Prospects Abound At State Tourney

BIRMINGHAM -- If you are reading this, you are probably a basketball recruiting follower. I know I am. That's why, hands-down, the game for Friday Night Lights to cover this week at the Alabama High School Athletic Association Final 48 tourney at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center was an easy choice.

The Greensboro Raiders feature the best junior in the state (and arguably, the Southeast) in 6-foot-9, 210-pound Jimmie Taylor, who sits atop the Alabama 2013 recruiting wish list. The game was won by Greensboro, 60-56 .

To the categories:

TOP PROSPECT: That would be Taylor, who, in the absence of the many seniors he played with last year, was set to become a much bigger part of the Raiders' offense (most games, though not Wednesday), and he runs the court like a 6-4 guy. Said first-year Greensboro coach Craig Williams, "Jimmie started the season off scoring a lot of points for us, but people started double- and triple-teaming him. Sometimes he (Taylor) settles for jump shots instead of getting further up under the goal."

Taylor, whose cousin is former Tide star Erwin Dudley, is attracting much attention from Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, Georgia and Georgetown. Word is that Tide coaches would love a public commitment from Taylor before the likes of Kentucky come calling, though there's plenty of competition already. Taylor has been a frequent visitor to Bama games and practices.

On this day, Taylor was very inactive in the first half. He finished the game with four points and four boards. The lefty didn't score until midway through the third period, when he pulled up and canned a baseline ten-footer with a smooth shooting motion.

To his credit, with the game on the line in the final minute, Taylor finally chose to post up the 6-3 man guarding him and hit a power-hook with 57 seconds left for a 58-54 lead.

Though credited with five blocks, he altered a handful of other Mustang shots. He had a key block in the final 25 seconds on a shot by the other team's best player, who you'll read about below. That player nailed Taylor with an elbow with about two minutes to play, and Taylor said, "Once I took that ‘bow to the lip, it gave me a little more fight."

Said Madison Academy coach Andy Blackston, "'Big Jimmie' draws a lot of attention. He altered shots, and forced up to make some jumpers."

SUPER FROSH: Madison Academy ninth-grader Kerryon Johnson will have a decision to make at the next level: football, hoops, or both? The talented six-footer is equally adept as a running back and point guard.

Perhaps due to his football mentality, Johnson plays basketball with no fear, like when he drove the lane and challenged Taylor. He drew a foul and made his free throws. Also, like the running back he is, Johnson seemed to navigate the 94 feet of hardwood faster than the other nine players on the court. As it turns out, Johnson scored 22 points, but he's not the best basketball player on his team.

That would be…

EIGHTH-GRADE SENSATION: He already holds verbal Alabama and Auburn offers, but even at the 3A level, you don't see many eighth-graders playing on their school's varsity team. Then there's 6-4 Josh Langford of Madison Academy. This young man, whose cousin by the same name plays at Auburn, plays like a senior. He slashes to the hoop, calmly makes free throws, and just looks like he belongs.

"He was eager for the ball," Williams said of Langford. "He wants it in his hands. He attacked the goal."

Oh, Langford can shoot the three-pointer well, too. He made 2-4 on the way to a game-high 24 points and nine boards.

It's totally unfair to compare an eighth-grade 3A high school player to Michael Jordan, and I won't, but MJ has to be at least part of the reason Langford wears jersey No. 23, and he wears it well. He's got Jordan's signature pull-up in the lane down pat, and is a good no-look passer at times, like Jordan's teammate and former Bama star Ennis Whatley had. He even looks a bit like Whatley facially. This kid has an incredible vertical leap, too, and shows that when snatching rebounds with authority.

Like Johnson, Langford had no problem challenging Taylor, save for the one time Taylor blocked the shot. That happens. Langford also committed the hoops sin of fouling an opponent on a three-point shot in the third quarter. He will learn. He will grow in hoops wisdom and stature.

Langford plays the game hard, often diving for loose balls Levi Randolph-style. He tried to tie the game with a drive and pull up with 25 seconds left, but was rejected by Taylor. Greensboro got the loose ball and hit two free throws to go up four with 21.4 to go.

FACES IN THE CROWD: It was no surprise to see two generations of Alabama head basketball coaches on hand. Wimp Sanderson attends this tourney annually. When top prospects are playing, current Bama coach Anthony Grant shows up, as was the case Wednesday.

HOW ‘BOUT THEM BURGERS: I'm sorry but Five-Star Event Catering gets only one star from me. How do you run out of hamburger buns but not patties? I did something I'd never done before, and put the brazier-style tasty patty in a hot dog bun, added mustard, may and ketchup, folded it up and ate it. Oh, well.

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