ATLANTA -- The second annual Elite 8 Thanksgiving Hardwood Classic held at Georgia State University featured some of the top players in the Atlanta area. The event was well run with great matchups. In Game 1, Lithia Springs -- led by Georgia Southern-bound guard Trey Bussey's 33 points -- defeated SW Christian Academy 82-68, while attendees at Game 2 witnessed future NC State point guard Ryan Harrow explode for 47 points as Walton came back from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat Creekside 84-79.
The evening games started off with a down-to-the-wire finish that saw Westlake knock off Centennial 65-64 behind Clemson signee Marcus Thornton's 20 points. The most anticipated game of the day, between two teams with multiple highly rated prospects, pitted Milton versus Miller Grove. It was Milton's perimeter scoring -- consisting of sharpshooting sophomore Evan Nolte (25 points), along with the guard tandem of Shannon Scott and Dai-Jon Parker, who combined for 35 points -- that proved to be the difference as Milton won 81-70.
Ryan Harrow, PG, (6-0, 160)
2010, Roswell, Marietta, Ga./Walton
Don't let Harrow's willowy frame fool you; the kid is an assassin. While exploding for 47 points he showed his ability to score in a variety of ways. The NC State signee knocks it down from behind the arc, gets into the paint or to the rim at will and is automatic from the free throw line. He plays with extreme confidence and is fearless attacking the rim versus bigger players. He has great body control and is surprisingly explosive going to the basket in transition. He brought the thunder on a couple of occasions that got the crowd to its feet. Although he spends a lot of time playing off the ball for his high school team, he needs to be more discrete with his passes because he turned it over five times with a few careless decisions. He will need to develop his body to defend and compete against some off the bigger ACC guards, but he is a handful to contain in his own right and is capable of running a team, while still being a scoring threat.
Dai-Jon Parker, SG, (6-2, 185)
2011, Alpharetta, Ga./Milton
Parker is built like a high-level guard and is a scoring machine. He is an explosive dynamic athlete who scores in bunches and can take over a game. He has a good looking stroke out to the 3-point line; showed the ability to shot fake and dribble into his shot; or he can get it to the basket where he is able to absorb contact and finish. He is effective in either an up-tempo or half court game, but he shines in transition where he does a good job of filling a lane or spotting up. He is a solid secondary handler that can assist in breaking the press and is a good decision maker off the dribble. With his combination of strength, length and athleticism he has the potential to be a lock-down defender. He has developed into one of the top shooting guards in the 2011 class and will be highly sought after in the recruiting process.
Shannon Scott, PG, (6-2, 170)
2011, Alpharetta, Ga./Milton
With his outstanding skill set Scott has tremendous basketball ability, but as a point guard he is ahead of the curve for most players his age because he has already figured out what his main job is as a leader on the floor: win! He is a smart playmaker is and an excellent push guy that sets the tempo and puts incredible pressure on the defense by getting the ball up the floor into scoring areas. He knows how to utilize a ball screen and is money pulling up off the dribble from the free-throw area. He is a solid defender that covers a lot of ground and does a nice job on the ball. He is great at getting into the paint and finding an open teammate, but sometimes he plays too fast resulting in a few unforced turnovers; he needs to avoid leaving his feet without knowing who to pass it to. Scott combines with Parker to form one of the top backcourts in the 2011 class.
Trey Bussey, SG, (6-3, 165)
2010, Lithia Springs, Ga./Lithia Springs
Bussey is an intelligent player who does a nice job of picking his spots. The long-armed lefty is a scorer that is excellent at finishing with either around the basket and has a nice mid-range, pull-up jumper off the dribble. He can knock down a 3-ball, but his release is inconsistent sometimes resulting in sideways ball rotation. The Georgia Southern signee has point guard instincts and is adept at advancing the ball up the floor with the pass often finding an open teammate for a lay-up. He has a chance to be a great defender because he understands positioning off the ball and is always a threat to come up with a steal in the passing lanes. He needs some time in the weight room to develop his body, but will be an excellent Southern Conference player.
Player to watch
Evan Nolte, SF/PF (6-7, 190)
2012, Alpharetta, Ga./Milton
Nolte, who scored 25 points in a high-level matchup versus Miller Grove, is a skilled combo-forward (think Mike Dunleavy) that has tremendous upside. As a 2012 grad it is easy to project him as a 6-9 or 6-10 player. He has very good court awareness and he always seems to be in the right place at the right time to make a play. He handles it and passes it well for a player of his size and age. He has a nice three-point stoke with deep range that allows him to stretch the defense and helps create driving lanes for his teammates. Despite his thinner frame, he battles for rebounds and is not afraid to mix it up in the low post while being at a strength or weight disadvantage. He understands defensive positioning and is able to perimeter defend on and off the ball. The developing sophomore is rising fast through the ranks of the 2012 class.
Travious Relaford, PG, (6-0, 160)
2010, Fairburn, Ga./ Creekside
When Burrell arrived at St. Thomas More this September, his most glaring deficiency was his perimeter jumper, but after less than three months, Burrell has completely reworked his mechanics and already become a much more consistent shooter. Beyond his improved stroke, Burrell also impressed with his patented point forward type skills and a series of athletic plays this weekend. He got out in transition and finished high above the rim, blocked several shots when rotating from the weak side of the floor, and even showed an ability to rebound above the rim in traffic.
• Milton High School is a difficult matchup for most teams at this level because they have tremendous balance. They have four high-level players that can each dominate their position. Scott and Parker are a tough backcourt, Nolte is a shooter that makes plays and 6-8 junior Julian Royal controls the paint.
• Clemson bound senior Marcus Thornton from Westlake High School as well as fellow seniors 6-8 Tony Jacobs (High Major Footballer), 6-9 project Nkosi Ali and 6-3 shooting Chad Johnson provide sound leadership for talented rising sophomore guards C.J. Reese (6-1, 175) and Ronnie Harris (5-9, 155)
• Mercer signee SG Jeremy Burgess (6-5, 190) from Centennial High showed how he can be an electrifying scorer when he gets it going. The big guard can shoot it with range and dance it to the basket.
• The 2013 class seems like a long time away, but you will be hearing about 6-7 freshman Chris Davenport from Southwest Atlanta Christian as he continues to develop. The young fella' is improving skill-wise and becoming more athletic.
• 6-5 sophomore Bobby Brown from Lithia Springs High School was intriguing in limited action. He passes the look test and moves like a prospect, but we need to see more of him before we can make an honest evaluation. My hunch is that he will be a player.
• A good number of college coaches were in attendance taking in the action, including Wake Forest head coach Dino Gaudio along with assistant Rusty LaRue, Clemson's Oliver Purnell, Alabama assistant John Brannen, Oregon State's David Grace, Northwestern's Tavaras Hardy, College of Charleston's Andrew Wilson and Georgia Southern's Chris Kreider, among others.
Mike LaPlante has spent nearly 20 years coaching college basketball. Most recently, he was the head coach at Jacksonville State University.