ATLANTA, GA. - The first annual National Elite Athletic Association (NEAA) NIT tournament kicked off the 2005-2006 highs school basketball season on Wednesday night and guys like Chris Singletary of Florida Prep helped the event start off strong while a tournament heavyweight went down on day one.
At first glance, Stoneridge Prep (Calif.) looks like a collegiate roster. Filled with 6-foot-8-plus post players from Africa, head coach Babacar Sy has a team that will be tough to defend in the post, especially for the much smaller Covenant Christian (Ga.) squad.
Size didn't matter on Wednesday night. Covenant Christian rode the stellar play of guard Angelo Johnson to a 53-45 victory. Johnson, a 5-foot-10 guard from Minneapolis, Minn., was fearless all game long and helped spark his squad all game long. He led all scorers with 22 points.
Covenant head coach Frederick Anderson said he's not surprised with the effort put forth by Johnson.
"He was the best player on the court," Anderson said. "He was the biggest man out there tonight. From end to end, he was the biggest guy out there. That's what he does. Every game we play, he just makes it go.
"That's what he's got to do at the next level. He has to prove himself. He did that against Oak Hill when we played them.Angelo is going to bring it win or lose."
Johnson has since reclassified to the class of 2008 since moving away from Minnesota, says Johnson, in order to work on his credit load.
Johnson's offensive efforts and pesky defense helped Covenant Christian to a lead that was as big as 14 at one point but Stoneridge had it's guards, Herb Tanner and Shane Mahoney go to a press and eventually tied the game 40-40.
Tanner, a Boston native, helped cut the lead with his dead-eye shooting and 6-foot-10 senior Mamadou Diarra had a huge second half to help Stoneridge get back in the game. Tanner finished with 14 and Diarra ended with 12.
Four-star prospect Hamady N'diaye did not look like the same guy that wowed everyone that saw him this summer. Still very raw on the offensive end, he had a hard time staying out of foul trouble and eventually fouled out. He gets too overzealous trying to block shots and bit too often on pump fakes.
Florida Prep has little trouble
With a 1-2 punch of Chris Singletary and Pierre Niles, perhaps two of the strongest players in the nation, Florida Prep muscled through a stingy Sound Doctrine (Ga.) team 94-68.
Singletary was just too big and too strong to defend. He knifed his way through the defense en route to a tournament day high 24 points. The Chicago native may not be the quickest or most athletic player out there but he'll find a way to make things happen with his strength.
Niles, a Memphis signee, is a rarity. At 6-foot-8, 265-pounds, he's incredibly light on his feet and quick off the floor for a player his size. Julius Peppers comparisons are legitimate. He struggled with foul trouble but did enough in the post for Florida Prep to hold off a hot-shooting Sound Doctrine team.
Ashaolu, an ever-improving class of 2008 prospect, is difficult to defend because of his incredible wing-span that he uses for offensive rebounds and huge target in the post. The Toronto native has improved his ball-handling ability, allowing him to utilize his athleticism to attack from the wing. His long arms and huge hands are an added asset as a rebounder and shot-blocker. He's living up to his big Canadian rep early this season. Ashaolu ended with a game-high 20 points.
Tat, a Virginia commitment, scored the game's first four straight buckets and finished with 19 points. GAAA had little answer to stop him from the wing. His best strength is attacking the basket off the dribble and he utilized that to his advantage.
Rogers, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, is a relentless worker and collected most of his points on put-backs and creating havoc on the defensive end for transition scores.
One of the reasons why the trio was so successful was the crafty court vision of 2009 point guard Junior Cadougan. The stocky 5-foot-10 floor general was running the offense with little problem and found his teammates with little trouble.
GAAA produced current Georgia Tech freshman Paco Diaw last season and this year the school is hoping to see 6-foot-7 forward Kandi Makoli move on to the next level, too. The 2006 prospect is originally from Belgium and has had little trouble adapting to the physical style of play in the United States. Makoli is strictly a power forward and would make a nice prospect for a low to mid-major school.
There was a common sentiment all night long on the first day of action regarding recruiting.
Everyone seemed to say that. Sy, the head coach for Stoneridge, said all of his players remain open to colleges and hope to see schools turn up the heat once the season gets into full steam.
N'diaye said he has not taken any visits and remains open to all comers. Diarra is an intriguing player that could very well sign with a high-major school in the late period due to his raw potential. He's a great face up shooter 15 feet and out but needs to drastically improve his hands in the post and become more confident under the basket.
Johnson, the star for Covenant Christian, said he's hearing from a wide variety of programs. Iowa State, Georgetown, Florida, Wisconsin, Western Carolina, Georgia Southern, Temple and West Virginia have all inquired this year.
Singletary said he's open and will likely wait until the late period to make any decisions. He's still considering Missouri, Indiana and Fresno State but interested in hearing from others.
Ossumane Cisse, a 6-foot-8 power forward from Community Christian School (Ga.) told Rivals.com that he is headed to Northeastern University.
His teammate Solomon Tat, a Virginia commitment, did not sign early citing he wanted to keep all of his options open (professional ventures overseas) before inking. Tat remains "100 percent committed" to the Cavs though, he said.
College coaches will make their way in to town on Friday, when the NCAA lifts the dead period evaluation time for the early signing period. Tournament organizer Linzy Davis said he anticipates every major conference to be represented.
Covenant Christian (Ga.) is a new name to the national circuit but this scrappy team is looking forward to the challenges of becoming a team to be reckoned with. They've already played Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. The NEAA tournament is just the beginning for the rigorous schedule. They'll play IMG of Florida, Laurinburg Institute (N.C.), Mt. Zion (N.C.), Central Park (Ala.), Genesis One (Miss.), Our Savior New American (N.Y.), Notre Dame Prep (Mass.) and Prince Avenue Prep (S.C.).
Singletary, a Chicago native, is tough as nails. When he was looking for pre-wrap for his ankle and couldn't find any, he opted to tape onto his bare skin instead. Asked if it will hurt taking the tape off, his response was, "Yeah, so what." You gotta love a kid like that.
Thursday should provide for more competitive games as some of the heavy-hitters arrive in Atlanta. Boys to Men from Chicago, Harmony Prep from Cincinnati and Genesis One from Mississippi roll into town for their first games.
Thursday's action: 5:30pm Stoneridge Prep vs Boys to Men @ Greater Atlanta Adventist Academy 5:30pm Classic- Sound Doctrine vs Covenant Christian @ Covenant Christian 7:00pm Florida Prep vs Genesis 1 Elite @ Covenant Christian 7:00pm Genesis 1 Select vs Toronto Prep @Greater Atlanta Adventist Academy 8:30pm GAAA vs Harmony Prep @ Greater Atlanta Adventist Academy