FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The match-up that everyone wanted to see on the third day of the City of Palms Classic was everything that it was made out to be. And then some. The nation's number one player put in a big-time game and a rising star made sure his presence was felt down the stretch.
Prime time power
There was a lot to learn in the Greg Monroe-Rashanti Harris match-up on Thursday night. Both players had interesting starts to the tournament and both players certainly sent a message with their play against each other in a great match-up.
After a quiet and disappointing debut in the 2007 City of Palms, Monroe came out with a purpose on Thursday night. He scored with toughness around the basket, dove on the floor for loose balls and relied on his trademark pinpoint passing. For the entire game, he looked like the Greg Monroe that everyone came to see and he piloted his team to a 75-62 win.
Monroe finished with 30 points (13-23, 1-1 from 3, 3-6 FT), 13 rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and three steals by our count. He made an impact on every angle of the game and glued his team together with his demeanor, patience and readiness to make plays down the stretch against a team that just wouldn't go away.
"Coach told us before the game that we needed to assert ourselves more tonight and I feel like we were able to do that," Monroe said. "I got it going early in the first quarter because my teammates put me in a good position to score. That kind of set the tone for tonight."
Playing under the spotlight of being the number one player in the nation carries high expectations. Monroe said he knows he can't appease everyone every time he steps out onto the floor.
"I think there is a perception that you have to be perfect each time out. I understand that. But you can't get caught up in that. You have to play your game and play with your team and not worry about what you can do. You have to play for the 'W'," Monroe said.
"I'm not too worried about scoring a lot of points. Tonight, it took me scoring 30 to get us the win and to be honest, that is all that I wanted to do."
Harris didn't shy away from the spotlight either. For the second night in a row, the big man from New Hope (Miss.) turned in a tremendous game. The Rivals150 prospect scored 28 points (10-13 FG, 8-11 FT), 12 rebounds, blocked a pair of shots and had two steals. He scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the second half alone.
This has been a statement week so far for Harris. His play drew a compliment from Monroe after the game.
"We've known each other for a while, playing against each other in AAU. He's a good player. He's big, strong and good inside," Monroe said of Harris after the game.
Both big men played like you'd want to see two stars play. In a long line of tremendous games at the City of Palms, this one has to go down as one of the best big men match-ups in the event's history. It was that good.
Rock star status
Samardo Samuels is a rock star in Fort Myers. Before every game, the kids stalk him for an autograph. The crowd pointed at him as the guy to watch. The opposition sized him up in the layup line. Come game time, Samuels looked like the future McDonald's All-American that he will certainly be in three months.
Samuels was unstoppable, going for 26 points (8-16 FG, 10-12 FT) and 10 rebounds as St. Benedict's won 72-44 over Kinston (N.C.). The big fella is having his way so far after a pair of games at the City of Palms and making it look too easy for the nation's number one team.
There was a moment against Kinston when he grabbed a rebound and held it high above his head like a teenager would on the blacktop playing against a bunch of elementary kids.
Samuels, a Louisville signee, has his hands full on Friday when St. Benedict's plays Helen Cox in the semi-finals at 7 p.m.
Boynton bounces back
After scoring 13 points on Wednesday in his team's loss to New Hope and fouling out with seven minutes to play, Kenny Boynton was ready to show what he can do. It didn't take him very long.
Boynton scored the first 11 points of the game for American Heritage and 20 of his team's first 25 points. Boynton finished with 35 points (12-24 FG, 7-16 from 3, 4-7 FT). It was a typical game for the super scorer.
Boynton said Duke and Georgia Tech were recruiting him the hardest at the moment while Florida, Florida State, Miami, Villanova, Connecticut and Wake Forest were also in the picture for him. The race is far from over, he says, as a decision won't come for another year.
Eloy Vargas was slowed by his injured ankle and a zone defense that packed it in on the Florida bound big man. Vargas was held to nine points (3-8 FG, 3-4 FT) and a team-high six rebounds.
Junior point guard Ray Taylor added 16 points (5-9 FG, 2-4 from 3, 4-4 FT) and seven assists in the victory.
The kids are alright
St. Benedict's sophomore big man Tristan Thompson just oozes big time potential. It drips from him. The 6-foot-8 Canadian is long, fluid, athletic, versatile and still very raw in the grand scheme of things. That is why so many of the nation's elite programs are already in love with the class of 2010 prospect.
Thompson scored a modest eight points (2-3 FG, 4-5 FT) and grabbed a loud nine rebounds in a blowout win against Kinston (N.C.). He showed flashes of absolute brilliance in his 16 minutes of action.
His list is growing by the day. Louisville, Texas, Duke, North Carolina, Pitt, Maryland, Florida, Memphis, Connecticut, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Southern Cal and Kansas were rattled off by the youngster. That is quite the who's who list for a young man just laying ground work in the United States.
Kinston High School in North Carolina has produced a long list of pros over the years, including Jerry Stackhouse. Needless to say, the bar has been set pretty high for kids that dress out for the Vikings. The team's most impressive prospect is sophomore Reggie Bullock.
The 6-foot-4 guard has plenty to like about him. The class of 2010 can shoot it, evident by his three three-pointers. He can crash the boards, work the baseline and defend. He's a high-major without thinking too much about it.
One of the best parts of the City of Palms is finding a diamond in the rough. Gainesville High School has one in junior guard Greg Gantt.
The long-armed, strong-bodied guard filled it up against Miami Pace to the tune of 32 points and put on a shooting clinic from three. Gantt shot 12 of 15 from the floor and was eight of nine from deep. His play was inspired against one of the top teams from the Sunshine State.
Gantt said he has interest from all walks of life, including Florida, Central Florida, South Florida, Ohio, UCLA, Stanford, Florida Atlantic, Florida International and Purdue. He's clearly talented and his 6-foot-3 frame is good enough to play with the big boys.
Mid-major schools looking for a quality point guard will want to look long and hard at Mike Machado of St. Benedict's. The unsigned senior doesn't really force the issue, can fly up the floor and can score when needed.
News & Notes
On a night where Pittsburgh basketball fans had plenty to be happy about after a big overtime win over Duke, the Panther faithful would have been elated to see Nasir Robinson in action. The future Pitt player scored 26 points (10-12 FG, 6-8 FT) and grabbed 11 rebounds in an 83-69 win over Scott County (Ky.).
Robinson's trademark is his grit, motor and tough-as-nails attitude on the floor and it was all present on Thursday night. He's a perfect fit for Jamie Dixon and the rough and tough Big East.
For the second game in a row, Karon Burton looked great in the backcourt. The 5-foot-9 unsigned senior from Chester (Pa.) scored 22 points (8-16 FG, 2-6 from 3, 4-4 FT) and handed out nine assists in his team's win.
Burton is a jet-quick guard with the flair for the dramatic. He's been efficient in Fort Myers and runs his team with trademark Philly toughness.
Junior forward Rahlir Jefferson has quietly impressed with his play. However, his 16-point, 11-rebound game in the nightcap was anything but quiet. The 6-foot-6 prospect will be one to watch this spring and summer.
Matthew Humphrey paced Hales Franciscan with 22 points (9-17 FG, 1-5 from 3, 3-4 FT), six steals and five rebounds. The future Oregon Duck is the go-to guy on a very balanced team with plenty of players that can carry the load.
One of the nice surprises of the day was the play of Hales Franciscan point guard D.J. Cooper. He scored 13 points, including three three-pointers, handed out four assists and grabbed nine rebounds against Punta Gorda (Fla.) Charlotte. Not bad for a 5-foot-9 junior.
Another day, another strong piece of work inside the paint for St. Benedict's center Greg Echenique. The four-star junior scored a modest 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds in an easy day's work.
Echenique has been a hot target of late, picking up major offers in the last month. Duke and Memphis are the latest high-major schools to pony up. Maryland, Miami, Notre Dame and Penn are also counted amongst those that are actively recruiting him.
Tamir Jackson, one of the hottest combo guards in the nation from the class of 2009 right now, added 15 points and controlled the backcourt for the Grey Bees.
After a game that Miami Pace would like to quickly move on from against Holy Cross (N.Y.) on Wednesday, the south Florida team bounced back on Thursday. Ray Shipman and Rakeem Buckles helped put the team back on the tracks with their play.
Shipman, a Florida signee, scored 20 points (8-13 FG, 4-4 FT) and collected four rebounds while Buckles scored 16 points (7-9 FG, 2-5 FT) and grabbed five rebounds.
Buckles said he was "this close" to committing to Louisville but wanted to put the brakes on his recruitment because he wanted to see more campuses before pulling the trigger. Florida State, Miami, Florida, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Cincinnati and others are also in the picture.
Helen Cox was playing with somber hearts on Thursday night as a family member of a player on the team tragically died on Wednesday.
Bishop Verot gave American Heritage everything it could handle, out rebounding them 41-15 in the defeat. Big man Ryan Schrotenboer led the charge with 15 rebounds and 14 points.
All eyes on you
Assistant coaches from Auburn, Colorado, High Point, Houston, Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, Louisville, Marshall, Seton Hall, Texas and UMass, amongst others, were spotted in the gym at one point or another on Thursday.
Miami Pace (Fla.) 72, Gainesville (Fla.) 65 American Heritage (Fla.) 63, Bishop Verot (Fla.) 59 St. Benedict's (N.J.) 72, Kinston (N.C.) 44 Hales Franciscan (Ill.) 81, Punta Gorda Charlotte (Fla.) 53 Helen Cox (La.) 75, New Hope (Miss.) 62 Chester (Pa.) 83, Scott Co. (Ky.) 63 Holy Cross (N.Y.) 66, Taft (Calif.) 59
Friday, December 21 10:15 a.m. - Miami Pace (Fla.) vs. Fort Myers Dunbar (Fla.) 12 noon - American Heritage (Fla.) vs. Hales Franciscan (Ill.) 1:45 p.m. - New Hope (Miss.) vs. Scott County (Ky.) 3:30 p.m. - Kinston (N.C.) vs. Taft (Calif.) 5:15 p.m. - Orlando Olympia (Fla.) vs. Fayette County (Ga.) 7:00 p.m. - St. Benedict's (N.J.) vs. Helen Cox (La.) 9:30 p.m. - Chester (Pa.) vs. Winner of Taft-Holy Cross 11:15 p.m. - Gainesville (Fla.) vs. Charlotte (Fla.)