National Prep Tip-Off Recap

The National Prep Tip-Off Classic was the perfect venue for the prep school's elite to strut their stuff. When the dust settled, Notre Dame Prep ruled the roost and guys like Craig Brackins emerged as stock boosters.

The 2005 National Prep Tip-Off Classic is the closest thing to a Final Four prep basketball can ever hope for. The nation's elite prep and post graduate power houses gathered in tiny Barrington, R.I., (Nov. 18-20) where for three days, observers were treated to a sneak peek into the future of college basketball.

When it was all said and done, the three highest regarded teams – Patterson, Hargrave and South Kent – left the event with a loss and 8 of the Top 10 programs suffered weekend set backs.

However, one program emerged without a scratch. Notre Dame Academy of Fitchburg, Mass., was the big winner as it took down powerful Patterson 88-85 after whipping Hargrave by 16 in the opener.

Notre Dame Prep shot just 40% from the floor in its pair of wins and its best guards, Paul Harris (pictured, 38 percent) and scorer Lazar Hayward (34 percent) weren't exactly en fuego from the field. Plus, power forward Derrick Caracter scored just 12 points and pulled down 9 boards in two foul-plagued efforts.

Statistically, it wasn't pretty and even a little tough to explain since there is no category to quantify effort and intangibles. Basically, when it came down to needing a bucket, Harris and Hayward figured a way to get one. Toss in the fact that Harris isn't afraid to body a guy up on defense or double as a point guard when it gets right down to it, and Bill Barton's team was in good hands.


It wasn't just Harris and Hayward leading the charge for Notre Dame. In fact, the squad received a boost from an unlikely forward. Lamonte Ulmer, a 6-foot-6 combo forward, averaged 15.5 points a game for the event and shot 67% from the field. In the process, the lightly regarded mid-major recruit entering the event, had high-major assistants scrambling to learn more about his game and his history. Guys in the offices at Marist and Charleston are going to have to hold on for dear life this week.

Phil Jones, a 6-foot-10 center, could always play. The Laurinburg Institute product was one of those guys big dogs were hesitant to commit to, largely because they'd never seen him in good condition. Well, Jones dropped 25 pounds and as a result is likely to turn into one of the most recruitable high-major bigs this spring. Crews at UConn, Georgetown, Tennessee, St. John's, George Washington and Miami have a foot in the door but Jones is in a little better position to call the shots after last weekend.

Other big time stock boosters included Winchendon guard Ricky Harris (led the event in scoring), Patterson center Hashim Bailey (experienced a renewed post confidence) and guard Bobby Maze who won the unofficial Allen Iverson look-a-like contest. All kidding aside, nobody kept Maze between them and the basket all weekend long.


The most impressive overall performer of the weekend was's No. 14 prospect Vernon Macklin. The 6-9 Hargrave power forward easily recorded a pair of double-doubles. Though nobody said it publicly, Macklin's all-american status needed a boost after by his standards an average summer. Last weekend's dominating effort on the glass punched "Big Ticket's" ticket to the post season all-star games.

The Pittsburgh Panthers will be glad once 6-foot-6 wing Gilbert Brown actually matriculates. Waiting on the athleticism a kid like Brown brings to the table can become quite nerve-racking. While the Panthers landed a good wing, Florida hit the interior jackpot with Marreese Speights. The Hargrave center strung together another strong weekend of post prowess and he'll bring legitimate offense to the Gators frontline.


The basis for the event was post graduate players but it goes without saying that prep schools aren't opposed to reclassifying a prospect or two. As it turned out, two of the best young prospects were reclassed while another only recently entered the country.

Craig Brackins debuted in the spring Top 100 last May. Now, he's a card carrying member of the Class of 2007 and is starring not at a California high school but Chicago's Boys To Men Academy. The post prospect has polished up his game and is a bonafide high-major in his class.

Brackins' teammate at Boys To Men, is reclassed point guard Jeremiah Kelly. The current member of the sophomore class demonstrated a feel for the position and a knack for dishing the basketball. He too impressed onlookers during his two-game stint in the spotlight.

Finally, there's Teeng Akol. The 6-foot-10 Sudanese import at Our Savior in New York is someone likely to create a ripple. Listed as a junior, he's athletic, talented on the perimeter and it goes without saying, very tall.

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