- Christopher Lawlor, High School Basketball
- 0 Shares
Josh Huestis is torn.
There's a tug-of-war roiling between two schools with extraordinary, worldly academic reputations, schools whose coaches once formed a dynamic backcourt that propelled an iconic college basketball program into the Final Four.
Enter the suitors, coaches Tommy Amaker of Harvard and Johnny Dawkins of Stanford, both Duke graduates who are vying for Huestis, a 6-7, 200-pound senior at C.M. Russell High in Great Falls, Mont.
"Funny thing: I told them both I grew up a North Carolina fan," said Huestis, who is Montana's reigning Gatorade player of the year. "Both coaches are quality men and have developed players. I don't have a clear-cut favorite. I'll talk with my family about it.
"But really it'll come down to a gut decision; it'll feel right," he said.
Huestis, an honors student with a 3.96 grade-point average, says he'll make a decision quickly: "I want to get this done before the start of the season."
Although it appears to be a two-school race between Harvard and Stanford, Montana and Montana State (both about 2½ hours from Great Falls) are still in the mix. Huestis, ESPN's 48th-ranked power forward, thinks Georgetown may enter the fray late, looking for a visit before the November early signing period.
When Huestis does sign, he'll become CMR's first Division I player since 1981, when Jeff Palmer went to Montana State.
After visiting The Farm (aka Stanford) last weekend, he can weigh his two main options.
Harvard: "I visited three weeks ago and found it different than I ever imagined. I was expecting rich, spoiled kids but came away with a different view. The players are regular guys, really cool with high intelligence. I guess that stereotype was off."
Stanford: "Coming from Montana, you can't beat the weather there. I met a lot of special people. I also met a friend, Joslyn Tinkle from Big Sky in Missoula [Mont.], who plays for the women's team. Joslyn was a McDonald's All-American [the first from Montana] and feels it has the best of both worlds."
Don't expect an offer from either school until Huestis passes the strict admission requirements.
"I sent my Stanford application last week; hopefully I'll hear soon," he said.
Huestis' visibility increased playing for the Northwest Cougars of Spokane, Wash., on the summer circuit. Last season CMR won the Montana Class AA championship, defeating rivals Billings West, 57-51, in the final. Huestis contributed 16 points and 12 boards, raising his profile.
His calling card is defense.
"He's the best defender I've seen," CMR coach John Cislo said. "He's one of the few players who can change [the] game on defense. He alters shots and once his offensive game catches up he'll be complete. He's not done growing as a player."
Additionally, the Might Rustlers boast Kurtis Parsons, an elite junior wing. Parsons (6-6, 190 pounds) plays a combination forward, helping Huestis in the post, but "loves to shoot the three once he steps on the floor," Cislo said.
As a sophomore, Parsons was a key member of the AA state champions. He played last summer with the Northwest Cougars and has offers from Montana and Montana State.
Trio riding high: Cody Larson (Sioux Falls, S.D./Roosevelt) has a message for recruiters: "There's talent in South Dakota; c'mon and check us out," he told ESPN this week.
The Iowa-bound Larson, who played for the Dakota Schoolers this summer, is realistic about the chances of colleges' flocking to the Mount Rushmore State.
"Usually players have to leave the state during the summer to get noticed," he said. "We may not be as athletic as other states, but we'll outwork others."
South Dakota isn't a hotbed for pro players but did send forward Mike Miller of the Washington Wizards (a Mitchell High graduate) to the NBA.
This year's crop of talent from South Dakota is concentrated mostly in Sioux City (pop. 151,505), the state's largest city, and especially at Roosevelt High, where a threesome lurks.
A quick check of ESPN's boys' basketball South Dakota database for the Class of 2010 shows Larson (17.8 points, 8.7 rebounds per game last year), along with Roosevelt senior teammates 6-8 Jared Bartling (No. 32 power forward) and 6-2 Adol Aluong.
That's it. Clearly there's a dearth of skilled players.
Bartling, a late bloomer, added 60 pounds since entering high school.
"I could always hit the shot, but I lacked strength," Bartling said. "I've worked on that and now have incorporated post moves from the blocks since the summer."
Roosevelt, which has played in eight state tournaments, winning once, in 2000, has limited tradition. The program's top two players -- John Sivesind (1996) and Joe Krabbenhoft (2005) -- were Gatorade state players of the year before playing at Colorado State and Wisconsin, respectively.
Lee Taylor, Roosevelt's first-year coach, is looking to add a chapter to the program.
"The talent is here; it's [the coaches'] job to put it together," said Taylor, who previously coached at Roosevelt before returning after a two-year stint at Lake Forest College in Illinois. "Cody can be a future All-Big Ten if he consistently makes his jumpers, Jared hasn't scratched the surface of his potential and is a real steal, and Adol will go to battle for you."
South Dakota, like most of the upper Midwest and Great Plains states, flies under the most recruiter's radar. Larson, a 6-9, 225, post player, is a future Hawkeye, while Bartling will sign with the University of South Dakota, a second-year Division I program that competes in the fledgling Great West Conference against the likes of Chicago State, Utah Valley State, New Jersey Tech and Texas-Pan American.
At 6-9, 230 pounds, Bartling will plug a front-line hole for the Coyotes when 6-8 forward Tyler Cain, an ace defender, graduates in the spring.
"South Dakota [becoming] a Division I program was great timing for me," said Bartling, who averaged 9 points and 8.7 rebounds a year ago. "I wanted to stay close to home, and when I'm a senior, USD will be eligible for the NCAA Tournament. That's a goal of mine."
Aluong, who is receiving interest mainly from Division II schools such as Northern State, Morehead State (Minn.) and Wayne State (Neb.), is healthy after missing much of last season with a knee injury. Aluong will likely sign late and may spark interest from lower-level Division I programs, depending on his level of play and fitness this winter. Portland State already sniffed around earlier in the summer.
"There's reason why [Roosevelt] didn't fare so well last season: They missed a leader," Taylor said.
Without Aluong, the Roosevelt Rough Riders foundered to a 13-10 record. This season the Rough Riders are the favorite to capture South Dakota's largest classification (AA) state championship.
"I'm glad to be on the court again," said Aluong, whose family fled war-torn Sudan when he was a child. "My explosiveness and quickness are back."
That could be the linchpin to Roosevelt's pending success.
"We have a new coach and a new style; we still have to feel each other out," Larson said. "Once we mesh, we'll be a better team."
Cory story: The hoopla is overwhelming. So is the special attention.
Autographs, fans hounding your every move, or fanatical students replete with body paint.
Recruiting trips have become enlightening for Cory Joseph of Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.).
"You need get the information, gather it all and then make a decision," he said.
Last weekend it was UConn's "First Night" at the Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.
With two down and three to go, Joseph, ESPNU 100's No. 30 player and No. 6 point guard, headed back to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas for another transcontinental flight.
On Friday, he's back on the East Coast for an official visit to Villanova for its Hoops Mania at the Pavilion.
Joseph, a native of Toronto, has checked off Texas and Connecticut and heads to Minnesota next weekend for his fourth visit, but there's a three-school logjam for the final official visit.
Will it be UNLV, Mississippi State or Florida for the fifth official visit?
"I'll worry about that after Minnesota," he said.
Joseph shared his thoughts about life on the road this fall with ESPN.
Texas: "My friend and teammate, Tristan Thompson, headed down there for a visit. Tristan and I grew up in Toronto and have been friends for long time. He's already committed there and I enjoyed the visit. Our former [Findlay] teammate Avery Bradley was our host and showed us the campus. The coaches were great and the campus was beautiful."
UConn: "First Night was crazy. I signed so many autographs. Coach [Jim] Calhoun is good people, and so is his staff."
Villanova: "They play with three or four guards on the floor; I like that style. Plus, it's the Big East and closer to home."
Minnesota: "It doesn't hurt my brother [sophomore Devoe Joseph] is on the team. Coach Tubby Smith has won a national championship and I've gotten to know the players. Someone asked me if the cold Minnesota winters would matter. No way, I'm Canadian."
Joseph is a proud Canadian who suited up for the national team at last summer's FIBA U19 World Championships in New Zealand.
"It's always an honor to represent your country," said Joseph, who previously attended Pickering High in Ajax, Ontario.
At the adidas Nations, a global exhibition tournament at Dallas in August, Joseph willed Team Canada to the final, where it fell to Team USA 2010, 85-83. Joseph's errant 3-pointer as time expired would have won it. He matched a tournament high with 33 points, adding six assists and six rebounds.
Joseph's legend grew during the 18-and-under tournament, which attracted players from North America, Latin America, Asia, Europe and Africa, by leading statistical categories in scoring (22.3), rebounding and assists.
"Cory does whatever his team needs," Findlay assistant Todd Simon said of his star guard, who last season averaged 12 points, 7 rebounds and 5.5 assists while making 55 percent of his shots. "He's very efficient, rarely takes a bad shot."
When defending national champions Findlay captured the inaugural National High School Invitational in April, capping a perfect season, the Pilots' top two guards (Avery Bradley and D.J. Richardson) graduated.
Paul Biancardi, ESPN's national recruiting director, sees Joseph's role changing.
"Based on last year's team, he was the third of three guards," he said. "This year the great role player is being asked to be 'the man.' It'll be interesting to see the adjustment, and if his 3-point shot drops, he'll carry a team."
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball, and boys' and girls' basketball. He also worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, for which he ran the Gatorade National Player of the Year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.
Montana power forward prospect Josh Huestis is likely heading to one of the country's elite academic institutions, writes Christopher Lawlor.