- Christopher Lawlor, High School Basketball
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BALTIMORE -- T.D. Dixon is down with the angles.
On the court, the passes are thrown diagonally. Popping off screens is done with precision, heading to a designated area. Defense is about, well, angles. Turn your man on defense or shade him in another direction and the play breaks down.
He's also learning the ins and outs of recruiting, angling himself in front of as many eyeballs as possible. What better way to display your talent than in prime time on national TV at the ESPN RISE National High School Invitational.
"Exposure, that's it," Dixon said. "My coaches have said working on my game and in the classroom will get you noticed."
Last year Dixon, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound junior swingman, figured the best way to college was through a national high school program, so he transferred to Christ School in Arden, N.C. It also helps when your new school has it all: spotless academic reputation; championship pedigree (four consecutive state titles); and a nexus to Division I schools.
Dixon, who previously attended Wilson (Florence, S.C.), felt the cachet of the NHSI, the second-year national tournament which tips off Thursday at Coppin State University's Physical Education Complex, adds another wrinkle to recruiting.
This is the first year North Carolina independent schools were eligible for the NHSI, joining Florida as newcomers. The timing was impeccable for student-athletes like Dixon.
"It's been a dream of mine to play on ESPN," he said. "It's a big showcase; you get to display your talent."
For most teens the allure of national television became a reality in recent years since the ESPN family of networks programmed elite high school games, especially those in the Old Spice High School Showcase.
"If you're a player looking for exposure, the NHSI is a great vehicle," said Rashid Ghazi of Paragon Marketing, who created the NHSI and books high school games for ESPN.
Dixon is drawing interest from several schools, including South Carolina, Wofford, Winthrop, Penn State and Wisconsin, but doesn't have any offers yet. He's visited both in-state high-major schools -- South Carolina and Clemson -- but hasn't heard from the latter.
"Both Clemson and South Carolina have great atmospheres and fans," said Dixon, who would jump at a chance to play for the Gamecocks. He might have an in, Dixon's cousin and Christ School teammate, 6-foot point guard Eric Smith, signed with South Carolina.
Christ School coach David Gaines thinks Dixon is versatile.
"He can play anywhere on the floor," he said.
The Greenies, who enter the NHSI having won four straight North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association Class 3A titles, are talented and deep, so deep that Dixon plays the role of sixth man, averaging 9.1 points and shooting 56 percent (88-of-150) from the field. He also committed 51 turnovers, second most on the squad.
"I've worked on my ballhandling the last few weeks; it's improving," Dixon said. "This tournament is another chance to play with my teammates; we're excited about the opportunity."
The Greenies opened the single-elimination, eight-team tournament Thursday at 4 p.m. on ESPNU against Winter Park, Florida's Class 6A champion.
Breaking down the teams
Looking at the teams in the field in order of their seeding.
1. Montverde Academy
The only question mark on the recruiting front is whether 6-10 Papa Samba Ndao (the nation's No. 57 power forward) will re-open his recruitment or if he'll attend Boston College after Wednesday's revelation that coach Al Skinner won't be returning next season.
"We'll wait until Boston College hires a coach and then see if it's a good fit for him," Montverde coach Kevin Sutton said of Ndao.
Ndao is part of a stacked starting lineup featuring 6-5 James Bell (who signed with Villanova), 5-9 Kaleb Clyburn, 6-8 junior Steve Missi and 6-5 Jamail Jones (Marquette). Haukur Palsson, a 6-6 senior from Iceland, recently chose Maryland over Central Florida, Harvard, Vanderbilt and South Florida. Palsson entered the national scene with a favorable showing at the City of Palms Classic in December.
2. Findlay Prep
The defending NHSI champions are loaded. Just ask Charlotte Christian coach Shonn Brown.
"They can run or slow it down; they have incredible athletes," he said.
Findlay's 6-10 Tristan Thompson (No. 10 in ESPNU 100) and point guard Cory Joseph, are both McDonald's All-Americans who will go from Wednesday's McDonald's game in Columbus, Ohio, to Thursday's game in Baltimore. While Thompson has already signed with Texas, Joseph is still looking. Joseph, who averages 18.6 points a game with 6.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.5 steals, said he'll make a decision after the season and is likely down to Connecticut, Villanova, UNLV, Texas and Minnesota, where his brother, Devoe, is a sophomore guard.
Seniors Marko Petrovic, Godwin Okonji and Thomas Laerke; junior Nick Johnson; sophomores Winston Shepard, Dekeba Battee-Aston and Henry Uwadiae; and freshman Nigel Williams-Goss are all high-major recruits.
Johnson has the most options right now, with Arizona the most interested, while Louisville, Kentucky, UCLA and Arizona State are closing in.
3. Oak Hill Academy
The Warriors feature four players scoring in double figures: 6-4 Doron Lamb (22.5 points); point guard Juwan Staten (11.4 points, Dayton signee); guard Pe'Shon Howard (13.2 points, Maryland) and 6-8 Roscoe Smith (14.9 points, Connecticut).
OHA coach Steve Smith calls Lamb, an undecided senior guard from New York, "a special player." He was OHA's 23rd player to play in the McDonald's All-American Game. Lamb led the Warriors in scoring and playing minutes (854) while averaging 5.3 rebounds and 2.2 steals. He also shot 52.6 percent (271-of-515) from the field. He's considering Connecticut, West Virginia, Kentucky and Kansas.
4. Christ School
Marshall Plumlee, the No. 7 center in the ESPNU Super 60, is an imposing figure at nearly 7-foot. That supports the Greenies' four-guard attack. Plumlee's brothers play for Duke, which remains on Marshall's college list.
Off the bench, 6-9 Sebastian Koch and 6-10 Lucas Troutman, a pair of Elon recruits, average 7.7 points and 8.2 points, respectively. Tony Kimbro, a 6-6 junior, averages 12 points. He has interest from Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State. Eric Smith, a South Carolina-bound point guard, has drained 100 3-pointers.
5. Winter Park
The brightest star at the NHSI might be junior Austin Rivers. Rivers, a 6-4 shooting guard who is the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, is No. 2 in the ESPNU Super 60. He committed to Florida as a freshman, but has opened it up enough let North Carolina and Duke in the picture. North Carolina coach Roy Williams was even at Winter Park's practice last week. This season Rivers, Florida's Class 6A state player of the year, averaged 23.9 points (82 made 3-pointers), 4.4 rebounds and 2 assists. He enters the NHSI with 1,905 career points. If the Wildcats reached the final, he might crack the 2,000-point barrier.
6. Mountain State Academy
Justin Martin, a 6-6 forward who signed with Xavier, will return following a severely sprained ankle sustained on Jan. 8. Martin won't start but is the sixth man. "He's not 100 percent yet but getting close," Mountain State Academy coach Rodney Crawford said. Jabs Newby, a point guard headed to Eastern Kentucky, engineers the offense and averages 7 assists. The Falcons lost to Oak Hill Academy 45-44 on Feb. 20 and are looking for redemption.
7. Charlotte Christian
The Knights (29-4), who advanced the NCISAA Class 3A final, boost three legitimate Division I players. Trent Walker, a 6-1 senior, is unsigned but is drawing serious looks from Navy, Gardner Webb, Elon and Furman. His numbers are consistent -- 8 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals per game -- along with his demeanor and leadership skills.
"We play defense as one unit; it jump-starts our offense," Walker said.
8. Montrose Christian
When the Mustangs lost the athletic 6-6 Terrence Ross, who transferred at midseason back home to Jefferson High in Portland, Ore. (he did not play the remainder of the season), the thin lineup became thinner. Duke-bound Joshua Hairston (18 ppg) emerged as the go-to player and 6-2 junior Naz Long adjusted the parts on the floor from the point. Justin Anderson, a 6-6 sophomore, is a high-energy lefty who has Maryland, Duke, North Carolina, Texas and Oklahoma monitoring his progress.
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today.
The ESPN RISE NHSI brings out some of the best players and teams in the country, writes Christopher Lawlor.