Prep Profile: Blair Academy

Blair Academy coach Joe Mantegna had a team a few years back with Loul Deng and Charlie Villanueva. Mantegna is just as excited, if not more so, about this year's deep group.

Not since the days of Loul Deng and Charlie Villanueva will Blair Academy be this talented.

It's not like those days were so long ago, but Blair Academy (N.J.) coach Joe Mantegna will have a talented team across the board this season.

It'll likely be led by the frontcourt tandem of Shamari Spears and Wellington Smith.

Spears is a 6-foot-6, 225-pound widebody from North Carolina who has committed to Boston College and is a versatile offensive player who can score on the low block and also step out and knock down shots from the perimeter. Smith is headed to West Virginia and is hoping to realize the potential that many, including Mantegna, feel he can fulfill.

``He has as much ceiling as any kid I've ever had come through Blair," Mantegna said. "He has ridiculous potential."

High praise for someone who coached a pair of NBA'ers not too long ago.

Justin Robinson, a 6-foot-2 junior point guard who came over after spending half of a season at South Kent (Conn.), will battle for the starting spot with Malcolm Pope, a 6-foot junior from the Bronx.

Keith Page, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard from Manchester, England, will give Blair a solid outside threat who can knock down shots from the perimeter.

The one guy that really has Mantegna excited is 6-foot-7, 220-pound junior power forward Patrick Hazel out of Bayside High in Queens, N.Y.

``He's a sleeper, a poor man's Ben Wallace," Mantegna said. "He's active, plays hard, rebounds and blocks shots. He's a throwback. He's a gem."

Coming off the bench will be one of Pope or Robinson (whichever is unable to claim the starting spot), along with returnee Dane Trotter (6-2), 6-4 combo forward David Evans, 6-foot-10 post-grad Brad Zazzara from California and 6-3 junior wing Julius Coles of Harlem, N.Y.

``This is the deepest team we've had and the most talented we've ever had from top to bottom," Mantegna said. "I like our size and athleticism. In fact, this is the most athletic team we've ever had."

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