Hopson powers Blue to victory in Jordan Game
NEW YORK -- High school all-star Scotty Hopson relished the grand stage at Madison Square Garden.
It was Hopson's final chance to showcase his wares before heading to the University of Tennessee.
In his last high school game, Hopson, of University Heights Academy in Hopkinsville, Ky., scored 21 points and pulled down four rebounds as the Blue Team beat the White Team, 124-114, Saturday night in the 2008 Jordan Brand Game before a crowd of 7,000.
Brandon Jennings again displayed his impressive passing skills on his way to setting the Jordan Brand Classic assists record with 14 as the Blue Team beat the White Team 124-114 on Saturday.Playing with a group of great scorers, Jennings did a good job of setting up teammates and putting them in position to score with his passing. Jennings wreaks havoc in transition by keeping the defense on its heels. His ability to score as well as locate open teammates causes the defense to have to honor Jennings as both a passer and scorer in transition. If the defender takes too long to commit, Jennings will either find the open man streaking to the basket or blow by the defender on his way for a layin. He processed quickly on the break and usually made the correct decision. Jennings sometimes runs into problems on his jump shot and has a tendency to become streaky. He can improve his jump-shooting consistency by exercising better shot selection and not settling for a fall-away 3 when he does not successfully get into the paint. Jennings also can increase his perimeter accuracy by finishing his shot as opposed to shooting the ball and quickly dropping his hands, which prohibits him from following through properly on his jumper. In the few half-court sets in this game, Jennings did a nice job of running the pick-and-roll, quickly and correctly processing his options off the pick. When the defense allowed him to turn the corner, he made his move swiftly and either made the correct pass or drove to the basket for the layup. As he makes the transition to college and ultimately the NBA, Jennings will have to continue to improve his ability to master the pick-and-roll, a staple of the NBA. As he goes on to college, he will have to alleviate his tendency to over-dribble as his teammates will have just as much scoring ability and will demand the ball. Jennings will make an impact instantly at Arizona in the point-guard friendly offense Lute Olson employs. Tyreke Evans had a number of moments during the game when he demonstrated his impressive scoring ability. He often penetrated exceptionally well to the basket with his quick first step. He spent a lot of time bringing the ball up for his team, but he did not look to distribute much, preferring to look for angles toward the bucket. Evans frequently performs a veteran-like move of pushing off defenders to create space when he penetrates, often deceiving officials into thinking that the defender has committed a foul when Evans really initiates the contact. He still has to become more efficient with the dribble and not over-dribble. Evans did not look confident in his jumper and still needs to work out the mechanics on his shot. Improved jump shooting, more passing and better dribbling skills would make him very extremely difficult for any defense to handle. When he does pass the ball, he rarely gives teammates the ball in position to score. He ends up giving the ball up as a last resort, usually when he gets caught in the air without a good shooting option. If he continues to handle the ball as a facilitator, he will have to improve his ball-handling, decision-making, and passing skills. Evans' scoring ability will have him on the floor immediately at Memphis, especially with the Tigers losing both Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts to early NBA defection. Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.
-- Antonio Williams, Scouts Inc.
"We came out with a different attitude in the second half," Hopson said. "We had fun; it was Madison Square Garden after all."
The Blue led by as much as 23 in the second half.
The surge was fueled by the ball-handling skills of Arizona-bound Brandon Jennings (Oak Hill Academy, Mouth of Wilson, Va.), who had a game-record 14 assists and scoring of Hopson and Demar DeRozan (Compton, Calif.), who dropped in 17 points.
"Brandon is a special player; he gets everyone involved on the floor," said Blue coach Ed Azzam of national powerhouse Westchester High in Los Angeles.
Several players, if born two years earlier, would have been on display for NBA personnel. They would have been mere ping-pong balls dancing in the lottery hopper waiting for guaranteed million-dollar contracts. They'll have to wait until 2009 for a chance to be drafted.
That didn't hinder several agents from attending. Several Nike officials, including global basketball director George Raveling came out to watch.
Kevin Durant of the Seattle SuperSonics, Ron Harper, formerly of the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers, and Vince Carter of the New Jersey Nets were also on hand.
Michael Jordan, who addressed the players before the game, sat quietly four rows from the court. Boyz II Men, a popular rhythm and blues trio from the 1990s, performed the national anthem.
After trailing most of the game, the Blue tied it at 75 with 13 minutes left and B.J. Mullens' putback gave them a 77-75 lead, a minute later.
The Blue, made up of players from the Western part of the U.S., would not relinquish their edge.
"It was a West versus East rivalry," said Jennings, who added 10 points and was named his team's MVP. "We play pretty good ball out West. We were trying to get back after losing in the McDonald's Game [last month]."
Hopson's conventional three-point play gave the Blue an 84-77 lead with 10:23 left and Jennings, the top-ranked player in the ESPN 150, made it 90-79, two minutes later.
The Blue fell behind by 19 points with eight minutes remaining in the first half. The White employed a transition, quick-strike offense paced by Memphis-bound Tyreke Evans, a senior from American Christian in Aston, Pa.
Evans, who scored a game-high 23 points and was the MVP of the McDonald's All-American Game last month, picked up where he left off in Milwaukee. He again produced in his final one on the high school level.
"Tonight I felt pretty good; Brandon [Jennings] just took over [in the second half]," Evans said, who won MVP for the White.
Samardo Samuels, a 6-foot-9 forward from nearby St. Benedict's in Newark, N.J., gave the White a 45-24 lead after making a pair of free throws with 7½ minutes remaining in the opening half.
"You can't worry in games like these," Azzam said. "We have plenty of scorers."
The White jumped to a 32-20 lead with 11 minutes left in the first half when Wake Forest-bound Al-Farouq Aminu of Norcross, Ga., hit two free throws. Ed Davis stretched the White lead to 35-22 a few seconds later slamming home an offensive rebound.
Hopson and B.J. Mullens of Canal (Winchester, Ohio) each scored four points during a 10-2 run later in the half drawing the Blue within 54-51.
The White carried a 60-53 edge at the break.
Christopher Lawlor covers high school sports for ESPN.com.
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