One of the keys to beating Mount Zion is surviving the Warriors initial punch. Well, Neumann-Goretti not only survived the punch they hit back early and often as it built a 37-29 halftime lead. With star sophomore Antonio Jardine struggling from the perimeter all night long, the stage was set for juniors Derrick Rivera and Earl Pettis.
Pettis received treatment for his ankle during the day long as was a game time decision. As it turned out, Neumann wouldn't have won the game without his gutsy 22-point contribution. He was the first half sparkplug from behind the arc. Rivera, a lefty combo guard, defended and scored 16 points, two of them coming off a big time dunk in the second half that fueled Neumann.
Normally Mount Zion uses its athleticism to intimidate and wear down opponents but it was Neumann who turned the tables on the Warriors. They ran with the higher seeded team and played with the toughness and tenacity you'd expect from a Philadelphia-based crew.
Shawn Taggart led Mount Zion with 20 points and 10 boards as he battled inside.
Shawn Taggart, PF, Mount Zion: He was a load in the championship game and used a variety of scoring moves to get it done on the interior. Showed some toughness in the title game and had a nice tournament, culminating with the all-tournament selection.
Brandon Rush, SF, Mount Zion: Never really looked comfortable in the two games we watched. In the finale, he went just 5-for-13 from the field for 10 points and 8 rebounds. He hit just one hoop in the second half of the championship game and didn't factor into the all-tournament team. By his standards, he wasn't on top of his game in Charlotte.
Horace Dixon, PF, Mauldin: The 6-foot-8 South Carolinian's game is based on athleticism. He works right around the basket and has bounce. He's not a guy you would play facing the basket but he'll do the work inside. CAA-level schools would probably love to have a crack at him.
Jose Garcia, SG, St. Anne's-Belfield: Didn't have the tournament he was looking for. Normally he's a big time weapon offensively for his squad but the points were tough to come by this time around.
Vernon Macklin, PF, Norcom: He had two games here that really created a buzz. You know when a big time, freakish athlete is in the gym and that's what Macklin is. However, like most guys in his class, there is room for improvement and that makes him a scary prospect.
He's already an intimidator in the paint as a shot blocker (see shot he sent back to half court in his final game) and a terrific finisher at the rim. Overall, he was the best prospect at the event.
Derrick Rivera, PG, Neumann-Goretti: Named MVP of the tournament, the lefty set the tone for his team. An in-your-face defender and excellent athlete at his position, Rivera competed at both ends. He found a way to take his game up a notch when it mattered most and that's a trait you simply can't overlook. He's fast with the ball, shoots 3 and attacks the basket.
Earl Pettis, SF, Neumann-Goretti: There was some talk that Pettis wouldn't be able to play in the title game but he received treatment and gutted it out to the tune of 22 points. His perimeter game was a key for his team in establishing the tone and getting the early lead on Mount Zion. He earned a lot of respect with his performance and the high-majors are going to come knocking after learning of what he did in Charlotte.
Doneal Mack, SG, Statesville Christian: Opinions differ on exactly what level he'd be best suited for but one thing is certain: he can stroke it deep. To reach his maximum potential Mack will need to get stronger and work on his mid-range and passing games. With improvement, we could see him signing with a high-major.
Brandis Raley, SG, Gaston Day: The powerful 6-foot-1 guard is one of the best scorers in the Charlotte area. Reclassified as a junior, he's putting up significant numbers like the 27 points and 15 boards we attributed to him against Mauldin. Mixes up the drives and the jumpers until he's finally put up a big number.
Jerry Hollis, PF, Victory Christian: Another of the reclassified Charlotte area players, Hollis is a horse inside. He's 6-foot-3 and he gets all he can out of the body. From a collegiate standpoint he's going to have to be careful. He'll need a coach willing to live with his size and then he'll have to continue playing to his strength which right now comes as an inside, athletic player.
Omar Carter, PF, O'Berry: The undersized four man puts in his work inside. He had a big tournament and got himself on the all-regional team by going for over 20 twice.
Stephen Curry, PG, Charlotte Christian: The MVP of the Regional Tournament has gotten himself stronger and his jump shot is usually true. This year he's taken over the leadership roles of his team and he's a more confident player.
Antonio Jardine, PG, Neumann-Goretti: Up until the title game, he had it rolling from downtown. Against Mount Zion he struggled with his jumper (3-for-17, 3-for-14 3s) but he's so confident and didn't let it affect his game. Jardine takes on a leadership role for this team and he's one of the top points in his class.
Mike Holmes, PF, Lee Central: At 6-foot-7 he's all muscle. A good athlete, Holmes prefers to play facing the basket and even made a few 3s. He's a good looking prospect with room to get better. With his brawn and athleticism, we'd like to see him do more work on the glass but he's a player. A Lithuanian from Statesville Christian hit him with a bow Holmes shook it off and played right through the collision.
Rick Jackson, PF, Neumann-Goretti: Though his 15 points and 9 boards were big stats in the championship, it was his attitude that really stood out. Jackson played tough and strong against Mount Zion's bigs and scored with skill in a high level game. He played much older than his age when it mattered most.
News & Notes
One assistant coach at Mauldin High said that Horace Dixon was good to go academically but that prep school was an option. Otherwise, St. Bonaventure has offered and South Carolina and Clemson are taking a look. …
Seth Greenberg of Virginia Tech was in town watching Vernon Macklin and Earl Pettis. … Clemson assistant Kevin Nickelberry was also in the gym for Macklin … Virginia Commonwealth assistant Jeff Lamere made the trip to see Brandis Raley and a number of underclassmen. …
Antonio Jardine, just a sophomore, has offers from Rutgers and St. Joseph's. Villanova, Syracuse, UConn, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, N.C. State, Arizona and Virginia Tech are among a growing list of interested parties. North Carolina was his childhood "dream school." …
Brandon Raley of Gaston Day does a nice job using head fakes and the like. Those kind of moves open up mid-range opportunities and that's an area he steal some points in. … "Big Ticket" Vernon Macklin is a helluva prospect and I bet he'd like to have the last play of the Laurinburg game back where a guard managed to drive the length of the floor and score and uncontested layup for the win. …
The reclassification craze that seems to be rocking most of the country is alive and well in Charlotte. According to Langston Wertz of the Charlotte Observer, in the neighborhood of 20 local players switched allegiances from public to private schools and reclassified themselves this year. …
The Dell Curry/Bojangles Shootout is always well-attended. Among the celebs in the house were Panthers receiver Steve Smith, David Thompson, Al Wood, Jay Bilas, Matt Doherty, Blue Edwards and Dell Curry himself who works this event with great pride.