KINGSTON, R.I. -- The 2008 National Prep School Invitational featured some of the top prep school teams and players in the country, but unfortunately the highly-regarded players and teams did not play each other. Instead the event had a number of blowouts and lopsided matchups, especially during the early stages of the event. However, the Patterson School (Lenoir, N.C.), considered by many as the top prep school team in the country, participated in this event and played in probably the best two games during the weekend.
Given it has so much talent, opposing teams gain an extra measure of motivation when they take the court against Patterson. Patterson relied heavily on its three-headed monster in the backcourt of 5-10 PG Courtney Fortson, 6-2 combo guard Varez Ward and 6-2 SG Darius Johnson-Odom. This talented trio led Patterson in two nail-biting victories over Notre Dame Prep (Fitchburg, Mass.) and Bridgton Academy (North Bridgton, Maine).
While Fortson will take his considerable talents to Arkansas next season, Ward and Johnson-Odom remain uncommitted. Besides Ward and Johnson-Odom, a number of very skilled postgraduate players, 2008 prospects and underclassmen played well.
Uncommitted postgrads and 2008 prospects
Varez Ward, combo guard (6-2)
This postgrad player plays very hard whenever he takes the court. Ward has tremendous quickness, leaping ability and hang-times, making him a very effective penetrator. He also has good strength, allowing him to withstand a blow in the paint and still finish successfully at the rim, plays good defense, using his lateral foot speed and strength to bother opposing guards and has good passing ability and vision. His jump shot, though the weak area in his game, has improved dramatically since the summer. He will need to continue his work on his jumper for the next level. Currently he lists Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Butler, Baylor, and Alabama-Birmingham among his choices for college.
Darius Johnson-Odom, SG (6-2)
This lefty has an explosive first step and great leaping ability, which helps him wreak havoc on opposing defenses through his penetration. He relentlessly attacks the rim almost at will. He also has range on his jumper extending out to the 3-point line, though he needs to continue to improve his jumper for college. Odom plays more like a two-guard even though he has the size of a point-guard and will have to pair up with a point guard when he plays on the next level. He sometimes tends to look for his own offense a little too much and gets out of control at times. An effective mid-range game would enhance his penetration skills immensely. Johnson-Odom competes with a great deal of intensity whenever he steps on the court.
Matt Pressey, combo guard (6-2)
Senior/Ashburnham, Mass./Cushing Academy
Pressey has a very diversified game, giving him the ability to wear many hats for his team. He has a good body, strength and leaping ability which gives him the ability to guard the opposing team's best player despite sometimes giving up a few inches in height. He moves his feet very well on defense and pressures the ball effectively. On the offensive end, Pressey has good ball-handling skills and uses his quickness to easily get to the rim. He also will stick the perimeter jumper from 3-point range if left alone, but he really excels off the dribble and shooting the mid-range jump shot. He also plays well in the open court, effectively finishing in transition. Pressey plays as the typical glue guy for a team, doing whatever his teams requires for a victory. He had the attention of some high majors in the summer, but now lists High Point and Alabama-Birmingham among the schools currently interested in his services.
Hamid Ford, PG (6-0)
Postgrad/North Bridgton, Maine
A pure point guard, he plays as the vocal and emotional leader of his ballclub. Ford has the ability to penetrate to the basket, using his surprising quickness and leaping ability to get in the lane and create scoring opportunities for himself as well as for teammates. He also will knock down the perimeter jumper with the ability to step out to 3-point land or stick a one- or two-dribble mid-range pull-up jump shot. He has very good lift on his jump shot. He also has good vision and passing skills as expected from a point guard. Ford moves his feet well on defense and has quick hands, which allows him to steal the ball from an unsuspecting, penetrating guard. Ford will have to continue to improve his shot selection for the next level and lists La Salle and St. Joe's among his favorites for college.
Cardell McFarland, SG (6-2)
Postgrad/North Bridgton, Maine
McFarland remains in attack mode on the offensive end whenever he plays, easily scoring in a variety of ways. He works very well off the bounce, consistently connecting on the mid-range pull-up. He also has the ability to knock down the 3-point shot. McFarland, despite having point-guard height, has a shooting guard's mentality and will play better as a two on the next level. He will need to add strength and muscle to his thin frame and needs to work on incorporating his teammates better on offense, as he has a tendency to look for his own offense a little too much at times.
Jorge Gutierrez, combo guard (6-2)
Senior/Henderson, Nev./Findlay Prep
Another glue guy, Gutierrez does whatever his team needs for a win. His team does not need any plays runs for him on offense to keep him involved. Gutierrez has a high basketball IQ as well as great basketball instincts. He prefers to involve his teammates over scoring the ball himself, though he indeed has the ability to score. He easily finishes around the rim, using his either hand, though he shoots jumpers as a righty. He rebounds the ball well for a player of his height and seems to make the right plays at the right times. He also plays defense well and typically matches up with the opposing teams best perimeter player. Gutierrez plays with a remarkable amount of poise and maturity beyond his years and does all of the dirty work for his team.
T.J. Robinson, SF (6-7)
Even on a team that has highly-regarded Devin Ebanks (Indiana signee), Robinson sometimes plays as the best player on the team, using his athleticism and never-ending motor to make plays for his team. Robinson, a lefty, has developed his jumper enough to be considered as a consistent inside-outside threat, though he still does his best work closer to the basket. When on the perimeter, he has good quickness that he uses to slash to the basket and drive past slower defenders. He can hit the 3-point shot if left open, but he still needs to work on this part of his game as well as his ball-handling, as he will spend more time on the perimeter in college. He needs to improve his free-throw shooting due to the amount of contact that he draws because of his very active style of play. Robinson has a number of programs interested in his services including George Washington, New Mexico and Temple and will make his decision during the late signing period.
Jason Henry, F (6-7)
Henry has very impressive athleticism, leaping ability and quickness, which he displays constantly when on the court. Henry effectively hits the jumper from the top of the key, with range that extends out to the 3-point line, though he penetrates to the basket more effectively at this point in his career. Henry plays with a great amount of energy and attacks the glass on both ends of the court. He would fit seamlessly with a team on the next level that loves to get out and run in the open court, utilizing Henry's good athleticism and energy. He needs to continue to work on his perimeter game and ball-handling for college.
Givon Crump, SF (6-7)
Crump is a wing forward with a good body and size. He has a very nice touch on his jumper and can stroke it to the 3-point line. He is very good at catching and going one hard dribble into his jumper, in which he has a very soft touch. Has a tendency to hunt down shots. He needs to let the game come to him and play within the offense. Crump is a talented offensive player but needs to defend and rebound much better to play at the highest college levels.
Phil Pressey, PG (5-9)
We had not seen Phil in over a year and the thing that impressed us was how his body had filled out and how much stronger he has gotten. He is a magician with the ball. The game comes so easy to him because he is so comfortable with the rock in his hands. He is tremendous in the open court, gets wherever he wants with the ball and can score or find the open man. Phil did an excellent job running pick and rolls and taking what the defense gave him. He must continue to play solid defense. He has the quicks and body to keep point guards in front of him, but he tends to gamble too much and must continue to improve this aspect of his game.
Clarence Trent, PF (6-8)
Trent has unbelievable amount of athleticism and explosive leaping ability. When on his game, he rebounds the ball very effectively, especially on the offensive glass. At this point he scores a number of his points from put-backs on the offensive boards or on resounding dunks in transition. Trent ranks as a high-major recruit, but he has to really find a position for the next level. He currently needs to work on his post moves and footwork and be a bit undersized for the power forward spot. If he were to play on the perimeter, he would have to improve his ball-handling and jumper. He also needs to use his athleticism to affect the game on the defensive end more.
Jason Morris, G/SF (6-6)
Morris is a talented wing player who has the athleticism and explosion to be a big-time player. Morris exhibited an extremely quiet confidence throughout their game with IMG on Saturday for a kid his age. He did what was needed for his team to win -- handling, passing, scoring and rebounding. He played within himself and did not get a lot of opportunities to show everyone in the stands all of the things he can do. This young man can get to the rim and finish, he is developing a nice stroke to the 3-point line and has a lot of the tools necessary to play at the highest levels.
Derrick Wilson, PG (6-1)
Wilson has a terrific body and is strong and physical for a young point guard. It allows him to get to the rim and finish, and he can defend at a high level. He must become more comfortable playing the point, and if he does that, it will give Hotchkiss one of the more talented backcourts in the country with him and Morris over the next couple of years.
Darryl Bishop, SF (6-3)
Bishop displayed this weekend why he is so admired by his coaches, teammates and all that know him. He exhibited the toughness, composure and grittiness needed to help his team knock off two Class A opponents, Northfield Mt. Hermon and Worcester Academy. Bishop may not be the best ball handler, passer or shooter, but he is without question a winner. He has enough of the perimeter skills necessary to play at the college level, plus he is one of the best defenders and rebounders at the high school level. College coaches should recruit this kid and not ask any questions because of how tough he is and how much he does to help his team win. His will to win is his greatest asset. It has been like that since he was a young player and he continues to display that in high school and AAU basketball.
Denzel Brito, G (6-2)
Brito put on a show against Worcester Academy with his ability to shoot the ball and get to the foul line. He scored 28 points, many coming off pull up jumpers in transition and one-on-one opportunities. He is a very good athlete, with good quicks and excellent hands on defense. He needs to continue to work on shot selection and blending into the team concept.
Northfield Mt. Hermon
Mike Marra, SG (6-5)
Marra may be the best pure shooter in the high school ranks. He can knock down the 3-ball with NBA range. Marra needs to improve in two areas to play at the highest levels of college basketball. He needs to improve his handle and ability to bring the ball up versus pressure and create his own shot. In addition he must make a better effort to defend and take on the challenges of guarding the other team's better players in high school in order to get him ready to defend at the college level.
South Kent School
Jin Soo Kim, F (6-9)
He is long, thin and can really stroke the ball when left open. He can put it on the floor a bit, but shooting is his forte. We have three questions about him: what position will he play in college, does he play hard enough and who will he be able to defend in the ACC (Maryland commit). Right now he is best suited as a step-away four man who can stretch defenses, handle and pass. The more he tries to play the small forward or guard positions, the more problems he will have.
Dion Waiters, PG (6-2)
This Syracuse commit has good quickness and prefers to penetrate over shooting the jumper. As a point guard, he has to work harder on involving his teammates and creating more scoring opportunities for others. He tends to look for his own offense a little too much at this point and takes some ill-advised shots at times. He seems much more suited to play the shooting guard slot at this point in his career. Waiters has time to rectify these areas for the next level as times goes on.
Mo Creek, F (6-5)
Creek is an attacking player who is extremely quick and has a very good first step. He is a streaky shooter who can get it going at times with deep range. He gets to the rim but must add upper-body strength so he can be a better finisher. Must continue to work on his ball-handling skills because he is much better right now off the ball. Must also consistently play with more energy. He seems to go as his offense does. If he is scoring, he appears to be more into the game and play harder at the defensive end of the floor.
St. Mark's School
Erik Murphy, PF (6-10)
The recent Florida commit was not challenged against IMG because Florida signee 6-10 Kenneth Kadji was not in attendance. Early foul trouble limited his minutes but he was still able to show everyone his tremendous skill set. The game comes easy to him; he can shoot with 3-point range, is an excellent passer and knows how to play the game. In addition, Murphy finishes around the rim with excellent footwork and uses either hand to score. Look for this young man to break out in the spring on the AAU circuit and show everyone how truly skilled he is.
Nate Lubick, F (6-8)
Lubick combines with Murphy to give St. Mark's one of the most talented frontcourts in high school basketball. Nate has great length and bounce and can really run the floor and finish on the break. In addition he has a deadly stroke and can take his defender away from the basket and stretch the court. Nate is an excellent passer and has a very good understanding of the game for a young player. He is being recruited by many of the top college programs in the country because he is a talented big man with a high skill set.
Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, F (6-7)
This UConn commit had a difficult weekend. He did not play particularly well and got into some problems with the referees as well. This talented young player must continue to improve in some areas of his game in order to make a significant contribution several years from now at UConn. Coombs is not a big-time athlete with big-time hops, but he is very crafty with the ball and knows how to score. He must continue to work at developing his one-on-one moves and using his body to score. In addition he must not fall in love with his outside jumper and instead should utilize his dangerous mid-range game. He must also continue to work on his body and become stronger so that he can effectively go inside.
Alex Oriakhi, PF (6-9)
He has a tremendous frame and excellent strength in his upper and lower body. He is an excellent rebounder at both ends of the court. In addition his length and timing allow him to be a very good shot blocker. He will be an excellent college power forward at UConn but needs to dominate every time he steps on the high school court. He was not able to do that this weekend because of Findlay Prep's individual and team defense on him. Oriakhi must continue to work on his ability to catch the ball in areas of paint where he can display his improving skill set around the basket. He has come a long way from when he started playing basketball in ninth grade and we look for him to continue to improve individually in all areas of low post play as he enters college.
Editor's note: Worcester Academy also played in this event, but evaluations of its players were not included because John Carroll's son Austin plays on the team.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates. John Carroll is a national director of recruiting for Scouts Inc.