New Jersey long has been known for producing top-notch high school basketball talent. This year is no different -- particularly in the underclassmen ranks, which flat-out outperformed the senior class at ABCD Camp, which concluded Sunday afternoon.
Several New Jersey underclassmen took their games to a new level at the camp, including Scotch Plains-Fanwood's Lance Thomas, Rahway's Earl Clark and St. Patrick's player-to-be Derrick Caracter. Several other Garden State players, including Hasim Bailey, Ahmad Nivins and Sean McCurdy, struggled a bit but certainly could become solid Division I college players. Here's a look back at what those players did at the camp:
You've heard a lot about Thomas this weekend, and there's a reason for it. This kid is just that good. He finished the 8-game scrimmage portion of the camp averaging only 8.1 points and 2.6 rebounds per game, but that stats don't show how important he was to his team, the Clippers, in those games. However, in Sunday's underclassmen All-Star Game, Thomas took his "stat" game to a whole new level. But still, the intangibles he brought to the table proved most important -- especially on defense.
Playing for the East team, Thomas had to face West stars such as Taylor King, Eugene Harvey, Marques Johnson, Curtis Kelly and co-West MVPs OJ Mayo and Bill Walker. Thomas drew the assignment of guarding King, a 6-foot-7 sophomore-to-be from Huntington Beach, Calif. King's considered an elite Division I prospect, too. But Thomas was magnificent defensively, holding King to just 8 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
"I like guarding the best players," Thomas said afterward. "It brings out the best in me."
Thomas was even better on offense, though, collecting a camp-high -- for him -- 17 points on a crisp 8-of-11 shooting. He didn't contribute much else statistically -- a few rebounds and a few steals -- but it didn't matter. Thomas was very pleased with his offensive performance.
And he should be. He began the game by crashing the boards for an easy put-back. Then, on consecutive offensive possessions, he faked out two defenders in the paint for up-and-under dunks. A nice 12-foot jumper was next, followed by a 3-point play after turning King inside out like a pretzel. Not a bad afternoon by any standards.
"I got to play my game, got to get up and down the floor," he said. "But most importantly, I got to show my talent in front of a big crowd in my home state. It was great."
No one outside of friends, family, teammates and a few well-connected coaches knew who Earl Clark was prior to ABCD Camp. A lot of people know who he is now, especially after his performance in the underclassmen All-Star Game.
At 6-foot-7, the junior-to-be guard from Rahway was one of the taller guards at the camp, and it helped him earn a name for himself in the All-Star Game, as Clark collected a game-high 11 rebounds -- 3 offensive, 8 defensive. Clark also chipped in with 4 points but hit just 2-of-8 shots.
Still, Clark, who finished the 8-game scrimmage schedule averaging 6.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, is a player on the rise. He says he's received some early interest from both Rutgers and Seton Hall and definitely wants to find out what Rutgers might have to offer him.
Save the best for last. It's a well-used cliche that often is correct. It also appears to be Caracter's motto. The 6-foot-9, 282-pound forward/center from Fanwood played his best scrimmage game of the camp in Saturday's night session, netting 19 points and pulling down 3 rebounds against one of the best rising young big boys in the country -- 7-foot junior-to-be Greg Oden.
And the game before that, Caracter had his most complete performance of the camp, posting 14 points and 9 rebounds. He definitely seemed to get better as the camp rolled along and culminated his impressive showing with a 11-point All-Star Game. Eleven points might not sound all that impressive, especially since he didn't get to again face Oden -- who suffered an ankle injury in Sunday's morning session and did not play -- but 9 of those points came on long-range jumpers -- including a 3-pointer from the top of the key that hit nothing but net -- demonstrating that he has the skills necessary to be, at worst, an elite Division I player.
Caracter's often been linked with the NBA right out of high school but after being named one of the underclassmen MVPs for the camp, Caracter announced to the entire crowd that he'd definitely like to take a shot at college ball.
That's music to Rutgers' ears, although the Scarlet Knights' staff would have to work very, very hard to bring Caracter to Piscataway. Or maybe not? Caracter, along with former Scotch Plains-Fanwood teammate Lance Thomas, have been seen at the RAC quite often the past two seasons, thoroughly enjoying games from right behind the Rutgers bench.
A lot of people also have had their eyes on two players Rutgers is after, John Garcia and Tyrell Biggs. St. John's coaches were taking meticulous notes on Garcia, while Duke, Pitt and Maryland scouts checked out Biggs. Here's a recap of how they fared at the camp:
After a dominating beginning to ABCD Camp, Rutgers target John Garcia tailed off a bit over the weekend, netting only 15 points and 8 rebounds combined in his final two scrimmages and just two points in the senior All-Star Game. Garcia did pull down 7 rebounds and block a team-high 3 shots in the showcase game, however, showing his ever-alert presence on defense, which was necessary because he was guarding Providence-bound forward Johnathan Kale.
"That's normal for me," Garcia said of the meaty blocked-shot totals.
Still, Garcia could be seen standing at midcourt during a few offensive possessions, almost not wanting to take part in the action. Garcia says that's not the case, though.
"I was just a little tired," he said. "There's nothing wrong with me. I haven't liked my rebounding so I've wanted to work on that."
Garcia fared well on the boards in the camp, averaging 5.5 per game, including the All-Star Game. His point-per game average, at 14 after two games, ended at 9.7.
After a dismal start to camp Thursday, Biggs picked it up big-time, posting a combined 25 points and 10 rebounds in his final two scrimmages. Then, in the All-Star Game, the Rutgers target collected 8 points and 5 rebounds -- not bad considering he was playing with Oklahoma State-bound Gerald Green (27 points) and NBA-hopeful Jeremy Pargo (21 points).
Biggs showed all part of his repertoire, collecting a few boards over players at least his size or taller, draining a nice 15-foot jumper on the baseline, dishing a no-look pass to a wide-open Kiwan Smith for a thuderous dunk and moving around 2 defenders for a jam after nearly having the ball stripped -- demonstrating good concentration.
He also played very well defensively. And while he only officially registered 1 blocked shot and 1 steal, he had a hand in at least 3 more defensive gems that led to fast-break opportunities.
For the camp, including the All-Star Game, Biggs averaged 9.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. He also picked up 6 blocked shots and was very proficient at the free-throw line, shooting 20-of-23 for 87 percent.