- Joel Francisco
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- In the most anticipated encounter of the day Dominguez withstood a late rally from Mater Dei to hold on for a rather sluggish 63-60 victory in Division IAA. The Dons broke it open in the latter part of the second quarter with a 12-0 run, including two deep 3-pointers by 6-7 junior Jordan Hamilton (16 pts on 6 of 19 shooting).
However, due to careless ballhandling and poor shot selection, the Monarchs would fight back and make it a seven point game at halftime.
The second half would be almost a replay of the first 16 minutes as the Dons' defense and noticeable quickness advantage would cause Mater Dei -- most notably 6-1 sophomore Gary Franklin (8 points on 3 of 14 shooting and 6 turnovers) -- into an uncharacteristic poor shooting night (38 %). The Monarchs would chip away at the lead throughout the half, but the Dons relentless pressure (forced 11 steals), clutch free throw shooting and a dandy performance by 5-11 senior Bryce Cartwright (15 points and 4 assists) would be too much for Mater Dei to overcome. Andy Brown, a versatile 6-8 junior, would lead the Monarchs with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
In the nightcap of an unbelievable day of high school hoops, Martin Luther King (Riverside) persevered in overtime to a 79-69 win over Etiwanda despite controlling the game from the onset. Eric Wise, a 6-4 five-man, poured in 27 points on 6 of 11 shooting from the field and 15 of 17 from the line.
Etiwanda fought back on numerous occasions throughout the game, including a furious 3-point fest in the fourth quarter, but the Wolves would dominate the overtime period behind Wise and 5-11 senior George Fields' timely 3-point shooting.
Bishop Montgomery's (Torrance) trio of 6-0 junior Justin Cobbs, 6-5 senior Aaron Ware, and 5-11 junior Michael Panaggio combined for 46 points and 21 rebounds (15 of which came from Ware) to dominate the IIAA final against an icy-shooting (29 %) Colony (Ontario) squad 60-45.
Super sophomore 6-5 Tyler Lamb would endure a tough night as he managed only nie points (3 of 19 from the field) before fouling out.
Despite a solid one-man show from 6-8 Pepperdine signee Paul George (29 points and 11 rebounds), Rancho Verde (Moreno Valley) would counter with a solid performer of their own in 6-5 all-around junior Michael Snaer (22 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals) in a 62-51 win over Knight (Palmdale). Although Snaer didn't have any assists he did a nice job of setting up his teammates, especially in transition, and played some sound defense as well.
Jrue Holiday (20 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, and 8 steals) would put on a Dwyane Wade-like performance that would be too much for Price to handle as Campbell Hall (North Hollywood) waltzed to the championship with relative ease in 73-38 victory over Price (Los Angeles).
John Balwigaire would score eigh of his game-high 30 point in overtime to lead West Valley (Hemet) to a thrilling 90-80 victory over Perris in what would result in the most entertaining game of the day. West Valley would also receive outstanding performances by 6-7 junior Joseph Burton (23 points and 17 rebounds) and 6-1 junior Eric Lawton (21 points).
Perris has outstanding perimeter talent as well as they unleashed a relentless attack on the Mustangs for 32 minutes. Robert Smith, a 5-11 junior and one of the top point guard prospects in California, would put together an impressive stat line (21 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 8 steals), but he and his teammates forced the issue on too many possessions to pull out the victory.
Jrue Holiday, G (6-4, 190)
Senior, North Hollywood, Calif./Campbell Hall
Holiday was a man amongst boys in the IIIAA final. There isn't a player in the country that dominates both ends of the floor like Holiday -- and for that reason feel he is the most dominant player in the Class of 2008. Holiday tossed in 20 points on 8 of 14 shooting, 12 rebounds, three assists and eight steals. He attacks the basket as well as any guard in the country and has the unique ability to finish effectively with either hand in traffic. He didn't showcase his much-improved jump shot because of his ability to get to the basket at will. He's an excellent passer and his handle gets better with each outing. Defensively he is a menace to opposing guards. The combination of his athleticism, length and tenacity should make for a rather smooth transition into Ben Howland's defensive schemes at UCLA.
Robert Smith (5-11, 175)
Junior, Perris, Calif.
Although he can be a tad turnover prone (six in the game), Smith has the ideal size, strength and quickness to be a high-major Division I point guard. His ball handling is very good (keeps it low) and he has a striking crossover. His jump shot (gets great lift) has improved since his junior campaign as he connected on 3 of 6 behind the arc. He is a true point guard who sets up his teammates in transition or in the half-court set. He is also excellent at penetrating and kicking out to open 3-point shooters. He is solid defender as well, utilizing his quick hands as he was accounted for eight steals in the championship. If Smith can take care of the basketball at a more efficient rate, he should turn out to be one of the top point guards in the nation this coming spring and summer.
Eric Lawton (6-1, 160)
Junior, Hemet, Calif./West Valley
Before this game I had never heard of Lawton, but after his electrifying performance at the Honda Center, he now must be considered one of the elite two-guards in the West and a sure-fire high-major talent. Lawton does have a light frame and there is question on how much weight he could add, but his Allen Iverson-esque scoring ability will attract many high-major programs. He has an explosive first step to the basket and remarkable hang-time as well. His jump shot is good (quick release) and he gets great lift on it. Although he's a great scorer, he does have the passing savvy to one day play the point guard. In addition to all his offensive attributes, he has the intangibles (quick feet and hands) to defend and did a more than solid job on Robert Smith.
Bryce Cartwright (5-11, 160)
Senior, Compton, Calif./Dominguez
Cartwright is one of the most underrated point guards on the West Coast. He has great speed, quickness and possesses a solid frame. His jump shot has improved immensely since his junior season and he's evolving into a solid Division I point guard. He ran his team down the stretch with aplomb and made a number of clutch plays to seal the victory for the Dons, including four straight free throws in the final two minutes of the game.
Eric Wise (6-5, 240)
Senior, Riverside, Calif./Martin Luther King
Wise is an undersized five, but he's surprisingly effective despite not being very bouncy. Wise is wide-body who has great footwork in the paint area and is deceptively quick off his feet. In addition, he has great instincts around the basket and understands how to seal his opponent for the post entry. He utilized the pump-fake very well in the championship game (went to the line 17 times) as he got a number of Etiwanda defenders to leave their feet. Wise is an interesting prospect who is hard to project. His body has very little upside, but he has more savvy and better fundamentals than most players playing high school and college basketball. If you're familiar with the Big West basketball, Wise reminds me of Cal State Fullerton standout Scott Cutley.
Joe Burton (6-7, 270)
Junior, Hemet, Calif./West Valley
Burton -- think former LSU standout Glen Davis -- has lost over 50 pounds in the last six months and it has made a dramatic difference on where his career is headed. Last summer we had pretty much written him off because his weight had ballooned to about 340 pounds. However, after hearing that he had lost a ton of weight I was intrigued to see his act -- and I was impressed. Burton is still overweight and doesn't have very much bounce (although he did have a thunderous reverse dunk along the baseline in overtime), his skill level and passing ability are very impressive. He has great feet and his footwork in the post is quite good. He understands how to seal his opponent and passes out of double teams very well. In fact his passing and general feel for the game is high level. In addition, he is a very good rebounder at this level due to his massive frame and terrific hands. Overall, Burton is going to be one of the more debatable players this coming spring and summer due to his questionable frame and lack of lift. But any scout and/or coach evaluating him will not be able to deny his savvy and overall talent.
Jordan Hamilton (6-7, 190)
Junior, Compton, Calif./Dominguez
Hamilton is one of the elite wings in the country and possesses a package of scoring skills impressive to say the least. He has unlimited range on his jump shot and his release is tight. In addition, he has improved his handle and as a result is much more effective taking defenders off the bounce. Despite all these outstanding traits Hamilton can be a bit of an enigma. First, Hamilton is a very emotional player, and although he plays hard and is a solid competitor, his emotions can get to him more often than not. Secondly, although he hit two 3s in succession and made a number of other solid plays (9 rebounds) against the Monarchs, his shot selection -- Kobe-esque at times -- was a tad worrisome. He took difficult shots (6 of 19 from the field) at critical parts of the game and they were taken early on in the shot clock. I've seen Hamilton, at times, be patient and less selfish and it made a world of difference in his game.
Tyreese Breshers (6-6, 260)
Senior, Los Angeles/Price
Breshers was one of the major disappointments of the day. I've seen Breshers a number of times and came away impressed with his size, athleticism and length. However, against Campbell Hall, physically and emotionally, he didn't deliver. He struggled scoring (1 of 8 shooting) from the field and didn't dominate the interior as expected. And when his team got down, I never sensed any urgency from him to reverse the situation. His upside is intriguing and Lorenzo Romar should get an impact player in Breshers, but I am a bit skeptical about how much desire he possesses to be the best.
Gary Franklin (6-1, 160)
Sophomore, Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei
Franklin is considered one of the top combo-guard prospects on the West Coast for the Class of 2010. Franklin had been having an excellent season, but he would find out the going would get a whole lot tougher in the playoffs as he struggled against Long Beach Wilson and Compton Dominguez. Franklin has ideal size for the point guard position, but his instincts are that of a scoring guard. Against Dominguez he struggled against its quickness (6 turnovers) and forced his shot far too often. Franklin is a gifted player and a very good shooter, but he needs to refine his decision-making in the next couple of seasons before he reaches the next level.
What we learned
• One of the top prospects in the West for the Class of 2008 is 6-8 Paul George (Palmdale, Calif./Knight), who is headed to Pepperdine in the fall. His length is exceptional and he possesses the prototypical wing-type body and game (smooth 3-point shot). However, he doesn't play with a lot of intensity and his shot selection is questionable as well.
• Michael Snaer, a 6-5 junior out of Moreno Valley/Rancho Verde, is solid in many areas of the game (shooting, passing, handle and defense), but he isn't great in any one area.
• Andy Brown, a 6-8 junior out of Santa Ana/Mater Dei, needs to have the ball in his hands more often for the Monarchs. His 3-point shooting touch, rebounding, and overall savvy are very impressive.
• Allen Crabbe, a 6-3 sophomore out of Los Angeles/Price, has a sweet shooting stroke out to the stripe, but he needs to get tougher off the bounce and play with more urgency at both ends.
• He's probably junior college-bound, but 6-8 senior Kevin Young (Perris, Calif.) has the physical tools to be a Division I player someday. His length is impressive and he has a soft shooting touch out to the stripe.
• An intriguing sleeper for the Division I level is 6-4 junior Shaun Taylor (Los Angeles/ Price). He has a rangy frame and is an elusive scorer in and around the paint area.
• John Balwigare, a 6-2 senior out of Hemet/West Valley, is a talented scorer (30 points in the championship) who is very tough off the bounce.
• Although his decision-making (tends to be selfish) needs some refining, 6-1 junior Justin Cobbs' (Torrance, Calif./Bishop Montgomery) jump shot and pull-up game have improved.
• One of the better JUCO prospects tI've seen this season is 6-5 senior Kwame Alexander (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde). This lefty has great hands, plays hard at both ends and can take defenders off the bounce from the elbow.
• Keala King, 6-4 combo-guard out of Compton/Dominguez, has a crafty handle for a big guard. As he gains strength and smoothens out his jump shot, his upside is quite good.
• One of the fastest rising juniors on the West Coast is 6-5 Kawhi Leonard (Riverside, Calif./MLK). He is being projected by most as a high-major wing. However, he is a bit rigid (sort of stiff) to play the three. He handles the ball fairly well and his stroke is decent, but he needs to utilize that impressive frame (broad shoulders) in the paint area and become more of a face-up four.
• Jordan Finn, a 6-4 junior out of Etiwanda, has a nice feel for the game, but what level he ends up at in Division I will depend on the development of his jump shot.
• Etiwanda has an intriguing post prospect in 6-7 junior Paris Blackwell. He has a large frame, big hands and decent feet. He doesn't have a lot of bounce, but he could, depending on his skill development, be a solid get at the low D-I level.
• George Fields, a 5-11 senior out of Riverside, Calif./Martin Luther King, hit some clutch 3-point shots for the Wolves in their overtime win over Etiwanda.
• Although he didn't get a lot of playing time, 6-4 junior Deronn Scott (Etiwanda) oozes potential and should be one of the top sleepers in the west for the Class of 2009.
• The 6-9 Wear twins (David and Travis) out of Santa Ana/Mater Dei displayed an ability to get to the basket off the bounce and did a solid job of converting in the post. However, at their size they need to be able to finish at a much higher rate while drawing contact if they are to make that expected significant impacts at UNC in two years.
• Tyler Lamb, a 6-5 sophomore out of Ontario/Colony, had an off night from the field (3 of 19 shooting), but his perimeter passing and handle have improved greatly since his freshman season.
Joel Francisco has been a high school basketball scout for 15 years. He has written for Hoopscoop Magazine and Basketball Times and organized "So-Cal's Finest," his own scouting service.
Jrue Holiday, Robert Smith and Eric Lawton were among the standout players at the 2008 Toyota CIF Southern Section Championships, writes Joel Francisco.