The best game at the City of Palms was an overtime thriller. With big name prospects smattered about on the American Heritage side, it was the best-unsigned senior big man in the nation leading the way for New Hope 82-78.
Rashanti Harris, a 6-foot-9 man, scored 32 points and amassed 25 rebounds against Eloy Vargas and his crew. Harris, a man-child who was not mentioned in last week's Mitchell Report, is the best out of area rebounder we've seen in the current senior class. He entered the season ranked No. 64 by Scout.com and that'll change accordingly the next time around.
Harris owned his area and the real estate in surrounding counties. When it came to rebounds, he got all the difficult caroms. Playing with his right hand heavily banged after injuring it dunking, Harris shot 11-for-20 and dominated to begin the overtime period. He did all of this against Vargas who himself was excellent. Vargas had 21 and 16 boards.
The two post players couldn't be more different which made for great drama. Vargas, a long 6-10 versatile post, is the better shot blocker and offensive player. Big credit goes to him for taking the fight to Harris when he could. The Florida signee never backed down from a physically superior opponent. He's also nursing a back injury that couldn't have felt great.
Meanwhile, Harris had to deal with double and triple teams. He created space to rebound and whipped strong outlet passes when he could. Harris and New Hope earned the right to face Greg Monroe and Cox tomorrow. Buckle up, this one could be special!
American Heritage found hard luck when Kenny Boynton picked up his 4th foul minutes into the second half. He would foul out early in the overtime period. With junk defenses coming at him, Boynton struggled going 5-for-17. One of the best players in the 2009 class will have better nights, you can bet on that. He showed a lot of class as he sensed the moment and made a point to shake the hands of New Hope's coaching staff before taking a seat for the thriller.
Shooting guard Dale Hughes scored 34 to lead New Hope. A mid level recruit, Hughes made 11 of his 12 free throws and 5 3-pointers. Speedster Ray Taylor had 25 points for American Heritage on 9-for-26 from the field.
Big time players, big time game.
Larry Drew, PG, Taft – In its 9th game, the Taft machine looks well oiled. Drew had 12 points and a couple assists. Drew drilled both of 3-point attempts. Put good players around – like they will at UNC – and he'll drive the bus and deliver the basketball to primary scoring weapons.
Rakeem Buckles, PF/SF, Pace – There's something about this young man. If we're right, he's a year and some polish away from being a potential Top 25 national prospect. If we're wrong, he's no worse than the 50-75 range. His shot is awkward but goes down. The way he rebounds above the crowd, his overall athletic ability and consistent progression with his game and body means we're going to value him highly early and roll the dice. He's got work to do and can't afford to be tainted by the recruiting process. He's a real talent should he opt to stay the course. 9 points, 6 rebounds and 4 turnovers aren't eye popping but again, with him it's a projection.
Isaiah Philmore, PF, Carroll – True to his DNA, Philmore fought to the end and that included 8 points and some floor burns in a spirited final quarter. It wasn't enough as Carroll lost its second game at The Classic in as many days. 20 points and 10 boards for the junior.
David Paulk, SG, Dunbar – His best game of the event was exactly the kind of point production Dunbar craved. The shooting standout scored 22 points on 9-for-14 from the field. He's a prospect of either the low or mid level variety if he can add a mid-range pull and some work off the bounce because he's 6-4.
Rick Pitino has been chasing Rakeem Buckles since the summer and the pursuit continued as Louisville's skipper had a prime baseline seat for a guy who's clearly one of his favorite juniors. Florida State's Leonard Hamilton was also in attendance. …
There are scholarships out there for point guards to be had on the low and mid-major level and Pace's Reggie Chambers could snag one. He started strong but couldn't keep pace. This is a key event for a senior looking to make an impression. Step one: use the weapons that are at your disposal. …
UNC-Asheville has a scorer on the way in Chris Stephenson. His club got run out of the gym by Taft. However, there's ample reason to believe he can be a productive scorer with his stroke. …
The NBA pays guys to rebound with aggression and in traffic the way Rashanti Harris does. Once he develops a counter to his power game, look out. He's about to blast past a lot of guys with bigger reputations, especially if he shows well against Monroe. The pair has seen each other before, according to Harris, at the LeBron James Skills Academy. Hopefully our friends with the whistles and the stripes have good games. By the way, Kevin Love would have been proud tonight. Like Love, Harris put up a huge rebounding number in this event. Then, in Love-ly fashion, threw a handful of precision outlet passes. …
Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Memphis, Florida, Tennessee and Texas are the programs Harris mentioned. Academics are a concern. "I'm working as hard as I can to make that happen," Harris said. We were able to get solid information that junior college or maybe prep school is more likely. … Dale Hughes is hearing from South Alabama and Middle Tennessee State. He sports a 4.0 GPA. …
"I think I'm going to get ejected early and sit back and see how this one turns out"
Head Coaches -- Rick Pitino, Louisville; Leonard Hamilton, Florida State.
Assistant Coaches -- Ohio State, Louisville, Central Florida, North Florida., High Point, Georgia Tech, Seton, Connecticut, Florida State.