HSOT: Day Three Notebook

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The High School OT Invitational features a strong field top to bottom this year, but it's the junior class where the event truly shines. On Monday, top-10 2016s Harry Giles (pictured above), Thon Maker and Dennis Smith all took the floor.

Giles continues to surge

Arguably the nation’s No. 1 junior — between Giles, Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson, that debate will rage for the next eight months — Harry Giles served up an emphatic performance on Monday night.

His High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan squad encountered a team dead set on beating it: Raleigh (N.C.) Word of God. Both teams said after the game it was personal, and as such Giles reaffirmed his elite status by puncturing any ideas WoD had of tasting victory.

The 6-9, maybe 6-10 power forward lit up his in-state rival with 31 points and 17 rebounds, knocking down 12-16 from the field. Giles did it every which way, using his rapidly strengthening body to bully a smaller opponent inside, knocked down a three, buried a contested turnaround jumper from the baseline, caught lobs, and even went coast to coast for slams after getting a defensive rebound.

His blend of length, muscle, athleticism and skill will make him difficult to fend off at the top, but of course he faces stiff competition from other prospects atop the class. More immediately, Giles finally looks healthy after missing his sophomore season with a knee injury.

He also elevates the competition’s intensity level each time he steps onto the court. No longer the quiet kid he was early in his high school career, Giles now embraces his role as alpha and challenges himself and teammates to compete at full tilt. The opponents respond, the crowd responds, and you get the sense that each Wesleyan game is an event.

Players that size frequently struggle to mesmerize crowds, but Giles’ playing style is magnetic and has won admiration from fans in a state that’s presently loaded with talent. He and Wesleyan will square off against the Maker brothers and Orangeville Prep.

Smith pours in 38 in defeat

Dennis Smith couldn’t quite lift Fayetteville (N.C.) Trinity Christian past Orangeville Prep out of Canada, but he made an heroic attempt. The junior point guard scored 38 points as his club fell 79-75 to an assemblage of high-majors from north of the border.

Smith shot 13-23 from the floor despite facing intense defensive pressure, as no other player for Trinity proved to be consistently effective against Orangeville’s length.

Smith’s size, jump shot and leaping ability make him highly formidable

Smith performed much more explosively than he did in Columbia at last week’s Chick-Fil-A Classic. He buried a couple of contested mid-range jump shots early, then began to make it rain from three. He also made one sharp change of direction along the baseline — finished with a slam — that reminded of a prime Steve Francis.

He continues to fill out physically and has the size to challenge even the Makers at the rim. He scored on one lefty layup directly around Thon, and Smith won’t face many players of that size and athleticism prior to (likely) reaching the NBA.

Trinity Christian’s loss did deprive us the opportunity to watch Smith square off against his former Trinity teammate — Wesleyan’s Kwe Parker — but instead he’ll still compete against some Team Loaded teammates with Word of God in the third place game.

Ingram at it again

After scintillating at the Chick-Fil-A Classic last week, Brandon Ingram limped to a five-point outing the other night here in Raleigh. Well, he reverted to his CFA form on Monday, lighting up a solid Apex (N.C.) High squad for 34 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and two assists.

Ingram led his Kinston (N.C.) High club to a key 75-68 victory and did so in highly efficient fashion. He shot 11-19 from the field and drilled 6-7 on threes, taking good, open shots and firing them in cleanly off high ball screens.

I maintain the view that Ingram is a better NBA prospect than he is for college, due to the fact that he's likely several years away physically from where he'll need to be. Even skinny opponents can bump him off-line on drives, and you can imagine how that situation will become even more challenging as he progresses.

Even so, his improvement is obvious. His crossover dribble is now a factor, his second jump is much quicker (he follows up his own drives with lefty tips), he's rebounding more authoritatively and of course he remains a talented handler and passer.

Over the past 10 days, at least, Ingram has looked like a top 15 long-term prospect in the senior class. Here's hoping he can keep it going.

More Notables

Quentin Jackson, PG/SG, Martinsville (Va.) Carlisle — Jackson appears to be shaping himself from a shooting guard into a combo, with an emphasis on the point. He remains score-first in mentality but clearly has taken strides to facilitate offense and set up others.

For Jackson, this season means production matched with individual development

The junior also appears to have gained quickness and leaping ability. Even as recently as October, I don't believe he could have thrown down a couple of the dunks he did in Carlisle's comeback win over Liberty Christian. Jackson paced Carlisle with 20 points, shooting 9-18 from the field, and he also added five steals and three assists.

Kaleb Johnson, WF/PF, Martinsville (Va.) Carlisle -- An unsigned senior, Johnson has the 6-6 body of a wing but bears some hallmarks of a power forward's game. He loves to rip down defensive rebounds and rush the other way, and he frequently generates a lot of pressure with his speed and aggression. That said, he plays at one speed quite often and is prone to forcing the action. Defensively, he could develop into a legitimate two-position defender as he gains strength. He did struggle big-time with his shot, something to observe through the remainder of the season. In Carlisle's win Johnson went for 17 points (7-15 FG) and 10 rebounds, getting the most out of his athletic talent.

Tacko Fall, C, Tavares (Fla.) Liberty Christian — Although his team fell to Carlisle, Fall entertained the crowd and, more importantly, showed further improvement. His rate of progress has been steady, rather than dramatic, causing his gains to go somewhat overlooked. Reflexes and mobility remain steep hurdles, as you'd expect for a 7-5 player, but his long arms make him uniquely able to dunk the ball from a standstill (almost literally) as well as easily block shots. His post offense includes a very nice jump hook that could earn him a lot of money down the road. Central Florida will have to be patient with him and create an environment that works for his game, but he's worth the effort. Fall tallied 22 points — making all nine of his attempts, primarily dunks — 13 rebounds and seven blocks. The only blemish was 4-10 from the foul line, but all in all he has earned respect here as far more than a sideshow.

Sacha Killeya-Jones, PF, Lynchburg (Va.) Virginia Episcopal — Killeya-Jones didn't play well the last time I watched him, at a fall workout. But he has gained muscle and even more aggression and confidence, and those changes are showing up in his play. Though his numbers in a defeat to Ravenscroft were average — 10 points on 5-10 G, 10 rebounds and two blocks — he made several eye-catching plays. He nailed one very impressive turnaround fadeaway and, in the higher percentage areas, demonstrated more power and beastly demeanor on dunks. His team has disappointed here, but by any estimation Killeya-Jones is progressing significantly in his junior season.

Justice Kithcart, SG/PG, Lynchburg (Va.) Virginia Episcopal — Another VES junior, Kithcart possesses a truly elite first step, the kind that will enable him to be successful despite his general unwillingness to attempt jump shots.

Guards with Kithcart’s burst can cause headaches for opponents

He boasts a compact frame and loves to challenge opponents physically on his way to the rack. Kithcart will need to learn how to run the show, change speeds and add more scoring balance, but his first step makes him a prospect for at least the upper middle Division I level.

David Reynolds, WF, Raleigh (N.C.) Ravenscroft — This unsigned senior performed yeoman's work in his squad's win over VES. The 6-6 forward defended Killeya-Jones and held his own inside despite giving up several inches, and he also carried the load on offense. Reynolds scored 22 points on 11-21 from the field and hauled down eight rebounds, while also doling out four assists. A high academic student, he'll continue to entertain academic/athletic offers over the course of the next several months.

Thomas Allen, SG/PG, Garner (N.C.) High — Garner features several nice underclassmen, and Allen stands out as a sophomore combo guard who plays off the ball now but could evolve into a point over time. He's very wispy but also is quick and already possesses a nice short-range scoring game, using little floaters and pull-ups on the move. Allen also uses his hands well on defense to create steals. In his squad's win over talented Knightdale (N.C.) High, he led all scorers with 19 points (albeit 7-19 fg) to go with three rebounds and three steals.

Julius Barnes, PG, Garner (N.C.) High — Albeit small at 5-8, this unsigned senior is the heart and soul of his squad. Barnes has competed at this event for four years and has helped lead Garner to an 11-1 record this season. Versus Knightdale, he went for 11 points and nine assists.

Drew Tazuma, PF, Knightdale (N.C.) High — Only a freshman, you'd never know it by looking at Tazuma. I profiled him in the fall, and since that time he has filled out even further and put on substantial muscle. He looks like a 6-5 power forward, so obviously it would be best if he continues to grow, but in the meantime we can simply enjoy watching him develop. He possesses the brawn, athleticism and huge hands to be an undersized power forward, and even 6-7 would suffice nicely for many college programs. Tazuma suffered through foul troubles on Monday but still finished with 11 points (4-7 FG) and a whopping 16 rebounds.

Jalen Harris, PG, Raleigh (N.C.) Word of God — Harris played much better on Monday than when I observed him in the fall. The skinny junior used his quickness and short jump shooting game to notch 23 points on 9-19 FG for WoD. He buried 2-4 on threes and looks better than ever as a shooter, and he’s also a slick handler and passer. His stock is on the rise midway through his junior campaign.

Mark Goffried and Steve Alford were among the head coaches in attendance, and I very strongly doubt they feel they wasted their time. ...

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