- Christopher Lawlor, High School Basketball
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The New England Preparatory School Athletic Council playoffs offered a great collection of competitive contests that came down to the wire. The games during Championship Sunday crowned NEPSAC champions in Class A, B and C. Point guard Malik Stith of Bridgton Academy led his squad to the Class A title with an inspired performance, one which earned him an MVP award. Future Connecticut Husky Alex Oriakhi powered his team to the Class B championship with a dominant performance in the paint. Florida-bound PF Erik Murphy collected an MVP in leading his St. Mark's squad to a Class C championship.
Malik Stith, PG (5-foot-10)
Post-Grad, Long Island City, N.Y./Bridgton Academy
Stith does an incredible job running a team. This pass-first point guard has a good understanding of when to set up his teammates for scoring chances and when to look for his own offense. Stith knows how to make teammates better and get them the ball on the spots on the floor where they operate most effectively. When he looks to score himself, Stith uses his quickness to get into the lane. He knows how to get defenders on his hip and dribble past them. He also does a good job changing speeds off the dribble, keeping defenders off balance. Stith can go left, but he prefers to drive to his dominant right hand when he penetrates. He also has enough strength and body control to take contact, adjust in the air and finish off hoops in the paint with either his right or left hand. Stith will shoot the jumper off the dribble and will also connect on 3s, but he prefers to get into the lane over shooting from the perimeter. He does a very good job pressuring opposing ball handlers and keeping them in front of him and out of the lane. This quiet assassin rarely shows emotion throughout games and leads his team through his effort and heady play.
Alex Oriakhi, PF (6-8)
Senior, Lowell, Mass./The Tilton School
Oriakhi has the physical tools to dominate games from the interior. He possesses the size, strength and skill level that make coaches salivate. However, he has a tendency to ignore some of these tools during games. When engaged, Oriakhi can easily control the boards, using his good leaping ability and strength to rebound the ball in traffic -- especially on the offensive glass. He needs to do a better job controlling the glass on the defensive end of the floor. When he blocks shots and pounds the defensive glass, he initiates fast breaks for his club. With his ability to run the floor, he finishes these breaks off, but he does not look to shut down the lane on the defensive end as much as he as the ability to do so. On the offensive end, Oriakhi can make quick moves with his back to the basket and makes effective use of a nice jump hook with his left hand (off-hand). He needs to refine his footwork in the post and travel less when he makes moves with his back to the basket. He also uses his strength to power up in traffic and finish emphatically over the rim.
Erik Murphy, PF (6-10)
Senior, Wakefield, R.I./St. Mark's School
Murphy plays a very efficient game and does not waste much energy on the floor. Instead, he uses his skills and high basketball IQ to place his imprint on games. Murphy did a great job hitting the glass, especially on the offensive end, to get buckets for his squad. Once he collected the offensive boards, Murphy finished off plays, even going above the rim for dunks. He also runs the floor well and will finish off plays in transition. Murphy has the ability to stretch defenses with his shooting. This allows perimeter players to have more space to drive the ball to the hoop. His vision and passing ability make Murphy an effective player in the high post and as a pick-and-pop big man. With his shooting ability, Murphy should have plenty of chances to stick the perimeter jumper in transition with the up-tempo attack that he will enjoy on the next level at Florida.
Thomas Robinson, PF (6-8)
Senior, Washington, D.C. /Brewster Academy
Robinson absolutely takes ownership of the paint on every defensive possession for his team. He uses his great leaping ability, good length and never-ending motor to challenge shots out of and in his area. Opposing players have to account for Robinson whenever they shoot the ball around the hoop; he will come out of nowhere for the block, with the closing speed that we normally associate with NFL defensive backs. These traits also make Robinson a great rebounder -- he has the strength to snag boards in traffic. He runs very well and starts a number of fast breaks and run-outs with his shot-blocking and rebounding ability. He also handles the ball well in transition for a big guy and can finish breaks above the rim. Robinson crashes the offensive boards very well and will go up in traffic to finish plays after he collects the offensive rebound. Robinson never takes a play off, and he leads his squad vocally and with his intense effort.
Mike Marra, SG (6-5)
Senior, Smithfield, R.I./Northfield Mount Hermon
Marra has a very quick release and good elevation on his jumper, allowing him to get the shot off on virtually anyone at any time. He has to alleviate his streakiness; he should be able to do so with better shot selection. Marra tends to take difficult, contested 3s. However, Marra can absolutely light it up from well beyond the 3-point line. He does a good job moving without the ball and curling off screens to get open for jumpers. Once he receives the ball, Marra squares himself to the hoop very well, and he has a nice, high release point on the jump shot. He does not do much in the midrange. With his leaping ability, Marra should have a reliable midrange pull-up jumper in his offensive arsenal. He also can increase his free throw attempts by putting the ball on the floor and making better use of his good athleticism, instead of relying almost exclusively on the 3-point shot. Marra also needs to improve his defensive intensity and focus for the next level.
Daymon Warren, PF (6-8)
Post-grad, Richmond, Calif./Worcester Academy
Warren has a very thick, muscular build that provides him with the strength that he needs to bang on the interior. He has decent footwork, but needs to develop his post moves more, especially when he faces taller, more athletic bigs. In order to overcome this challenge, Warren needs to add counter moves and head-fakes to his back-to-the-basket game. He does a good job using his body to create space for shots in the paint over bigger defenders. His strength allows him to take contact from post defenders and still successfully convert the hoop. Warren also has the ability to finish with either hand when he gets the ball around the basket. He does a solid job running the floor and can finish on the break. Warren also rebounds the ball well, especially in traffic, given his good amount of strength. Warren has decent vision and does a nice job passing out of the post and out of double-teams.
Mike Burwell, 6-6 (SG)
Post-grad, East Brunswick, N.J./South Kent School
Burwell has an effortless jumper and does a great job keeping the ball high on the shot. His lack of wasted motion allows him to convert jumpers from beyond 3-point range with great success. If left unattended on the perimeter, you can bet that Burwell will connect. He has solid athleticism and good length. When those factors are combined with his shooting ability, Burwell could become a solid offensive player off the dribble -- though he does not do much off the bounce at this point in his career. He excels in catch-and-shoot situations, especially if he gets the ball from a penetrating guard or a big who kicks it out after encountering a double-team. He plays very hard and will dive for loose balls to get extra possessions for his team. Burwell uses his good length to tip a number of balls on the defensive end, and he does a good job anticipating in passing lanes for steals. He does an adequate job moving his feet and keeping opposing ball handlers in front of him and out of the lane.
Chris Flores, SG (6-2)
Post-grad, Dorchester, Mass./Marianapolis Prep
Flores has good quickness, and he uses this gift to place an immense amount of pressure on opposing guards who attempt to keep him out of the lane. He gets into the lane with relative ease, and once in the paint, Flores has very good body control and decent strength, allowing him to adjust in midair when he takes contact from a bigger defender and still finish off hoops. When playing aggressively, Flores can draw fouls on the opposition and get to the free throw line frequently. The right-handed Flores can also use his left when he gets to the paint. He would benefit from adding a floater to his offensive arsenal. Flores will hit jumpers out to the 3-point line, but he needs to improve his shooting ability from distance and become more consistent in the midrange area of the floor, which will open up his drives to the paint. He also does a decent job of playing defense on the perimeter and applying good pressure on opposing ball handlers.
Carl Blair, SG (6-3)
Post-grad, Katy, Texas/Bridgton Academy
Blair has decent quickness when he goes north and south, getting the ball up the court quickly when he has a chance to go end-to-end. However, he tends to struggle when he has to move laterally with the ball in his hands. Blair has good strength and a thick build, which he uses to overpower smaller guards on his way to the paint. Once in the paint, he also uses his strength and muscle to create space and take contact from bigger interior defenders when he gets to the rim. He needs a floater, which would alleviate his tendency to overpenetrate and get out of control, often resulting in turnovers. In order to see more time at the point on the next level, Blair will have to improve his passing skills and vision, though he will occasionally find open teammates. Blair can create his own shot off the dribble and will hit 3s and midrange jumpers off the dribble -- though he doesn't rank as a great shooter at this point in his career. He also has to continue to improve his ballhanding skills, but Blair plays with a good amount of effort and intensity.
Ryan Brooks, 6-8 (PF)
Post-grad, Pleasantville, N.J./South Kent School
Brooks has incredibly quick leaping ability and finishes off a number of plays above the rim. His quick second jump and relentless hustle make him a very good offensive rebounder. Brooks also has the ability to hit jumpers in the midrange, though he needs to raise his release point to become more accurate from the perimeter. When he gets the ball with his back to the basket, Brooks has a nifty jump hook that he utilizes with the right hand in the post. He does not have outstanding footwork in the post, but he makes very quick moves. Brooks has decent strength and rebounds the ball in traffic on both ends of the court very well. He also excels on the break given his impressive ability to run the floor.
• Bridgton Academy coach Whit Lesure does an incredible job of coaching his team and demanding respect from his players. His teams remain engaged throughout games and battle for practically every loose ball. Lesure's clubs also play a very unselfish brand of basketball.
• Kauri Black (Rialto, Calif./Bridgton Academy), a post-grad prospect, has the tools to become a very good basketball player. The 6-7 Black seems more comfortable as a face-up 4-man, but he has good athleticism and quickness. He stays within himself, and if he improves his shooting ability and ballhandling, he could become a very good small forward.
• Post-grad prospect Narito Namizato (Okinawa, Japan/South Kent School), a 5-8 PG, ranks as a game-changer and has an immediate impact when he enters the game off the bench. He has good lateral quickness and does a good job of pressuring the ball on the defensive end and getting under opposing guards, forcing them into frustration and turnovers. Namizato also has very impressive vision and passing skills. Though small in stature, he has the heart of a lion and gives big-time effort.
• Standing 6-8, senior PF Andrew Fitzgerald (Baltimore, Md./Brewster Academy) has the ability to play as an inside-outside threat at the next level. He rebounds the ball very well and will score in traffic; he's similar to a prototypical interior player. Fitzgerald also shoots the ball in the 15-foot range very well, allowing him to play in the high-post area. He could do real damage in the pick-and-pop game or as a trailing jump-shooter on the break.
• Jackie Carmichael (Manhattan, Kan./South Kent School), a 6-9 post-grad PF, plays with great energy and contests shots well. Carmichael runs the floor effectively and will finish off plays in transition above the rim. When he remains focused, Carmichael has the ability to control the glass on both ends of the floor.
• Jordan Henriquez (Port Chester, N.Y./Winchendon), a 6-11 post-grad C, has to learn to better utilize his height to his advantage. He also has a good feel for the game, but he disappears at times. With added strength and muscle, Henriquez could dominate on the inside in college.
• Sophomore Naadir Tharpe (Worcester, Mass./Brewster Academy), a 5-11 PG, does not rank as a great shooter, but he will hit big shots from distance when needed. If he raises his release point, he could become an even better shooter from the perimeter. Tharpe has tremendous vision and passing skills, but he needs to continue to improve his decision-making.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.
The New England prep school playoffs had plenty of talent, writes Antonio Williams.