With two of the biggest stars of the tournament not there, the stage and the spotlight were up for grabs. The matchup that all the scouts had circled on their schedule was the 12:45 game between Philly's Finest and New England Playas. At first, there were rumors that NE Playas wasn't coming, but those voices were silenced the moment Kaleb Tarczewski and teammates walked through the door.
Tarczewski, a 7-foot, 220-pound mammoth from Southborough, MA made it known from the second he entered the gym that his team meant business. The Massachusetts big man is the #14 ranked player in the class of 2012 and is the #4 ranked center according to scout.com. Programs such as UNC, Arizona and Georgetown are courting the center, but many scouts think he is a perfect fit for Bill Self's program at Kansas (where he also has an offer).
Tarczewski's opponent for the afternoon was Philly's Finest standout, Amile Jefferson. At 6-foot-7 and 185 pounds, Jefferson is a long, wiry forward who has a great set of skills around the basket as well as a nice jump shot from the outside. Jefferson is the #22 ranked player in the class of 2012 and is the #7 ranked power forward according to scout.com.
Nobody was disappointed when these two exceptional teams, and two exceptional players squared off in an all out battle on Saturday afternoon. Jefferson's plan seemed to be to attack the rim early and often, but Tarczewski's presence inside was too much and as a result Jefferson struggled. Jefferson was often the recipient of airtight man-to-man coverage and drew the double team on numerous occasions.
On the other hand, Tarczewski dominated both ends of the court. He displayed excellent discipline and an incredible knack for timing blocks. It was rare to see anybody other than the big man pull down a rebound on Saturday afternoon. Under the basket, he displayed an expanding arsenal of post moves, from a thunderous drop stop to a beautiful fade away jump hook.
Jefferson's struggles in the first half were shadowed by his teammates air attack from beyond the arc. Philly's Finest went on an incredible hot streak in the final 8 minutes of the first half, hitting at least 6 3-pointers. At the half, Jefferson's squad led 32-22.
The second half was the Kaleb Tarczewski show. The heavily recruited center was just too much for PF and Jefferson to handle. Surprisingly, Jefferson guarded Tarczewski for about a 7-minute stretch in the second half, a move which eventually came back to bite Philly. Jefferson, utilized all the moves in the books trying to keep the 7-footer on his back, but ultimately he couldn't keep him from scoring. With about 4 minutes left in a close contest, Jefferson fouled out after clobbering Tarczewski on a drive to the hoop.
Tarczewski knocked down a few clutch free thrown in the final moments of the game which ultimately gave his team a 2 point advantage they wouldn't surrender as New England Playas prevailed 48-46 over Philly's Finest.
After the game I was able to catch up with Jefferson, who has expressed interest and an offer from Maryland among many other schools.
Listing the schools he was hearing from, Jefferson rattled off a slew of top-tier programs. Villanova, Maryland, Pitt, Temple, Wake Forest and Ohio State. Those are the ones I've been hearing from a lot lately, said Jefferson.
As the subject turned to the AAU season circuit, Jefferson was quick to state, It's essential that I get stronger and that's my number one priority. Also though I want to work on my ball handling and my shooting, making that transition to the wing.
When asked about his visit to Maryland, one of his potential suitors, Jefferson said, I've actually been down to Maryland twice to see two games but it was late so I never really got to see the campus. They have a great gym, a great facility and a really good school. It's a great program in the ACC so we're definitely taking a look at them.
I'm really looking forward to being a leader next year. Being the senior there is going to be times where I'm going to have to put the team on my back. Of course I want to win as many games as possible but it's going to be tough because we're going to have a difficult schedule but I'm looking forward to it.