Pitino eyes Mayo, Lofton at King of the Bluegrass
Quarter Final Results:
Miami Senior 52, Granby 46
Apollo 58, Male 54
Rose Hill 85, Ballard 84
Mason County 95, North Hardin 81
Apollo vs. Rose Hill, 7:30
Miami Senior vs. Mason County, 9:00
With University of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino looking on, Rose Hill 15 year old sensation O.J. Mayo put on an impressive show last night in the quarterfinals of the King of the Bluegrass Classic. With a full gym and some intense fans from Eastern Kentucky in the gym, Mayo and his Rose Hill teammates got off to a bit of a slow start last night against traditional Louisville power Ballard High School. Ballard, led by senior guard Sean Booker and sophomore forward RaVon Lee applied early pressure against the Royals and held Mayo to just five first half points while taking a 4 point lead to the break.
That's when Mayo took over. In the second frame and the overtime, Mayo showed everyone in the gym, including Coach Pitino, why many have proclaimed him the nation's number one 8th grader. He displayed excellent ball handling ability against the Ballard press, found open teammates with his passing ability and finished with 6 key assists. But it's his ability to put the ball in the basket that helped the Royals overcome the 7th Region's top team last night.
Mayo scored every way possible. He's extremely proficient at putting the ball on the floor, pulling up and knocking in perimeter jumpers from 15-17 feet. He elevates well on his shot and has tremendous touch and balance. He particularly liked the right baseline pull up last night, knocking down several tough jumpers with Ballard defenders draped on him. He showed off his three point range too, knocking in two huge threes off the dribble from the right wing late in the game to keep the Royals in contention. But it's Mayo's poise that's was most impressive. Not only was the pressure on with Coach Pitino looming behind the basket but the crowd was loud and the competition tough. Mayo played with control and didn't rattle under the pressure and showed he could take the physical play employed by Ballard's defenders. On one sequence, Mayo took the ball in the backcourt against the Bruins full court press, bounced off several defenders, excellerated into the frontcourt using a deft left hand dribble and finished at the basket for an easy layup. All told, Mayo scored 27 second half and overtime points and finished with 32 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Mayo is not an explosive athlete, but can certainly play above the rim. The best description I've heard is that he's "smooth." And his game certainly is. Best of all, the kid's not even in high school yet. Former Louisville standout Jeff Hall and Rose Hill head coach has to be excited by his team's future.
Two players from Ballard deserve special mention as well. 6'2 senior guard Sean Booker, rated the 3rd best overall player in the Planet Red Hoops preseason Jefferson County top 10 is clearly the top senior basketball player in the city of Louisville. He's a real good athlete who battles on the boards, plays tough defense and scores in a variety of ways. At this point he'd probably make some mid major coach extremely happy and could help out at a school like SIU or Indiana State. With increased strength and more development of his three point shot, Booker will be a solid player at the mid major level. He finished with 17 points and 8 rebounds last night.
RaVon Lee, a 6'4 sophomore jumping jack from Ballard also played well last night. He was extremely impressive when I last saw him at Dave Zuberer's tournament last spring and last night he turned in another impressive outing. Lee is a thin athlete who plays above the rim and likes to dunk and block shots. Against Rose Hill, Lee led the Bruins in scoring with 22 and finished with 8 rebounds as well. If he grows a few more inches during the next few years he will be an intriguing wing prospect. Without the physical upward growth, Lee will need to vastly improve his shooting and ball handling skills to play at the highest level.
Another player of note. 6'3 Rose Hill freshman center Bill Walker played well and made an impression with his play around the basket last night. Walker finished with 13 points and pulled down several key rebounds.
In the last quarterfinal game of the night, two of last seasons Sweet 16 teams collided. Mason County and Chris Lofton laced it up against the much bigger and athletic North Hardin Trojans and their star player Andre Woodson, a Kentucky football commit. And the story in this game was Lofton. Lofton, known in basketball circles around the state as one of the very top players has made a name for himself in the state's biggest hoops market with his strong showing during the first two rounds of the KOB. After scoring 30 points against Louisville Eastern's Rajon Rondo in the opening round, Lofton was unconsious last night, dropping in 42 points and nailing 7/9 three point shots. Lofton broke out of the gates running, quickly scoring 14 points during the games first 6 minutes. During that stretch, Lofton nailed 4/4 three's including one from the basketball painted about 30 feet from the basket.