some quickness, scored off the dribble and shot the ball well with good selection, and generally ran the team well. He’s a great leaper, but seems to lack the point guard mentality and is too small for shooting guard. He should get some low- to mid-major looks.

Sammy Hernandez (6’5″ Jr. SF, Jacksonville (FL) Arlington Country Day School) Here is a player who has really grown in his career. He was first a rebounder and interior defender, but now he’s showing offensive skills while still rebounding for his size and defending well (he even bravely guarded Dwight Howard for a spell, and acquitted himself well in doing so). If he keeps it up, he’ll have plenty of suitors when the time comes.

Dwight Howard (6’11” Sr. C, Atlanta (GA) Southwest Atlanta Christian HS) What is there to say that hasn’t already been said? His ability has been discussed in detail already, so why don’t we note his court demeanor, which shows his calm even after a bad play by himself or a teammate? The NBA beckons.

David Huertas (6’3″ Jr. SG, Jacksonville (FL) Arlington Country Day School) Huertas already was known as a top shooter, but he demonstrated an excellent in-between game as well. He scored on drives and the break as well as his long range jumpers, including three floating shots on the move that went right over Dwight Howard’s outstretched arm right into the basket.

Jonathan Mitchell (6’7″ So. PF, Mt. Vernon (NY) High) Part of a team that had a terrific showing overall, Mitchell firmed up his status as one of the nation’s top sophomores. The lefty showed his good inside scoring ability, ran the floor well and was simply good within 10 feet of the basket.

Juan Diego Palacios (6’8″ Sr. SF-PF, Centereach (NY) Our Savior New American) At times he has tried to do too much, but he did everything well here, for the most part. He generally didn’t force the action unnecessarily and made good decisions, and it reflected in the results he got. This big-time prospect did not sign early and is among the top unsigned seniors.

Deron Washington (6’7″ Sr. SF, Fort Washington (MD) National Christian Academy) Here’s one player who has really improved over the last year. Washington is an excellent athlete who constantly makes hustle plays – if the hardwood was a baseball diamond, he’d have a dirty uniform every game – and he plays well within the team concept, getting his shots in flow. He plays both ends of the floor, and fans at Virginia Tech, where he signed, will be happy.

Duds

Jason Bennett (7’2″ So. C, Jacksonville (FL) Arlington Country Day School) Sure, he’s 7’2″, but he was frequently a liability instead of an asset on the court. His hands are bad, he was a non-factor and looks clumsy on the floor, and he was in constant foul trouble. He has no shortage of areas for development, but he has plenty of time for it.

Javaris Crittenton (6’5″ So. SG, Atlanta (GA) Southwest Atlanta Christian HS) During AAU play, he definitely benefited from the big frontline of the Atlanta Celtics, and one would think he benefits from being Dwight Howard’s teammate. But here, Crittenton didn’t play his best ball, not shooting it well at all and not being the good second option.

Casiem Drummond (6’8″ So. PF, Bloomfield (NJ) Technical) He went as his school did the last two years here: last year he showed great promise as a freshman post player and the team had a good showing, this year he was a non-factor and the team went 0-3. Fouling out in just 17 minutes against a St. Patrick’s team that lacks quality big men? Unacceptable.

James Morgan (6’8″ Jr. PF, Seattle (WA) Rainier Beach HS) Morgan did nothing in the tournament, partly from playing limited minutes. There isn’t much more to say than that.

D.J. White (6’9″ Sr. PF, Tuscaloosa (AL) Hillcrest HS) After a good showing last year, White took a while to get going. When he got going, he was terrific, taking over the game for a while before he and his teammates ran out of steam and lost the game. With his quickness inside and ability to run the floor, as well as not trying to be a wing most of the time, he has no shortage of talent, but he missed too many shots in close and wasn’t the factor he was last year. Still, he’s a big-time prospect and will get plenty of playing time next year at Indiana, where he signed.

All in all, it was another great five days in Lewes, Delaware. Jacobs retired from his state job earlier in the year, meaning he will now devote even more time and energy to making this tournament unbeatable every year for the sheer talent and excitement that is present.

     

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