On Tap: Academy National Invitational

The Academy National Invitational gets underway on Wednesday - and we'll give you an in-depth preview of what to watch for this year.

The Academy National Invitational gets underway on Wednesday and, as usual, tournament organizer Hal Pastner has a plethora of Houston-area and national talent assembled.

We'll take you through the players to watch with a preview of the first day of action's matchups:

9:30 a.m. – Cornerstone Christian vs. Hastings - Texas Division

First-year Cornerstone coach Walter Webb came over from Coastal Christian Academy (Va.) and he has plenty of talent in San Antonio. Samuel Hannes, a 6-foot-8, 215-pound senior swingman from Finland, is a big-time scorer. Cornerstone also has 6-11 sophomore Beas Hamga, 6-10 junior Kiril Nickolovski of Masadonia and 6-6 senior forward Jourdain Allou from the Ivory Coast.

Hastings is led by 5-foot-11, 160-pound junior point guard B.J. Holmes, one of the more underrated floor leaders nationally. Holmes averaged 16.8 points and 6.8 assists last season.

Hastings also has 6-5 senior wing Chris Ajayi, 6-2 junior Larry Davis and 6-6 junior Jeremy McCarty. 11 a.m. Leflore (Ala.) vs. Fairfax (Calif.) – National Division

Leflore may have lost its top seven players from last year, but the Rattlers still have plenty of talent. Chris Blakes is a 6-foot-5 junior point guard who hasn't received any national publicity – yet. Senior shooting guard Johnny Mayhanne (6-5) also has size and can get to the basket.

Fairfax has produced guys like Chris Mills, Craig Smith and Jamal Boykin. The next standout is Chace Stanback, a 6-foot-7, 180-pound junior forward whose game is similar to that of Mills. Fairfax also has 6-5 senior swingman Jerren Shipp, 6-foot combo guard Ja'Shon Hampton and Temple-bound 6-8 senior power forward Matt Shaw. Other D-1 prospects include 6-2 sophomore guard Chris Solomon and 6-9 senior Gilroy Hemsley.

12:30 p.m. Aldine vs. Jesse Jones – Texas Division

This matchup pits two of the area's top players against one another.

Aldine is led by 6-8 junior Gary Johnson, a relentless inside player who is being pursued by many of the nation's top programs – including Duke, Texas, UConn, Kentucky and Arizona.

Jones is paced by Texas-bound guard Harrison Smith.

Johnson will have help from 5-9 senior guard Brandon Brown and 6-6 junior Matthew Johnson.

Jones, which also produced current Texas guard Daniel Gibson, will also have 6-5 junior big man Deangelo Kay and junior point guard Travis Dotson.

2 p.m. Bellaire vs. Neumann-Goretti (Pa.) – National Division

Bellaire is led by junior floor leader Jai Lucas, the son of former NBA player/coach John Lucas, Colorado-bound senior wing Dale Vanwright and 6-10 junior big man Isaiah Rusher.

The Cardinals will have their hands full with Neumann-Goretti, which has two players – juniors Antonio Jardine and Rick Jackson – already committed to Syracuse. The Saints also have St. Joseph's-bound 6-2 senior guard Derrick Rivera and unsigned senior swingman Earl Pettis.

3:30 p.m. – Eisenhower vs. Westfield – Texas Division

Eisenhower is somewhat of an unknown nationally, but guys like 6-foot senior wing Tommy Lane and 6-foot junior guard Deuindre Whitaker will get a chance to make names for themselves. The Eagles also have 6-5 senior Jamaria Johnson and 6-6 senior Brandon Smith in the post.

Westfield has plenty of balance. Chris Hagan is a 5-foot-9 senior point guard and 6-4 senior forward Cleveland Richard is another one to watch – as is 6-3 senior Pierre Beasley, a big-time football player whose status is up in the air for the tournament after missing the early part of the season due to injury. Others to watch are 6-4 senior wing Brandon Dison, a New Orleans transplant, and 6-foot-7 junior Albert Turley.

5 p.m. – Oak Hill Academy (Va.) vs. Peabody (La.) – National Division

As usual, Steve Smith's team is loaded. This year the Oak Hill boss has North Carolina-bound senior point guard Tywon Lawson, 6-8 junior Michael Beasley, 6-3 junior combo guard Nolan Smith, Maryland-bound senior wing Landon Milbourne and 6-8 forward Jeff Allen (Virginia Tech). That's just his starting lineup.

Peabody, which was 31-2 a year ago, is led by 6-foot-5 senior swingman Rodney Jones, 6-5 junior small forward Marcus Simmons and 6-9 junior Raphelle Turner. The Warhorses have been one of the Louisiana's top teams for years and likely will give Oak Hill a game.

6:30 p.m. – Hightower vs. Wheatley – Texas Division

Hightower is led by Texas-bound senior point guard D.J. Augustin, a New Orleans native who came over after Hurricane Katrina. Hightower also has 6-6 senior wing Michael Behrens and junior guards Curtis Bowens and J.D. Lane.

Wheatley's top player is 6-1 senior combo guard Dewayne Reed, who averaged 23 points per game last season. Lawrence Gilbert is a 6-7 senior from New Orleans who starts at small forward and Patrick Presley is a 6-5 senior post.

8 p.m. – Wheeler (Ga.) vs. Kingwood – National Division Wheeler is loaded, but the player with the most potential on the team is clearly 6-9 junior big man James Hickson, who came over from Southwest Atlanta Christian prior to this year. Hickson is joined by J.T. Tiller (UAB) and guards James Florence and Andrew Titus. Wheeler also has 6-7 senior power forward BeJay Corley up front with Hickson.

Nic Wise (Arizona) will, once again, lead Kingwood, which also has junior forward Mike Singletary back in the fold. Trevin Harris, a 6-5 junior, should help Wise and Singletary.

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