FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The second day of the City of Palms will be one go down as one of the best first round games in the history of the 35 year tournament thanks in the large part to a huge game from one of the biggest and most talented unsigned seniors in the country.
Harris plays huge
The crowd that packed into the Bishop Verot gym on Wednesday night came to see two of the top players in the Sunshine State in Kenny Boynton and Eloy Vargas in action. There was no disputing that. When the game was over, the entire building was talking about Rashanti Harris.
Harris was absolutely dominating in his New Hope team's 82-78 overtime victory over American Heritage. The unsigned senior scored 32 points (11-20 FG, 10-12 FT) and grabbed 25 rebounds.
Historically, his game was up there with a performance put in by Kevin Love two years ago, when the then junior went for upwards of 30 rebounds in a game. Harris was amongst elite company on Wednesday.
The beauty of Harris's gem of a game wasn't so much the numbers, it was the way he achieved them. He understood his value as a true big man and never did anything offensively out of his comfort zone down low. He patiently scored with athletic and agile moves around the basket, got to the foul line and converted the freebies. Simply stated, he just out-manned anyone around him.
If junior college is the final option for Harris, a man child disguised in a 6-foot-9, 250-pound body, watch out. He said Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Memphis, Florida and Tennessee Tech were still keeping tabs but sources say there is a slim chance he can make academically.
Harris has a chance to play basketball for a long time because of his sheer size, ability to throw his naturally strong body around inside the paint for buckets at the rim and rebounds.
Not to be outdone in the match-up, Vargas was just as impressive. The future Florida Gator scored 21 points (7-15 FG, 7-13 FT), grabbed 16 rebounds, blocked three shots and had a couple of steals.
Even with foul trouble, Vargas was effective inside. The five-star forward has been slowed by a bum ankle all season long but showed no problems on Wednesday night. It is nice to see him not back down to Harris around the cup. The future Florida big man will face guys like Harris in the SEC.
Boynton also struggled with foul trouble and eventually fouled out early in the fourth quarter. He never truly found his rhythm, scoring 13 points on five of 17 shooting. New Hope did a tremendous job on him defensively, playing a box and one defense on him throughout.
Boynton came out strong to start the second half, scoring eight points in a minute span but quickly picked up number four and was regulated to the bench for the rest of the quarter.
With Boynton on the bench, American Heritage relied on the play of speedster Ray Taylor. The pint-sized point guard might be one of the fastest players in the nation and he plays at a pace that nobody can keep up with.
Taylor scored 24 points (9-25 FG, 4-9 from 3, 2-3 FT) and handed out five assists in the game.
Sylven's learning center
New York teams have always had success at the City of Palms tournament. The Empire State has claimed two tournament titles and given opponents plenty of headaches over the years.
This year's New York representative is Holy Cross and they were rewarded with a match-up against defending 4A Florida state champions Miami Pace. For Sylven Landesberg and his teammates, the match-up was something that they were ready for.
"The Catholic League in New York is such a tough league so when we go out of state, we are going to be really well prepared for games like this every night," Landesberg said. "We feel like we play in one of the toughest leagues in the nation."
Landesberg, who inked with Virginia in the fall, scored 26, grabbed 11 rebounds and had five assists by our count.
"The key for us was to come here ready to play," Landesberg said. "We knew that they were a good team and we knew that we had to defend them and play them like we knew what we were doing."
The future ACC guard certainly did. He's an old soul player that seems to make the play rather than go for the wow. His old school approach sets the tone for his club, who shot nearly 62 percent in the second half and turned a five-point halftime lead into a 19-point victory.
News & Notes
After last year's ho-hum performance at the City of Palms future Florida Gator Ray Shipman was ready to knock any cobwebs off of his game from the time before here. He'll tell you it wasn't pretty. This year, he hopes, is different.
Shipman came out right out of the gates, scoring on his first two three-point attempts in the first quarter and finished with 13 points in the first half. He finished with 25 points (8-18, 3-6 from 3, 6-11 FT).
Technically speaking, Shipman's shot looks better. His mechanics on his jumper tightened out his perimeter game and he is knocking down more shots instead of powering his way to the basket for scores. His performance on Wednesday night still left a lot to be desired. Shipman said he's hoping for a redemption game on Thursday.
There were a lot of important eyes in the Bishop Verot gym on Rakeem Buckles of Miami Pace. Why? Word is out of South Florida that he is off to a hot start to the year and looking more and more like a sure fire high-major prospect.
The City of Palms is the perfect place to justify his recruiting interest and a place for separation. Against Holy Cross, Buckles left more for the imagination as he scored a quiet nine points (4-8 FG) and grabbed six rebounds before fouling out.
The 6-foot-8 junior had a hard time catching the ball as a rebounder and setting up shop in the post on the offensive end of the floor. This wasn't the best game he had to offer. He knows it, too. Like Shipman, Buckles said there is plenty more up his sleeve for the later games this week.
New Hope is home to an unsigned shooting guard that played a tremendous game against American Heritage. Dale Hughes, a 6-foot-2 guard, scored a game high 34 points (9-26 FG, 5-13 from 3, 11-12 FT) in his team's big overtime win. His sharp-shooting and huge blocked shot on Taylor at the end of regulation were major factors in the victory.
South Alabama and Middle Tennessee State are looking like players for the straight A student right now, his coach says.
UNLV quietly landed California guard Justin Hawkins right before the season started and it looks like the Rebels came away with a good looking player in the 6-foot-2 junior.
Hawkins was great in the midrange, knocked down the easy jumpers and scored a quick 20 points in 20 minutes of action. He's quick with the ball and smart on the floor. Lon Kruger nabbed a guy that can be a quick offense player during his four years with the Mountain West program.
Future North Carolina point guard Larry Drew didn't need to do much in his team's blow out win over Charlotte High School. He scored 12 points and knocked down both of his three-point attempts.
Isaiah Philmore played big in the second half, utilizing his high motor and scoring inside and converted on and one opportunities. Defensively, he kept Dunbar away from interior points with less than two minutes to play. His energy was the pace car late in the game but the John Carroll bus just ran out of gas in the end. Philmore scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the defeat.
Dago Pena scored 20 of his team's 40 points to Taft High School. Pena signed with Florida Atlantic in the fall.
Blaise Ffrench, a 6-foot shooter for Holy Cross, had a hot hand against Miami Pace. His perimeter touch sparked a huge second half run thanks in large part to the team's precise shooting on the wing. Ffrench said Quinnipiac, Central Connecticut and Manhattan have all offered the senior guard.
The kids are alright
David Paulk, a muscular 6-foot-4, 200-pound shooting guard from Dunbar, is a player to watch from Fort Myers. He was strong with his jumper from the top of the key as he hit three three-pointers. The class of 2010 prospect was confident from deep.
"That's what I do," Paulk said with a wry smile after the game. "My team put me in a good spot to hit those shots."
While it is still early in the process for Paulk, he said he has heard from Virginia Commonwealth, Kentucky and Southern Cal.
Next in line at Miami Pace is freshman guard Darrius Perkins. The 6-foot rookie came off the bench and knocked down a pair of three-pointers off of drive and kicks. In the second half, he knocked down a good-looking pull-up jumper from the left elbow.
Defensively, Perkins didn't have any objections to defending Landesberg down low. In fact, he was one the few guys that didn't mind getting his hands dirty on defense. His role is limited but looked like the team's best shooter by game's end. Keep an eye on him as he's one of the top young guys in Florida.
All eyes on you
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino was in the house along with assistant coach Walter McCarty and Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton and assistant Andy Enfield were the coaching staffs with multiple bodies in the building. Assistant coaches from Connecticut, Georgia Tech, High Point, North Florida, Ohio State, Seton Hall and Stetson all made it out, too.
Dunbar (Fla.) 60, John Carroll (Md.) 55 Flushing Holy Cross (N.Y.) 81, Miami Monsignor Pace (Fla.) 62 Woodland Hills Taft (Calif.) 77, Punta Gorda Charlotte (Fla.) 40 Columbus New Hope (Miss.) 82, Plantation American Heritage (Fla.) 78 (OT) Chicago Hales Franciscan (Ill.) vs. Scott County (Ky.)
Thursday, Dec. 20 12 noon - Miami Pace (Fla.) vs. Gainesville (Fla.) 1:45 p.m. - Bishop Verot (Fla.) vs. Amer. Heritage (Fla.) 3:30 p.m. - St. Benedict's (N.J.) vs. Kinston (N.C.) 5:15 p.m. - Punta Gorda Charlotte (Fla.) vs. Gm 10 loser (Hales-Dunbar/Scott Co.) 7:00 p.m. - New Hope (Miss.) vs. Helen Cox (La.) 9:30 p.m. - Chester (Pa.) vs. Gm 10 winner (Hales-Dunbar/Scott Co.) 11:15 p.m. - Taft (Calif.) vs. Holy Cross (N.Y.)