PrimeTime at the RAC

New Jersey is arguably the greatest state in America for high school basketball, and that was never more evident than on Friday at the RAC, when Rutgers played host for a night to the PrimeTime Shootout. New Jersey's top three teams were there, and Rutgers fans got a chance to see Mike Rosario in action. He looked right at home, and he certainly didn't disappoint.

It was a high school hoop junkies dream come true yesterday at Rutgers. The third leg of this year's PrimeTime Shootout rolled into Piscataway with four games on tap, and if you were a fan of high school basketball and also Rutgers, this was the place to be. Some of the best talent in the nation was on display.

Sitting courtside were the entire RU coaching staff – actually, I need to clarify, the entire men's coaching staff. RU women's Head Coach C. Vivian Stringer and Assistant Coach Carlene Mitchell were also in attendance, as was most of the women's team. This was no doubt due to the fact that the first game of the four-game event was a women's match-up between Newark's University High and Murray Bergtraum High from New York City.

Also at the RAC on this day were Pitt coach Jamie Dixon and famed high school and AAU coach Sandy Pyonin, to name just a few. The crowd contained a good mix of fans, coaches, and the assorted contingents of handlers, advisors, "uncles", and hangers-on that are a fixture nowadays of the high school and prep basketball scene.

The women's game featured a young lady named Lauren Mincy from University High who happened to achieve the incredible feat of being named first-team all-state last year as a freshman. In all the years I've watched high school basketball in New Jersey, I can think of no one, boy or girl, that has ever attained such an honor as a 9th grader (the closest I can think of were Tim Thomas and Shaheen Holloway, who both did it the same year as sophomores).

Mincy was able to score 16 points, but it was not nearly enough, as Bergtraum routed University, 80-56. This certainly must have been pleasing to the watchful eyes of the greatest women's player that Bergtraum has ever produced, Epiphanny Prince (who is now well on her way to becoming one of the greatest women's players ever at Rutgers). This game also established a bit of a pattern, as all but the last were blowouts.

Game 2 pitted John Carrol of Maryland against what is still the most storied program in New Jersey's great basketball history, St Anthony's, and their legendary coach Bob Hurley. The Friars were playing this game without junior superstar Dominic Cheek, but it hardly mattered. Bob Hurley's teams are noted for their relentless, suffocating defense, and anyone who attended this event expecting to see it could not have been disappointed.

The Friars jumped out to a 19-0 lead, and were up at the half by the sore of 50-16. Rutgers-bound Mike Rosario easily outscored Carrol all by himself, as he tallied 24 by intermission. He barely played half of the third quarter, as Coach Hurley mercifully began yanking his starters. It was 63-23 after three, and the final score was 71-33.

Rosario finished with 32 points, and here is a simple message to RU fans: this kid is for real. He can flat-out play. He is RU's first McDonald's All-American for a reason. He's athletic, he's tenacious on defense, he can handle, and he can shoot – man, can he shoot. Rutgers won't have perimeter woes when he arrives next year.

The third contest, lie the previous games, was not close, as local heroes Piscataway had the daunting task of matching up against that MacDonald's All-America-producing machine, more commonly known as Oak Hill Academy. You had to know the home town boys were in for a tough night when they seemed to spend most of their pre-game warm-up watching the Oak Hill gang put on a slam-dunk exhibition that constituted their warm-up.

It seemed as if Oak Hill was more intent on showboating and entertaining at times during this affair than anything else, especially super-duper point guard Brandon Jennings. Of course, when you're as gifted as Brandon Jennings, it doesn't matter much, especially when you have the teammates he does. Jennings scored 30 points, but it was another Jennings, Dan Jennings, who garnered team MVP honors in this one. Piscataway showed much heart, hanging in during the early goings, but it was not nearly enough. Final score: 81-39.

The finale was the game most came to see, as the other two-thirds of New Jersey's Holy Trinity of basketball superpowers took the court to face off against each other: St Benedict's vs. St Patrick's - The Ali-Frazier of high school basketball match-ups. This was a war from start to finish. St. Pat's jumped out to an early lead, but the Grey Bees came back and held a small lead throughout. They hung on to win 68-62, despite some late heroics from St. Pat's North Carolina-bound junior Dexter Strickland (who surprisingly sat out the first quarter, prompting the most frequently asked question of the night; "Hey, you know why Dexter didn't play …).

All in all if you were a basketball junkie, it didn't get any better than this.


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