- Jon Mahoney, ESPNHS.com
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Rucker Park can be an intimidating place to play, with its storied history and the hostile crowd judging your every move. For the players set to ball in the third annual Boost Mobile Elite 24 on Friday night (ESPNU, 8 p.m. ET) Harlem's famed playground could be downright frightening.
Out of that group, Kenny Boynton Jr. and Brandon Knight, two non-locals from the Sunshine State, aren't worried about Rucker's mystique and are ready to show the crowd that Florida doesn't revolve around football 24-7.
Outside of New York, the supremely talented tandem has already proven it belongs among the nation's best. Playing in his second Elite 24, Boynton -- a 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior shooting guard at American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) -- is a phenomenal scorer who can light up the scoreboard in the blink of an eye, much like New York native and NBA legend Bernard King did back in the day. This past high school season, Boynton averaged 32.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.5 steals per contest.
"Kenny just has that 'I'm-coming-to-get-you' mentality," said American Heritage head coach Danny Herz. " 'You're going to watch me shoot and I'm going to make it.' "
"Kenny is pretty tough," Knight adds. "He can shoot from anywhere on the court."
While Boynton Jr. is more of a pure scorer, Knight is a prototypical point guard who loves to run the show. An excellent passer and a lockdown defender, Knight, a junior at Pine Crest (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), can also make buckets with regularity.
"Brandon is just a pure point guard with a very high basketball IQ," Boynton said. "What makes him so difficult to stop is his decision-making. He's difficult to stop coming off the screen."
"He pretty much does it all and understands the team concept," said Pine Crest head coach David Beckerman. "Great players make other players good. He makes players around him that much better."
And he's as tough as nails, both physically and mentally. At 6-foot-3, 178 pounds, Knight can manhandle most opposing point guards with his power, but it was off the court last year where he showed his true strength.
In fall 2007, before the start of his sophomore season, Knight underwent surgery to remove a cyst on his spine, which had caused him to temporarily lose feeling in his hands.
As scary as it sounds, Knight was still able to play the final 16 games of the season. In those games, he averaged 20.5 points, eight boards and eight assists; Pine Crest went 16-0 and won the Class 3A state title.
As teammates on the elite AAU program Team Breakdown, Boynton and Knight dominated travel tournaments this year, starting in April when they captured the title at the Real Deal on the Hill in Arkansas. From there, they won at the Breakdown Hoops Festival, AAU Nationals and Reebok Summer Championships.
Simply put, if there was a big tourney, Team Breakdown took the crown, with Boynton and Knight leading the way.
At the Reebok Summer Championships, the pair combined to average nearly 43 points per game and delivered scintillating performances against some of the best players in the country. In one game against the Northwest Panthers, which featured touted Class of 2009 guards Abdul Gaddy and Avery Bradley of Bellarmine Prep (Tacoma, Wash.), Boynton and Knight dropped in 33 points and 26 points, respectively, to help Team Breakdown rally from a 14-point halftime deficit for the win.
"Both of these guys are fierce, fierce competitors," said Kenny Gillion, director and coach of Team Breakdown.
"Their main goal is to win a championship, and if they don't, they consider it a failure. They kind of go into strike mode. It doesn't matter who's in front of them, they're going at you. They don't play around."
Especially when they're playing each other.
Once AAU season ends, the pair becomes rivals for schools who play in the same district. Last season, Pine Crest went 3-1 against American Heritage, including wins in the district finals and regional semifinals en route to the state crown. The one victory for American Heritage came when Knight was out with his injury.
They'll also be playing for opposing teams at the Elite 24.
"You can't really have friends on the basketball court," said Knight, who's being recruited by Kentucky, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Miami, Florida, Duke, Marquette, Kansas and others.
"We put our friendships aside," added Boynton, who's looking at Duke, Texas, Memphis, Florida, USC and Georgia Tech. "We don't really talk to each other after the game."
Both standouts can't wait for Friday's showdown, where they're looking to make a statement and come away with a W.
"[The crowd is] going to see two Florida kids with that New York toughness who will go out there and take your head off," says Gillion. "They're not there to have a solid showing. They're going out there to really show that they're the No. 1 player in the country."
Looks like the rest of the Elite 24 will have more to worry about than just the Rucker.
Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.
Top recruits and rivals Kenny Boynton Jr. and Brandon Knight have put Florida basketball on the map and are ready to take New York by storm, writes Jon Mahoney.