- Christopher Lawlor, High School Basketball
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NEW YORK -- The intersection of East 155th Street and Frederick Douglas Boulevard became the center of the prep basketball universe Friday night.
That's the location of Harlem's famed Rucker Park. Friday night, fans arrived four hours before tip-off to ensure a courtside seat at the quaint, 1,500-seat venue, which is just a jump shot from Polo Grounds Apartments.
Junior guard Doron Lamb and 6-5 Dominic Cheek, who honed their games on New York area playgrounds, each contributed several clutch jumpers in the second, helping the Skip to My Lou squad rally past The Goat squad, 135-121.
The third Boost Mobile Elite 24 event was a tribute to the outdoor game, popularized by urban street legends such as Earl "The Goat" Manigold, Spooky "MVP" Wilson, Joe "The Destroyer" Hammond and Ron "Terminator" Mathis. Thirteen of the 24 players chosen for this year's game were rising seniors.
Launched in 2006 by RISE Magazine, the Boost Mobile Elite 24 is the only basketball event in the country to feature players regardless of class year or shoe affiliation. The teams -- The Goat and Skip to My Lou -- were named for Rucker-bred players Manigold and Rafer Alston (of the Houston Rockets and who attended Cardozo High in Queens), respectively.
The game was an event citywide -- and was televised live on ESPNU (it will be rebroadcast Monday at midnight on ESPN2) -- but most of the faithful were in Harlem. The game oozed New York City culture.
Rap music with heavy bass lines thumped during timeouts, Double Dutch jump ropers entertained the crowd with mesmerizing footwork and city personality Bobbito Garcia provided color and instant analysis from courtside.
The game featured the talent and creativity of its players. Although offensive flair and showmanship were expected, defense was stressed by guest coaches STML's Chauncey Billups of the Detroit Pistons and The Goat's Kenny Anderson, a former NBA point guard and graduate of Archbishop Molloy High in nearby Queens.
After trailing almost the entire game, STML took a 90-87 lead when Cheek of St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.) drained a 3-pointer with 10:50 left. Less than a minute later, Cheek banked in another three to stretch STML's edge to 98-92.
Cheek's timely offensive boost was the extra kick STML needed. At the end of the night, Cheek's stat line of 23 points, seven rebounds and three steals reflected his solid all-around play. Cheek, who grew up playing on Jersey City's Lincoln Park courts, was comfortable outdoors.
"I shot it well tonight," Cheek said. "I knew we needed some points on the scoreboard. At halftime our coaches were telling me to shoot if you're open."
STML's Lamb, a Queens native, recently said he was transferring from Bishop Loughlin (Brooklyn) to national powerhouse Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.). But before Lamb departed for the rural Virginia school, he dropped in a team-high 25 points.
Also chipping in for STML were center Derrick Favors of South Atlanta (Ga.), who had 16 points and seven boards, and 6-9 junior Josh Smith of Kentwood (Covington, Wash.), who had the game's lone double-double, 11 points and 11 rebounds.
STML's John Wall, a fifth-year senior guard from Word of God Academy in Raleigh, N.C., brought down the house with a left-handed tomahawk dunk that rattled the rim and bumped the lead to 109-101. The 6-3 Wall, ranked No. 6 in the ESPN 100, scored 10 points to go with six assists and is considering schools such as Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Memphis and Kentucky.
"I usually put down about two dunks per game, but this is the type atmosphere where a good dunk draws more oohs and ahs; you need to show your talent," Wall said.
It was no surprise that Wall and Cheek were named Most Valuable Players for STML.
Lance Stephenson, who was playing in his second Elite 24 event for The Goat, was questionable before the game with a strained muscle near his hip but dispelled any doubts in the opening minute when he drained a long 3-pointer, pleasing the hometown crowd. Later in the first half, he took a rebound coast-to-coast for a one-handed dunk for a 40-38 lead.
A crowd favorite, Stephenson of Lincoln (Brooklyn, N.Y.) -- the No. 7-rated player in the ESPN 100 -- did not disappoint as he scored 29 points, dished out three assists and was named his team's co-MVP along with Maalik Wayns.
"I like keeping order," said Stephenson, who looked comfortable distributing in his third Boost Mobile game. "I like being in control with the ball in my hands."
Stephenson alternately directed The Goats from the point and unleashed his retooled, NBA-range 3-point jumper. Stephenson, undecided about college, is considering Memphis, Kansas, Texas, St. John's and Southern California.
Wayns, a 6-1 senior guard from Roman Catholic (Philadelphia), had six assists in the opening half, including two on consecutive possessions. Most notably Wayns, a Villanova recruit, slithered between two STML defenders at the top of the key, delivering a feed to 6-9 junior Jeremy Tyler of San Diego (Calif.) High for the dunk and a 44-41 lead.
"If you don't bring your best game, the people here will let you know it," Wayns said. "We worked hard in the second half, but they seemed to get too many second chance baskets."
The Goats carried a 62-56 lead into the second half as Stephenson scored 17 points and Karron Johnson of Mount Zion Academy (Durham, N.C.) topped STML with nine.
But the second half took an unexpected turn toward STML.
"First half I was passing too much; my coaches said don't pass up good shots," Wall said.
Wall added he enjoyed his stay in New York and playing for knowledgeable, tough fans.
"It's supposed to be fun," said Dwayne "Tiny" Morton, who coaches Stephenson at Lincoln High but sat on the opposite bench from him on Friday. "I tell players here to play defense because a defensive stop or two may win the game."
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also for worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University
Lance Stephenson wasn't the only shining star at Friday's Boost Mobile Elite 24, writes Christopher Lawlor.