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January 14, 2013

Hardaway Hoopfest: Memphis pulling them in


HARDAWAY HOOPFEST: Saturday | Friday | Thursday

The second annual Penny Hardaway Hoopfest, in Memphis (Tenn.), not only gave fans from the Bluff City a chance to spend time with one of the city's legendary ballplayers, but it also gave them an opportunity to see some pretty good basketball.

With all of the top teams from the Memphis area in attendance, as well as some of the nation's top high school clubs, the event is quickly on its way toward becoming one of the premiere high school showcases. After taking in the action over the course of three days, here's what we learned about some of the top prospects.

Power to Pastner

We've always known that Memphis coach Josh Pastner was a good recruiter, but in the 2013 class he really outdid himself. With three local players already signed this year, Pastner is clearly focused on bringing in the best area talent to help his team.

All three of these signees were on the slate for the Hoopfest, but four-star wing Markel Crawford was on the shelf as he continues to recover from an ACL tear. The first future Tiger to take the court was Memphis East wing Nick King, a 6-foot-5 four-star prospect. King is one of the top shot-makers in the 2013 class, and is exceptionally good at creating shots for himself off the dribble. A strong athlete with college-ready explosion, King has the capabilities to be a scoring machine at the next level, as he is already a very good shooter from deep, and has nice touch when finishing around the rim.

The gem of the Memphis class, five-star post Austin Nichols, also took the court over the weekend. Matched up against another Rivals150 post in South Florida signee John Egbunu, Nichols showed a level of passion that makes you think that he is ready for the demands of a rigorous college basketball season. A 6-foot-10 big man who can play power forward or center, Nichols is a nice combination of both athleticism and skill.

One thing that Nichols did great in Memphis Briarcrest Christian's win was use physicality to seal off space in the lane, forcing Egbunu into foul trouble. Nichols will have to get quicker laterally, but he has that big-play ability in the lane that wins games at the highest levels of college basketball.

No Volunteers

They call Tennessee the Volunteer state, but few teams from outside of the state are volunteering to take on Tennessee's finest on the court. After three days of watching its top prospects in action, three things were clear -- the Memphis area has some elite talent, it has depth in its upperclassmen classes and there are more players being discovered every day.

In addition to the three Rivals150 prospects that are signed with the Tigers, the Southwestern region of Tennessee also has ranked seniors in five-star wing Robert Hubbs (Tennessee), four-star wing JaJuan Johnson (Marquette) and four-star power forward Johnathan Williams III; all three of whom participated, and played well, at the Penny Hardaway event.

Besides the seniors, the Memphis area also enjoys a talented junior class of ranked players in five-star forward LeRon Black, four-star forward Marcanvis Hymon, three-star wing DaVell Roby and three-star point guard Chris Chiozza.

In addition to just Memphis, the Nashville area has also become a nice recruiting ground. With the 2015 class and even the 2016 class just beginning to get national recognition, Memphis should take an even greater spot in the forefront of recruiting. Top talent coming through, such as five-star Skal Labissiere, Keelon Lawson, Andrew Fleming and Donte Fitzpatrick in the sophomore class, plus Dedric Lawson.

Best in Class

Last week, after the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling (W.Va.), we wrote about the unbelievable depth of talent in the Chicago area, especially between two cities schools, Simeon and Whitney Young.

Both of those schools made the trip down to Memphis, and the results were even better. After looking at the depth in the Windy City's senior and junior classes last week, let's examine just how special the top player in each group is.

Chicago can boast one of the nation's elite players in each of those classes in 2013 forward Jabari Parker (Duke), who is ranked No. 3 in the Rivals150, and 2014's No. 1 ranked prospect Jahlil Okafor, a center.

Former AAU teammates and great friends, Parker and Okafor dominated in Saturday's action at White Station High School, each walking away with MVP awards in their teams' wins.

Okafor was able to outmuscle opponents at will in the paint to score, while Parker did a little bit of everything but was excellent in slashing to the rim in the clutch during a two-point, come-from-behind win for his Simeon squad over Memphis Southwind.

For a city that has recently produced top talent such as Anthony Davis and Derrick Rose, these two are just the latest, and certainly won't be the last, in the richest basketball history city in the Midwest.

West knows Best

The two teams furthest West of those that participated in the Hoopfest were Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep and Bel Aire (Kan.) Sunrise Christian. Those two teams, both loaded with a depth of future Division I players and Rivals150 prospects, each went 2-0 on the weekend, taking it to some of Memphis' top squads.

Players who stood out in those games came from the backcourt and frontcourt as guards LouRawls Nairn, Nigel Williams-Goss and Stanford Robinson were exceptional, as were big men Christian Wood, Gavin Schilling and Sebastian Saiz.

The Sunrise Christian duo of Nairn and Saiz dominated mostly due to their athletic abilities. Nairn is a four-star point guard, who despite his small stature is one of the quickest guards in the 2014 class; while the three-star Ole Miss commit, Saiz, is one of the most explosive big men in the state of Kansas.

Findlay Prep's quartet of standouts in Williams-Goss, Robinson, Wood and Schilling all had their moments for their talent-laden Pilots team. All four really stood out on the defensive end, showing desire, fundamentals and anticipation in creating turnovers, while easily scoring transition baskets off of those turnovers.

Schilling in particular showed the most improvement, as the three-star continues to make significant strides during his year away from his Chicago home. Among the 10 schools showing interest, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo was in attendance Friday night.



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