- Adam Finkelstein
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NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Coming off a disappointing semifinal loss in last week's NEPSAC class AAA tournament, St. Thomas More (Oakdale, Conn.) arrived at Albertus Magnus College for this week's National Prep Championship as a team on a mission.
Playing with tremendous energy and equal efficiency throughout the two-day tournament, St. Thomas More not only came out of the 10-team field as the 2011 National Prep Champion, but it did it in commanding fashion, knocking off No. 5 Princeton Day Academy in the quarterfinals 89-52, No. 2 Hargrave Military Academy in the semifinals 90-76 and No. 3 Notre Dame Prep in the final, 90-74.
Andre Drummond (Middletown, Conn./St. Thomas More)
2012, C, 6-foot-11, 275 pounds
While Drummond is still far from a finished product, he played as steady and efficient of a three-game string as we have seen this season and saved his best for last, dominating the deciding minutes of St. Thomas More's win over Notre Dame Prep and taking MVP honors. The key for Drummond was anchoring himself around the rim and not trying to do too much on the perimeter, which he can sometimes be guilty of. Playing with a high level of energy and a lively body, Drummond attacked the cup all weekend and got his head above the rim for some incredible finishes over the top of the defense. While he still needs to learn to maximize his size and strength in the paint, he simply went through Pittsburgh signee Khem Birch late in the second half for a quick spin along the baseline into a two-handed dunk, then making a quick rotation from the weakside of the floor to block a big shot with his left hand on the subsequent defensive possession.
Todd Mayo (Morgantown, W.Va./Notre Dame Prep)
2011, SG, 6-3, 190 pounds
Mayo put points on the board in high volume throughout Notre Dame's three games and did it in a variety ways. While he can score in bunches from beyond the arc, he doesn't get enough credit for being a creator off the bounce. Consistently able to shake his man with a quick crossover, and often having the benefit of attacking a bad closeout because of his shooting prowess, Mayo was able to get into the paint with ease and had good bounce and tremendous body control finishing plays. While he'll have to become more selective with his shot selection at the next level, and certainly isn't the point guard many are hoping, he is a pure scorer with the ability to make plays deep in the shot clock.
Ricardo Ledo (Providence, R.I./Notre Dame Prep)
2012, SG, 6-6, 180 pounds
Ledo was dominant offensively in Notre Dame's quarterfinal win over Brewster Academy, going for 31 points and showing his full offensive arsenal. It's been well documented that when his jumper is falling he is virtually impossible to stop, but when he's making shots and also creating for his teammates he can be truly special. He did his best work coming off an Allen Iverson-style, over-the-top cut and attacking immediately off his catch with deep jumpers, midrange pull-ups or creative drives to the rim for finishes or assists. Unfortunately, Ledo was far less effective in the final, as the ball tended to stick in his hands and stall Notre Dame's offense, while St. Thomas More exposed his inability to finish plays on his weaker side by sitting on his right hand.
P.J. Hairston (Greensboro, N.C./Hargrave Military Academy)
2011, SG, 6-6, 210 pounds
The North Carolina-bound sharpshooter put on a show from long range. The big, strong wing plowed through contact coming off screens and needed only the smallest separation to get his shot off because of his high and compact release. A defender's only chance of taking away his long ball was to face guard him and prevent his catch. While Hairston shoots with great range and is equally effective spotting up or coming off screens, what separates him from other snipers is his ability to make contested shots in all of those areas, as he bailed his team out late in the clock on a number of occasions. In order to take his game to the next level he must diversify his offensive attack, find a way to get more easy baskets (learning to back-cut would be a great start) and improve his ballhandling skills.
Damion Lee (Owings Mill, Md./St. Thomas More)
2011, SF, 6-4, 190 pounds
Drummond may have taken home MVP honors thanks to his dominance in the final moments of the championship game, but it was Lee who established himself as St. Thomas More's leader. First and foremost, he has obvious leadership qualities with a great motor, attitude and communication skills with his teammates. More importantly, he gets it done on both ends of the floor, defending the opposition's best perimeter scorer, driving through contact to the rim, rebounding in traffic, running and finishing on the break and now even making his 3s consistently -- not just spotting up, but also coming off screens.
• Adam Jones (Winter Park, Fla./St. Thomas More) is starting to look like a steal for Fairfield. He probably had the most polished low-post game of any player in the field, complete with good footwork, a soft touch and most of all patience and poise. Add in capable standstill range to 20 feet and you can see why Stags coach Ed Cooley made it a point to be courtside to see his future forward.
• Myles Davis (Jersey City, N.J./Notre Dame Prep) is known primarily as a shooter, and while that reputation is well earned his ability to get to the basket can sometimes go unnoticed. He isn't explosively quick or athletic, but he changes pace with the ball so well that it's very difficult for a defender to stay between him and the basket while also staying close enough to take away his jumper.
• Westwind Prep PG Kiwi Gardner (Manteca, Calif./Westwind Prep) and Princeton Day PG Kareem Storey (Baltimore, Md./Princeton Day) were both out of control for long stretches of time when they last played in this gym in November for the National Prep Showcase, but they've both obviously come a long way in terms of being able to make decisions and run a team over the course of the season.
• Georges Niang rattled off 13 straight points in the final six minutes of Tilton's 87-85 quarterfinal loss to Notre Dame Prep and proved he can be an equally dangerous scorer from behind the 3-point line as he can be inside the paint.
• Nerlens Noel (Everett, Mass./Tilton School) continues to come along steadily, boasting some additional muscle mass to his frame, showing better results at the free throw line and proving himself capable of taking the ball off the glass and starting the break with his dribble.
• Markus Kennedy's (Philadelphia, Pa./Brewster Academy) future teammates at Villanova are going to love their new big fella. Not only does he have an infectious personality but he is also one of the best passing big men in the Class of 2011 and a guy who can actually facilitate from the low block.
• Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon was on hand to watch two of his future players Tuesday as Birch and Durand Johnson locked up in the Notre Dame/Brewster semifinal. While neither impressed offensively, they both project as great fits in the Panthers' defensive system.
• UConn assistant coach Kevin Ollie logged some miles in the last 48 hours, going back and forth from New York to be on the bench for the Huskies' first two wins in the Big East tournament but also being front and center every time Drummond took the court.
Adam Finkelstein has been a coach or scout at the high school, college and pro levels. He was an assistant coach in Division I by the age of 24 and also worked as a scout for Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting.