HOUSTON, TEXAS - After playing seven games in the tournament, both Minnesota Magic and Pittsburgh JOTS were in the final stages of the marathon called the Kingwood Classic. The two 16 and under programs met up in their age division championship game and one will take home the coveted tournament championships.
Sometimes it's not about the sprint but about the finish and with a number of the elite AAU clubs falling by the wayside, Minnesota and Pittsburgh rode their stars out but also had tremendous contributions from their teammates en route the championship final.
Minnesota Magic took advantage of Cole Aldrich's big body inside all tournament long as the five-star prospect held down the paint. His presence alone allowed guys like Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber to score from the perimeter and made teams play honest defense on the shooters.
Aldrich finished six points and struggled with foul trouble. His interior defense, however, was beyond impressive, particularly on the uber-talented Herb Pope.
Pope, an early Pitt commitment, aggressively attacked the basket and went strong at Aldrich but the Minnesota big man thwarted that effort away and set the tone inside. Aldrich is one of the biggest big men presences in this 2007 group. Good luck to those that try and score at the rim against him in the future. He's hard to get through and around. Just ask Pope.
Pope had an outstanding tournament and showed an evolution in his game that should have Jamie Dixon and staff smiling, and patiently waiting, for the next two years. Pope is a big time athlete that runs the floor well in the lanes, he's a good finisher with both hands around the basket, his perimeter shooting is very reliable and his passing skills are sharp.
Pope proved over the weekend that he's to be counted amongst the elite players in the class of 2007. The big man scored 14 points in the defeat.
Chicago versus Atlanta
One of the gems of the day was finding the match-up between Mean Streets Express and the Georgia Stars 16 and under team. It also pinned Derrick Rose and Gani Lawal on the same court at the same time. The two five-star prospects in the class of 2007 were two of the marquee names in the tournament and neither one did anything to diminish their status as the elite players in the class of 2007 group.
Never more than a seven point lead for either team, the Georgia Stars were able to make some huge defensive plays in the final minutes of the game to pull away with the 77-72 victory.
Lawal was pushing double digits in blocked shots to go along with his team high 18 points in the huge victory. The arms on the long 6-foot-8 forward from Riverdale (Ga.) High School seem to extend forever when he goes up for dunks, rebounds and blocks.
On one possession, Lawal blocked three shots in one trip down. He's quick off the floor and doesn't bite on the amateur head fakes. Offensively, Lawal does his best damage close the rim and knows what to do with it when he's by the iron.
Even those his team lost, Rose was unstoppable for 30 of the total 32 minutes of the game. The ultra-quick elite guard did whatever he wanted with the ball and he used his quickness to continue to pound his way to the basket.
Rose pulled up for some nothing but net jumpers. The one play that really stood out though was his jump and duck from hitting your head on the back board block he had on Lawal. Rose sprinted the length of the floor for the rejection.
Make no mistake about it: Rose is the real deal.
Jeremy Price, a solid big man prospect of his own, busted his tail inside the paint and showed flashes of whey coaches are looking at him long and hard.
Adrian Williams, the son of former Washington Redskins quarter Doug Williams, came up big in the second half with his dribble penetration skills. He got the basket at will and made some acrobatic plays at the rim in pressure situations. Think he got a little two-minute drill training from pops? He was as poised as his father, the Super Bowl MVP.
Former DePaul head coach Dave Laieto and assistant Gene Cross were courtside to see Rose and the rest of Mean Streets Express. The new Virginia coaches were seen watching several Illinois and Chicago teams in Houston. Why not get in early with the Windy City's finest prospect. Michigan State was also in the gym.
Georgia head coach Dennis Felton was also in the crowd to see Lawal, Price, Williams and the rest of the talented 16 and under squad from the Peach State. The Bulldogs are in Lawal's top five options and Price is claiming an offer from the SEC school.
In other 16U action
Chris Warren isn't a big name on the national recruiting scene and hidden away in some of the remote gyms at the Kingwood in the 16 and under division, Warren probably didn't play in front of too many coaches over the weekend. Nevertheless, don't be surprised to see this 5-foot-11 scoring point guard from Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando land at a major school.
Warren scored 18 points in his Orlando Wildcats' final game of the tournament. He lit it up from the perimeter all weekend and helped carry the team to the quarterfinals in the highest 16 and under division.
The Utah Swoosh was the next stop for the Stars and the boys from the Wasatch front just out-fundamentaled the Georgia program. Crisp passing, sharp shooting and team ball knocked the Stars out.
The Swoosh boasts it's fair share of players to watch. The team's best college prospect is just a freshman. Ben Aird, a 6-foot-7 power forward from Bountiful High School is a hard-working big man that empties the tank inside the paint.
Boys to men
As the 16 and under field provided fireworks on Sunday, there were a number of young players that shined in the 17 and under field as well. And one of the best players in the entire field isn't even in high school.
Renardo Sidney, a 6-foot-8 forward for MBA Hoops-Black, Sure the class of 2009 seems likes a decade away, Sidney is one tremendous talent. Already with a great body in the eighth grade, this young stud has got a chance to develop his already jump shot, improve his handle and work on his rebounding. All of those skills are already miles ahead of his peers. Rankings for kids this young are pointless but it isn't too far of a stretch to say Sidney is the best of the best in his class.
DeAndre Jordan took full advantage of playing on the main Westfield High School gym on Sunday afternoon with his Houston Swoosh squad. The left-handed 6-foot-9 forward from Episcopal High School is incredibly bouncy, long and full of high-major potential. He had a great spin move off his defender on the baseline and cocked it back for a nasty dunk over his man. College coaches where packed in the standing room only gym when he shined so well. Expect his recruitment to blow up this week.