NEW YORK — Andray Blatche announced last week he intends to skip college for the NBA.
On Saturday night, he proved he's making the right decision.
Playing in front a star-studded crowd, which included Michael Jordan and Vince Carter, Blatche recorded game highs of 26 points and 16 rebounds to earn co-MVP honors at the Jordan Classic at Madison Square Garden. Still, his White team squandered a 16-point second-half lead and lost to the Gray team, 127-126.
Blatche could have grabbed his 17th rebound to seal the win, but fellow co-MVP Tyler Hansbrough skied over him and tipped in a C.J. Miles free-throw miss with 9.1 seconds remaining to give the Gray team a 127-126 lead.
Hansbrough scored 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds in 22 minutes to earn MVP honors. Miles, a Texas-bound guard out of Skyline (Dallas, Texas), finished with 16 points and six rebounds.
"Blatche kind of helped me on that, I guess I kind of bumped him," says Hansbrough, a North Carolina-bound forward out of Poplar Bluff (Poplar Bluff, Mo.). "I'm very honored to be recognized for my performance tonight in front of Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. It was very special to get the MVP."
Syracuse-bound point guard Emanuel Mayben out of Troy (Troy, N.Y.), a late addition to the game after Monta Ellis of Lanier (Lanier, Miss.) pulled out with a knee injury, missed two free-throw attempts with 3.8 seconds left and Blatche air-balled a full-court shot at the buzzer as the Gray team escaped with the win.
The loss was the only thing regrettable to Blatche, who was 12-of-17 from the field.
"My performance tonight, the best part was getting big down low and running the court very well for a big man," says Blatche, who hasn't hired an agent but says he won't change his mind about going pro. "And rebound, I think I did that really well. I think I played fairly well."
After scoring 11 first-half points, the 6-foot-11, 230-pound center out of South Kent Prep (South Kent, Conn.) took over in the second half before the Gray team's run. Blatche was 7-of-8 from the field in the second half and his coast-to-coast dunk with nine minutes left in the game gave his team a 98-90 lead.
"It was kind of nerve racking," Blatche says. "I was nervous. You had Jordan right there, Jadakiss, Spike Lee. All of them were right there on the front row. TO, Vince Carter. I was nervous, but I just kept playing."
Blatche wasn't the only possible preps-to-pros player to shine Saturday.
South Gwinnett (Snellville, Ga.) guard Louis Williams scored 20 points, dished out four assists and had three rebounds for the Gray team.
"I was happy considering it was at the Garden in a great atmosphere with talented players around me," says Williams, who scored his team's first eight points. "I wasn't really thinking of MJ. I just wanted to play my game, come out and play hard and do the things I'm capable of doing."
Williams signed with Georgia but says he's leaning toward the NBA.
"It's obvious I'm leaning toward the NBA," he says. "Who wouldn't be in my situation? If I have the opportunity now, I want to take the opportunity now instead of waiting one or two years, because who's to say it's going to play out the way I want it to during that time span."
Williams says he'll make an official announcement at a May 4 press conference at his school.
Williams' teammate at South Gwinnett and fellow Georgia recruit Mike Mercer scored 19 points and had a game-record nine assists for the White team. Mercer is one of only two people who know Williams' definite decision. Williams says his mother is the other.
Unlike Williams, Seattle Prep (Seattle, Wash.) guard Martell Webster has been coy surrounding his decision. But following his performance Saturday, there's no question the NBA is a definite possibility even though he signed with Washington.
Webster scored 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting and had three steals for the White team.
"I think I could have done better, but I'm not going to walk away with my head down," he says. "You always want to play well with [Jordan] watching. You're playing on the most legendary court, especially in front of MJ, you've got to showcase your talent.
After announcing earlier this week his intentions to go pro, Laurinburg Prep (Laurinburg, N.C.) forward Shawne Williams, who signed with Memphis, scored 15 points and had six boards for the Gray team in 19 minutes.
Xaverian (Brooklyn, N.Y.) point guard Levance Fields scored all 18 of his points in the second half to help the Gray team complete its come back.
Now in its fourth year, it was the first time New York and Madison Square Garden hosted the Jordan Classic, which was held in Washington D.C. the first three years.
"It's great to be back in New York City, and Jordan Brand is thrilled to be playing this event at Madison Square Garden," says Jordan, whose entrance Saturday created a circus-like atmosphere. "New York City has a rich history of high school players. We plan to make the Jordan Classic an annual staple in New York City and add to the exciting and legendary high school basketball landscape."