With the McDonald's All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic now in the rear view mirror, the second annual Mary Kline Classic this past weekend offered a glimpse of tomorrow's stars.
The New Jersey-based event, which featured an underclassmen game, senior game, three-point contest and dunk contest, was organized by 17-year-old Recruit Scoop publisher Alex Kline and featured some of the best talent in the East. More importantly, $20,000 was raised toward cancer research, a cause close to Kline's heart after his mother died from brain cancer when he was 10. Here are some of the event's highlights:
Jaren Sina earned MVP honors for the Red team, dishing out 14 assists in a losing effort to the Blue team in the underclassmen game. The junior guard from Gill St. Bernard (Gladstone, N.J.) had the crowd in awe with his passing skills, finding teammates on alley-oops and in transition while handling the ball like a yo-yo. Sina, who said he was going for 20 assists, talked afterward about how his passing will be just as important as his scoring next season. "Part of leadership is getting guys involved, dishing out assists and making plays," said Sina, whose recruitment remains wide open after decommitting from Alabama last year. With three-point specialist Alex Mitola and talented forward Dominic Hoffman graduating, all eyes will be on Sina to help the Knights build on last year's 27-4 campaign and run to the Non-Public B title game.
On the Blue team, St. Benedict's Prep (Newark, N.J.) guard Tyler Ennis offered more evidence to justify his selection as Gatorade State Player of the Year. The junior poured in 24 points on an array of jumpers and drives. Fresh off picking up new offers from LSU and UCLA, Ennis showed great floor chemistry with St. Benedict's freshman Isaiah Briscoe, who played a key role in the Gray Bees' 35-3 campaign. "We're adding some more guys next year and playing with Isaiah today is great for our chemistry," Ennis said. "He averaged about 10 or 11 points last year and we're expecting him to score even more next year."
Ennis also talked some about the recent rise of fellow Canadian players like Huntington Prep (West Va.) sophomore Andrew Wiggins and Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) senior Anthony Bennett. Despite his countrymen getting the best of the U.S. at the Nike Hoop Summit, Ennis wasn't quite ready to give Canada the edge over the American basketball scene. Still, he knows there's plenty of reason for coaches to keep an eye up north. "Playing in Jersey has really helped with my recruitment because you have more coaches coming to see you," Ennis said. "We've got a ways to go to win the Olympics or anything, but there's definitely some talent coming out of Canada."
While all-star games are often a place to rack up the points, Karl Towns Jr.was more concerned with performing well on the 3-point rack. Standing 6-foot-11 with a size 20 shoe, the St. Joseph (Metuchen, N.J.) freshman was easily the biggest participant in the 3-point contest. Towns, who hit 70 3-pointers last fall, didn't disappoint, reaching the finals before falling 8-7 to Hallice Cooke of St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.). "My coach kept telling me 'Show them big men can shoot,' so I said I'm going to go out there and show them" Towns said. "For me, I always practice 3s, so when I missed those I felt bad because those are usually like chippies for me. I was mad I lost but I was here for a bigger reason." Expect a breakout sophomore season for Towns, an inside-outside threat who will be the star for St. Joseph with Quenton DeCosey graduating.
Two other Jersey guys who impressed were Jermaine Lawrence, who won MVP honors for the Blue team after dropping 27 points. The Pope John (Sparta, N.J.) junior has been on a tear of late, opening the eyes of recruiters with his play on the New Rens AAU squad. The other was Tyler Roberson, a junior from Roselle Catholic and the No. 16 player in the ESPN 60. A transfer and injuries made for a "frustrating" sophomore campaign, but Roberson said "that all has motivated me to play even harder next year."
Aaron Gordon injury update
Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.) forward Aaron Gordon may be sidelined at the moment with a broken bone in his toe, but the No. 3 player in the ESPN 60 is adamant he'll be back to 100 percent by the end of the summer.
"I'm just gonna let it rest," said Gordon, who said surgery was unnecessary for the nagging injury. "I've been in a boot for two weeks, and I'll probably be in it for three more weeks. Then I just have to come back and knock off the rust."
The 6-foot-8 Gordon averaged 22.9 points and 12.8 rebounds while leading Archbishop Mitty to a state championship this winter. The foot had been bothering him for the better part of a year, so Gordon decided this would be the opportune time to let it heal. He figures he'll be back for most of the key AAU tournaments, and his big target is the Team USA U-17 trials.
"My goal is to be back in time for the USA Basketball tryouts in mid-June," he said. "I should be fine by then."
Future is now
College coaches’ pressure to win has never been greater. The never-ending pursuit to get an edge on the competition has caused coaches and their staffs to spend more time evaluating, and in some instances offering scholarships, to players who have yet to play a high school game.
For decades, college coaches have known about the best middle school players. Nowadays, coaches are forging relationships with middle school prospects and, when permitted, spending time watching middle school games.
One of the country’s top eighth graders in 6-foot-2 Eron Gordon. He is the younger brother of 2007 ESPNHS All-American Eric Gordon, who attended Indianapolis’ North Central High School and currently plays for the New Orleans Hornets. This past season, Midwest colleges such as Michigan State, Butler, Indiana and Purdue watched Eron’s games at Indianapolis' Westlane Middle School.
According to the Indianapolis Star, Indiana and Purdue have offered Eron a scholarship.
A decade ago, early offers were noteworthy when a prospect was in ninth or tenth grade, but the recruiting game is constantly changing. Some college coaches don't like watching middle school games, but it comes with the territory when coaching at a school where winning a NCAA title is the goal.
Like his older brother, Eron will also attend North Central next fall.
Love (sometimes hate) and basketball
When you’re an elite hoop prospect, just about everyone shows you love -- from the coaches recruiting you to the former players and alums of those programs. Then of course, there are the die-hard fans that show up at your games, create websites and Twitter pages in your honor and send you messages about how you will achieve immortality playing at the school they religiously follow.
But when the final commitment is made and ties to those other programs are severed, things can get ugly in an instant. Scorned fans can be relentless in their attacks -- especially with the access to top recruits afforded by Twitter and Facebook -- leaving recruits to ponder what they did wrong.
This past week, Anthony Bennett of Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) was the target of such an attack after he trimmed his list to UNLV and Oregon. He was met with a barrage of profane-laden tweets from Kentucky and Florida fans incensed by his decision, including several that wished injury on the No. 7 ranked player in the ESPN 100.
Amid the hostility, Bennett remained professional and focused on making a sound decision regarding his future. He responded to his detractors with one meaningful tweet: “… Motivation …” He is expected to make his final choice in the coming days.
David Auguste and Mike Grimala contributed to this report.