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January 13, 2013

Hardaway Hoopfest: Parker healthy, performing


HARDAWAY HOOPFEST: Friday | Thursday

On the final day of the Penny Hardaway Hoopfest, the action moved from Dyer County High School into the middle of the city of Memphis, as Rivals traveled into the Home of the Blues to take in the action at White Station High School. With some of the best from the Midwest, Florida and even the West Coast on hand, the Memphis teams were in for quite the test, leading to some intense basketball and great performances.

Best for Last

The key to showmanship is saving the best for last. The directors of the Penny Hardaway Hoopfest couldn't have done a better job of that. In a game that had Penny himself on the edge of his seat, Chicago (Ill.) Simeon held off Memphis Southwind at the buzzer for a comeback win, 55-53.

After the game one thing was clear: Jabari Parker is back. The recently banged-up Parker looked fully healthy on Saturday, playing with a real strut in his step when attacking off the dribble. The 6-foot-8 Duke signee, ranked No. 3 in the 2013 Rivals150, finished with 21 points on just 14 shots, grabbed six boards and rejected three shots as he willed Simeon to the win despite a hostile Memphis crowd.

What was most impressive about Parker's game was his approach mentally. Instead of settling for jumpers he attacked the rim against smaller Southwind defenders, showing agility that we hadn't seen from him in some time. With the added weight that he has packed on his upper body in the weight room after missing so much basketball, Parker is now the complete physical package, and he looks ready to reassert himself near the top of amateur basketball's throne.

Two other players stood out for Simeon in four-star Illinois signee Kendrick Nunn and promising 6-foot-6 four-star wing D.J. Williams, a 2015 prospect. Nunn combined his shooting stroke with physicality on his drives to set a scoring tone for Simeon in the third-quarter comeback, and he was one of the vocal leaders while showing a competitive chip. Williams is a prospect who will be followed closely in the future, but he showed glimpses of that promise in playing key minutes down the stretch. An athletic and versatile wing with great size, Williams finished with nine points and six rebounds in the win.

For Southwind, the top players were the usual suspects in four-star prospects Johnathan Williams III and JaJuan Johnson. A Missouri signee, the 6-foot-9 Williams played with a passion around the rim that he had not previously shown this high school season. Battling for every rebound, scoring aggressively and physically at the rim and even rejecting some of Parker's shots, Williams looked every bit the part of a future Missouri star as he tallied 23 points and nine rebounds. Johnson didn't have his greatest shooting night, but the future Marquette Golden Eagle proved that he can get to the rim against any opponent as he consistently blew by Simeon defenders off the bounce. What makes Johnson special as a slasher is that he takes such long strides, making up ground in one dribble that would take most wings his size two or three. When Johnson's jumper is falling he reaches nearly unguardable status, but even without that weapon in his arsenal he was one of the brightest stars on Saturday night.

Ready to Rumble

It hasn't been an easy couple of days for four-star center and South Florida signee John Egbunu. After being matched up Friday with Findlay Prep (Nev.) star Gavin Schilling, the 6-foot-10 big man had to match up with five-star Memphis native and University of Memphis signee Austin Nichols. The battle might have been the highlight of the day, as it took two overtimes before Nichols' team, Briarcrest Christian, could finish off Egbunu's Fort Walton Beach (Fla.) squad.

Nichols came away as the star of the game. The skilled and athletic five-star finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds, but more importantly was the clutch scorer that his team needed him to be. The 6-foot-10 power forward, who can also play center, was physical down low, forcing Egbunu into foul trouble and gaining great post position to score around the rim. Nichols has touch around the rim, but is best when finishing powerfully with dunks. Also a defensive presence, Nichols swatted away several Fort Walton Beach shots.

Egbunu looked a little healthier than he did on Friday, finishing with 16 points and 13 rebounds in limited playing time due to foul problems. Relying mostly on raw athleticism at this point, Egbunu is jaw-dropping physically as he has a rare combination of explosiveness and brute strength. He still has a long way to go in his development, but Egbunu makes a few plays every game to show his vast potential.

Overwhelming

There was a lot of hype going into the Chicago Whitney Young vs. Memphis White Station game. After all, each team has three players from the 2014 Rivals150 on its roster. But Whitney Young's combination of juniors in Jahlil Okafor, Paul White and L.J. Peak overwhelmed White Station.

As the No. 1 prospect in the 2014 class, Okafor is always going to get the most glory for his team, but it's clear to see that he's deserving. The 6-foot-10 center was dominant inside, using his strength and soft touch to score at will against the smaller White Station team, on his way to MVP honors with 16 points and five rebounds. Okafor continued to impress with his improved explosion, throwing down multiple dunks off of floor runs and high-post drives off of spin moves.

Peak led the Chicago school in scoring with 18 points, providing an efficient blend of strong slashes to the basket and touch on a mid-range jumper. The 6-foot-5 wing is one of the more polished scorers in the class, and as a four-star prospect gives colleges a player who should be able to compete right away on a physical level.

The defensive star of the game was White, who did an excellent job in altering the shots of five-star White Station forward LeRon Black. A 6-foot-9 combo forward with versatility to play inside or outside, White is the ideal face-up four man who can defend the perimeter at the next level, showing exactly that in slowing down one of the nation's most gifted young prospects.

While he did struggle to score efficiently, Black did finish with a game-high 18 points and 10 rebounds, including a stretch in the third quarter where he really had his mid-range game working. A hard-hat type of player, it should be noted that Black was relentless inside with his defense against Okafor, but in giving up more than 40 pounds was unable to stop the Chicago five-star when he caught it down low.

Laying the Wood

Memphis Melrose came out with a killer intensity early against heavily favored Findlay Prep, but that intensity diminished in the early stages of the third quarter when four-star UNLV signee Christian Wood began to answer the bell. A 6-foot-10 power forward, Wood is a dynamic athlete who can guard multiple positions, and is also equally versatile on the offensive end of the floor. Whether it's hitting a mid-range jumper, posting up or driving off of a couple dribbles, Wood was able to score in different ways for Findlay Prep. When the future Runnin' Rebel has hit motor on high, like he did on Saturday, he's as good of a prospect as you can find in the 2013 class.

Stanford Robinson was the other star for Findlay Prep on Saturday. The Rivals150 wing, who is signed with Indiana, was excellent on the defensive end, at one point stealing three straight passes and finishing with layups or dunks. At the high school level, Robinson is simply too strong and athletic for most players to deal with, as he toughed his way to the rim for easy finishes throughout the contest.

Coming soon

It's not there yet, but Memphis Hamilton will be a team that college basketball fans will have an eye on in the coming years. Not only does the team feature two elite prospects in brothers Dedric Lawson and Keelon Lawson, they're also both underclassmen.

With Dedric standing at 6-foot-7 as a freshman and Keelon at 6-foot-6 as just a sophomore the brothers could continue to grow, but already have mature skill-sets. Both are skilled wing players who rely mostly on their agility and shooting ability to score. With the size that they possess and terrific length, the brothers can shoot right over defenders, proving themselves as efficient scorers from all three levels inside of half-court. Both are still working on becoming more effective athletically, as they are somewhat lacking in the explosion department, but are elite prospects to watch as they continue to mature physically.

Among schools already interested in the duo, the Lawsons mentioned LSU, Tennessee, Memphis, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas.

Don't Forget About

Here are a couple more players who showed out at the Penny Hardaway Hoopfest.

Sebastian Saiz: The three-star Ole Miss signee from Sunrise Christian (Kan.) was spectacular on the backboards on Saturday, setting an event record with 24 rebounds, to go with 28 points. The Spanish national is a big-time athlete who plays with a high motor, and is willing to get physical in the low post. Saiz has a ways to go in the development of his ball skills, but he's a sleeper power forward in the 2013 class.

Isaiah Lewis: The Arlington (Fla.) Country Day point guard, originally from New York City, is one of the speedier guards in transition and was very good in full-court setting on Saturday. A three-star prospect being recruited at the high-major level, with Seton Hall being his rumored leader, Lewis was effective both as a slasher and a passer in the up-tempo style that his team plays with, leading ACD to a second win in as many days.



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