Notre Dame Prep (Mass.), led by the upstate New York duo of Paul Harris (Syracuse) and Lazar Hayward (Marquette), knocked off No. 2 Hargrave Military Academy (Va.) and No. 3 Patterson School (N.C.) in November and withstood a brutal schedule to claim the top spot.
Hayward led the Crusaders at 18 points per game while Harris added 15 points and a team-high 11 rebounds.
``It means a lot," Harris said about the No. 1 ranking. "I was never number one in my high school, so this is a big accomplishment for me and the team."
However, Notre Dame coach Bill Barton said it was far from a two-man show.
``We hot huge contributions from Lamont Ulmer, Charlie Swiggett (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and David Gonzalvez," Barton said. ``Early in the season, the combination of Lazar and Paul was huge. However, we're not winning games without our supporting cast."
In what was the tightest final poll since its origination, Notre Dame edged Hargrave primarily due to its head-to-head matchup early in the season – and also because of a more difficult schedule. Hargrave picked up quality wins against Patterson on a neutral court at the end of the season, but lost by double-figures to Notre Dame and also dropped a game to No. 4 Bridgton.
While Notre Dame lost a trio of games it probably shouldn't have – at Fork Union and MCI and to CCRI (that's Community College of Rhode Island), the Crusaders also posted a bevy of quality wins in addition to the victories over the second and third-ranked teams in the country. Notre Dame knocked off St. Thomas More three times, Winchendon twice, beat Brewster, Boys to Men and avenged losses to both MCI and Fork Union.
``We got off track in the middle of the year," Harris said. "No excuses, they wanted it more than us. But we picked it up at the end, when we needed to."
``In the big games, we worked hard and didn't quit," Barton said. "We did all the little things – got the loose balls and when we needed a big rebound or a big stop, we got it."
It appeared as though Notre Dame was going to cruise through the season, especially after getting Derrick Caracter after the season began. However, the Louisville-bound big man made little to no impact – and had numerous games when he didn't see any action at all. Instead, it was guys like Ulmer, Swiggett and Gonzalvez who ended up being the perfect compliment to the duo of Hayward and Harris.
``I knew how good these guys were, but people kept saying how it was just me and Lazar," Harris added. "They didn't realize how good guys like Lamont and David were. I went up against them in practice every day."