HOUSTON, Texas - It was Gary Johnson's night but it was Darris Santee's shot that won the game in one of the best high school basketball games in recent memory at the fantastic Academy National Invitational at the Aldine Campbell Center. Johnson proved himself as a big time prospect in the class of 2007 while Santee drilled the biggest shot of his life.
With leads getting no bigger than seven points, both Aldine and Fort Bend Marshall fought tooth and nail under the end in the championship game of the Texas Division.
Tied at 67 with the clock winding down, Darris Santee caught the ball in the right corner behind the three-point line and heaved a shot and sank the game winner as the buzzer sounded. Pandemonium set in after as the Marshall bench emptied to celebrate with Santee.
The 6-foot-8 junior said it was the biggest shot of his life and it's easy to understand why. The game was one of the most completive match-ups in recent memory.
While Santee's game-winner will be something of basketball lore over the next couple of years, his put back bucket off a missed free throw from David Devezin helped put Marshall into position to win the game.
Santee showed off his small forward skills all game long and could not have played any better facing the basket, knocking down shots 12 feet and out all game. He had a team high 18 points and 10 rebounds in the 70-67 thriller.
Had Aldine won, Gary Johnson's name would be mentioned already in legend status by the 3,500 or so people that witnessed the game.
Johnson may just be a sophomore but the kid played like someone who has been in hundreds of big games. The 6-foot-7 forward out did himself from Wednesday night's outstanding performance. Like three other starters for Aldine, Johnson played all 32 minutes and he could not have played them any better.
The class of 2007 product did nothing but earn the respect of player, fans and media members with his game. Johnson scored 26 points, snatched 11 rebounds and played the entire game committing just one foul. It's a shame that only one major conference school - Texas A&M - was here to see it.
Big city showdown
There was no way New York's Christ the King and California's Westchester could top the game prior to theirs but the championship game for the National Division was earned in every way. The Queens based Royals just out toughed the top team from L.A. to get a 49-41 victory.
Chris Martin, Akeem Gooding, Larry Davis and Adam Walker played the team game at it's best. The four combined for 40 of Christ the King's 49 total points and didn't get one easy score all night long.
Martin and Gooding played strong all night by attacking and just taking it to the Westchester defense as much as possible. Gooding had a team high 16 points. Davis and Martin added 10 each while Malik Boothe, just a sophomore played great with the ball as the point in the second half.
Bob Oliva and his troops earned their keep all week with wins over Arlington Country Day (Fla.), Westbury Christian (Texas) and Westchester.
We meet again
Westbury Christian and DeMatha met each other already in December, playing at the Gonzaga D.C. Classic. The Stags won. Think Westbury was ready for a rematch? The Texas boys traded baskets with the legendary Maryland school in the first half thanks in large part to a strong effort from Peter Stein, who led Westbury with nine first half points.
A 26-point third quarter won the game for DeMatha, as the Stags got production from nearly everyone.
Take one look at Jeff Allen and you'll see a guy with high-major potential. He's long, active, athletic and gets up and down the floor with long strides and a bouncy
Nigel Munson is a true point guard. You can't say that about a lot guys anymore. Not a great shooter or a scorer, Munson is content with setting his team up and making things happen in the half court. College coaches will need to get out and see him play at DeMatha because he said he won't be a fixture on the AAU circuit this summer.
Munson doesn't need to score with guys like Austin Freeman and Mamadi Diane around him. Diane, a Virginia recruit, had a game high 17 points and 10 rebounds. Freeman, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, poured in 12 points.
Freeman can score in a variety of ways and did just that all tournament long. In the class of 2007, there are a number of good guards but there are few that have the kind of size that Freeman has. At 6-foot-5, 215-pounds, he has no problem getting inside the paint with the dribble and he absorbs contact with little problem.
Two of high school basketball's biggest bodies went at it when Jeremy Barr and Desmond Adedeji met on the blocks. Barr, who stands on size 22 shoes and measures out at 6-feet-7, 245-pounds, and Adedeji, 6-feet-9, 280-pounds, stopped the earth's rotation when they banged inside. Barr showed some spunk on offense, backing down Adediji and had a two hand dunk in transition. Barr utilized his huge hands for 15 points and eight boards.
Florida teams come up big
The ceiling on Franck Ndongo is one of the highest for kids in the class of 2006. The long 6-foot-7 small forward from Cameroon really opened some eyes with his play at the ANI. Defensively, there aren't a lot of kids that know how to defend like he can. The 17-year-old will get into a player for 32 straight minutes and lock down just about anybody that comes his way.
Offensively, Ndongo is still a ways away from being a complete player but with the work ethic he has and his ability to quickly adapt to the instruction his coaches give him will help speed the learning curve along. High majors are going to fall in love with his potential as a Division I player.
Future Baylor Bear Demond Carter will always be one to score some points but his gutty effort against Arlington Country Day was impressive. The 5-foot-9 scoring point guard came up with buckets every way imaginable and his ability to make the pass with less than a minute to play helped push the Eagles into a position to win the ball game.
After a ACD turnover, Carter drew the foul while shooting a three pointer, sinking two of three freebies, cutting the score to 57-56 with 15 seconds to play. ACD sank one free throw and then Carter had his chance to get the win. He had his shot but the attempt hit the back iron. Regardless of his missed shot, Carter gave a great show in a great game. He finished with 24 points, 18 of which came in the second half.
Another day, another good game from Josue Soto. The junior point guard knows the game and knows how to find the right guys to score at the right time. He's done nothing but impress the whole week in the Lone Star State.
Seven-foot-2 center Jason Bennett had a stong 12 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks against Reserve Christian, a team without any presence inside. Offensively, Bennett scored 10 feet and in took the shots he needed to take.
You can't question the outcome, effort and the size of Sammy Hernandez's heart. The future James Madison power forward is a blue-collar guy in the truest essence of the word. He put in 14 points and 10 boards in winning fashion.
Unsigned senior guard Brian Hoff had a quiet but strong week here in Houston. He's an insurance shooter on the wing and doesn't do his damage on the wing. Ivy Leagues and mid-majors are trying hard to lock him up. He's played with a college like high school team and he'll be battle tested and well-coached before ever suiting up for his NCAA days.
After playing great defense for 30 minutes, Luc Richard Mbahamoute, who signed with UCLA in the early period, and L.D. Williams, a 6-foot-4 athletic two guard from N.C., had an impromptu slam dunk contest. Mbahamoute sliced through the lane and elevated for throw down.
Williams, who is always prone to giving an aerial show, came back two possession later for an alley-oop he had to chase down near the rafters.
Vytautas Valiulis, a 6-foot-1 point guard from Lithuania, is a point guard that will work well with a number of low to mid-major teams. He's a guy that will be the vocal leader that sets the tone of the game with his non-stop energy, dive on the floor mentality and his ability to run a the half court offense. Coaches will appreciate what kind of player he is.
Martellus Bennett got his points but his Alief Taylor team dropped another game. The 6-foot-7 moose of a player put in a tournament high 38 points in a loss to South Garland. He missed just five shots all game and all five misses were behind the three point line.
One characteristic of Nic Wise that doesn't go noticed is his ability to be a leader. Down by as many as 15 to Westfield, Wise helped Kingwood rally back in the second half with a three point bucket after crossing his man over to clear out some space. Two plays later, the 5-foot-9 point guard made a dart of a pass to one of his big men who in turn botched the bucket. The always even keeled Wise just gave his teammate a quick look pat on the back and said "I'll get you again." Simple, but effective.
The Westfield (Texas) guard trio of Chris Hagan, Derek Barnes and Orlando Wilson played strong all week long and capped it off with a 56-52 victory over Kingwood.
Hagan, a 5-foot-9 junior guard, is a jitterbug point guard and always seemed to be the foundation of good runs for Westfield. He's not a guy with a big national name because he said he's never played AAU basketball but plans to this year. The class of 2006 product said he's hearing from Rice.
Trent Boone of South Garland was one of the nice surprises from the ANI. Blessed with football size and basketball skill, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound shooting guard plays with good intensity and fights hard for all of his buckets.
Oklahoma State came to Texas and snagged the state's best point guard and top athlete in Byron Eaton and Gerald Green. They may have snagged the state's most impressive team player too in South Garland's Terell Harris. He can be the man on offense, he can also revert to being a second or third option. Harris is quite an athlete himself, proven by a couple dunks in traffic.
This concludes Rivals.com's coverage from the Academy National Invitational here in Houston. Rivals.com National Basketball Recruiting Analyst Justin Young will have a Just A Minute column coming soon with more from the nation's top post-Christmas tournament.