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January 7, 2013

Prime Prep belongs among elite

MORE: Dakari Johnson selects Kentucky

The biggest news to come out of the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling, W.Va., over the weekend was the commitment of five-star center Dakari Johnson to Kentucky, but that isn't to say there was a shortage of other notable story lines.

With the nation's No. 1 prospects from the classes of 2013 and 2014 in the building, as well as multiple other five-star attractions, the Cancer Research Classic provided Rivals with valuable new information about elite prospects.

Primed for Success

After its win over Huntington (W.Va.) Prep in Wheeling on Friday night, there is no longer any argument whether Dallas (Tex.) Prime Prep belongs on the list of elite basketball academies in the nation. The first-year school, founded by Deion Sanders, is loaded with talent, but until its first real test against a team of Huntington Prep's stature there was no way to tell if Prime Prep was for real. Well, it is.

The catalyst for Prime Prep is the No. 3 player in the 2014 Rivals150, five-star point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. The athletic floor general is a blur in transition for his up-tempo squad, is vocal in directing traffic and is one of the class' more competitive lead guards. Mudiay showed improved mechanics on his jumper off of the pick and roll, adding another aspect to his offensive game as he becomes more and more difficult to defend. Even though he has scoring instincts, Mudiay is still a pass-first guard who is an expert with his timing and can really put velocity on the ball. With strength, athleticism and good size for a point guard, Mudiay also showed the ability to defend multiple positions, even spending considerable time guarding Huntington Prep star Andrew Wiggins.

As skilled as Prime Prep is in the backcourt, it is its frontcourt that really intimidates opponents. The one-two punch of four-star 2013 big men Karviar Shepherd (TCU) and Jordan Mickey (LSU) is too much for almost any high school team in the nation to handle. With both prospects being high-motor big men with length and above-average athleticism, Prep can outrun you and force a lot of turnovers.

Mickey in particular was impressive as he flashed to the high post and knocked down multiple jumpers, was all over the boards and showed the toughness to bang against thicker Huntington Prep players.

The final bright spot for Prime Prep was the play of 6-foot-7 four-star 2015 power forward Elijah Thomas. A skilled bruiser with a below-the-rim style, Thomas is one of the more offensively talented big men in a 2015 class that is top-heavy with frontcourt players.

New No. 1?

Montverde (Fla.) Academy features three five-star players, with an international transfer on his way to make it four next week, and it boasts a plethora of role players ranked in the Rivals150. After a loss from Huntington Prep opened the door for discussion as to who the best academy is in the nation, with Nevada's Findlay Prep also having a say in the matter, Montverde firmly stated its case with a blowout win over Chicago (Ill.) Simeon. The champions from December's City of Palms Classic, Montverde has size, depth and athleticism that are nearly impossible to match at this level.

The guard play for Montverde is what is often talked about; after all, it features one of the nation's most exciting players in five-star point man Kasey Hill, a Florida commit. But Montverde doesn't play at as fast a pace as most of the top talent-driven teams. In fact, Montverde relies mostly on its frontcourt.

The power and size of power forward Devin Williams, a four-star West Virginia commit, and Johnson at center can overwhelm teams, as Simeon found out. Williams and Johnson are double-double machines who seek out every rebound, love to score around the rim and play with the toughness that Montverde's legendary coach, Kevin Boyle, demands.

When you throw in the contributions of role players such as sixth man Justin Bibbs, a hot name in recruiting circles who is an athletic 6-foot-5 wing from the 2014 Rivals150, Montverde boasts a squad that looks like a college team.

But did Huntington Prep simply have an off night or is Montverde the team to beat? We won't have to speculate forever, because Boyle announced after his team's win on Saturday that the two will meet on a to-be-determined date in early March in Louisville, Ky.

Don't mess with Chicago

The Windy City's top two high school teams made the trip to Wheeling, with the results being a 1-1 split. Whitney Young easily defeated an opponent out of Philadelphia, while Simeon was knocked off by Montverde. One thing, however, was clear: When it comes to public school basketball in the Midwest, no one else is on the same level as Chicago from a talent perspective.

The best performance among the prospects on the two teams came from a likely source: 2014's no. 1 overall player. Jahlil Okafor, a 6-foot-10 center for Whitney Young, put on a show with his raw strength on Saturday, finishing with 32 points. With representatives from Connecticut and Kentucky among those in the crowd, Okafor proved again that he is the premier big man in the 2014 class with his combination of natural size and low-post skills.

While he isn't back to 100 percent health, Simeon's five-star forward, Jabari Parker, a Duke commit, showed signs of getting his legs back underneath him. He was more bouncy around the rim as a finisher, rebounder and shot blocker from his last national appearance, a December game on ESPN. Parker hit several tough, contested jumpers early and was particularly active and confident, but he did slow down as the game went on, probably because he is not completely healthy.

The final standout player from the area at Wheeling was 2014 four-star forward Paul White, one of the dark-horse talents nationally. An athletic, 6-foot-9 combo forward with perimeter skills, White had his jumper going in Whitney Young's game. With his size and athleticism, it is nearly impossible to defend White when he is hitting long jumpers, especially when the four-star junior is playing with a high motor.



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