Top recruits headline South Atlanta-LeFlore

Despite an Alabama venue -- the University of Alabama-Birmingham's Gene Bartow Court -- there's a neutral-court feel for Thursday's matchup between ESPN RISE FAB 50 No. 7 LeFlore (Mobile, Ala.) and No. 9 South Atlanta (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET).

Both teams are considered favorites to win state championships in March. The game features marquee players: 6-foot-9 Derrick Favors of South Atlanta and 6-10 DeMarcus Cousins of LeFlore.

"Depending on the way the game plays, that big matchup might not materialize," South Atlanta coach Michael Reddick says. "They played against each other as sophomores and not much happened."

Favors will make his college choice known Wednesday (ESPNU, 6:30 p.m. ET), while Cousins will decide between Memphis, Georgia Tech, Texas, Kansas State, Washington and North Carolina State.

ESPNU 100 Player Watch: LeFlore: Cousins (No. 4 overall in the ESPNU 100); 6-9 junior Kentari Nettles.
South Atlanta: Favors (No. 2 overall); 6-5 Andre Malone (No. 66 small forward), 5-11 Nick Watkins; 6-8 sophomore Nickalus Jacobs.

LeFlore ledger: The Rattlers (18-2) are Alabama's top-ranked Class 5A team. LeFlore beat Faith Academy (Mobile) 82-44 on Tuesday as Darryl Woods scored 16 points. Last season, the Rattlers advanced to the Class 6A quarterfinals while going 30-3 but were reclassified to 5A prior to the 2008-09 school year. … Coach Otis Hughley has an overall record of 375-78 including stops in high school, college and pros. Hughley, a Jersey City, N.J. native, played junior college football at College of Eastern Utah, where he was a prolific passer. He also played football professionally in Italy. … Expect the Rattlers to start Cousins, Nettles, 6-4 Gerald Watkins, 6-4 Denzel McDaniel and 6-2 Marlon Ford. … The Rattlers love to run. "If you can get a shot off every eight seconds, you'll be a very successful team," Hughley says. That's why the Rattlers average 86 shots per 32 minutes. … Cousins averages 26.5 points and 12 rebounds. He was named the Most Outstanding Player at last month's Iolani Prep Classic in Honolulu.

Hornets' nest: South Atlanta improved to 14-1 Tuesday night, defeating Eagles Landing (McDonough) 87-53, as Favors posted a triple-double with 31 points, 17 rebounds and 12 blocks and Malone scored 24 points. … Since losing to No. 19 Lawrence North (Indianapolis) 58-44 in the finals of the T-Mobile Invitational, the Hornets have won five straight, averaging 85 points. Reddick, a proponent of staunch man defense, said one of his team goals is to hold opponents under 50 points. The stout defense yields 48 per game (42 points or fewer in eight games). … 5-6 spark-plug guard Rodrick Pitts won't play because of a knee injury. … Favors will make his college choice Wednesday night on ESPNU at 6:30 p.m. He has whittled his choices down to Georgia, Georgia Tech and North Carolina State. Expect the starting five to be Favors, Malone, Watkins, 6-5 Mikael Carter and Jacobs.

Analysis: When South Atlanta shoots better than 40 percent from 3-point range and forces at least 20 turnovers, it's hitting on all cylinders. Favors will score points (he averages nearly 30 per game) in the post, but with Nettles and Cousins defending, that's 10 fouls to give. Kentari brings high energy, and Cousins is long and lean with exceptional skills and is familiar with Favors.

"Derrick is a real quick leaper; he gets his shot off quicker than most posts," Cousins said. He added that the two last faced each other last summer in Atlanta.

Both teams are capable of a frenetic pace. They will push the ball in transition, looking for 3s, which opens the post. Malone, an Auburn recruit, is a streaky shooter who is capable of making "9 of 11 3-pointers in a game or going 1 of 9 from that range," Reddick says.

Nick Watkins is the glue for South Atlanta. He dictates the pace and rhythm. "He's like a waiter, delivering the ball to the post," Hughley says.

LeFlore's Gerald Watkins averages 15 points and will hoist 3s. McDaniel is a taller point guard at 6-4 and resembles former teammate Nick Williams (now at Indiana University), who could operate inside and outside. Woods, at 6-5, won't start but provides outstanding offensive rebounding and a nice perimeter touch.

On deck: The Old Spice High School Showcase continues on Jan. 19 with four games on ESPNU. The lineup from the Spalding Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., includes: Putnam City (Oklahoma City)-No. 22 St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.), 10 a.m.; No. 31 Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) vs. No. 3 St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.), 12 p.m.; No. 7 LeFlore-No. 36 Lincoln (Brooklyn, N.Y.), 2 p.m.; No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) vs. Whitney Young (Chicago), 4 p.m.

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball, and boys' and girls' basketball. He also for worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.