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December 21, 2012

City of Palms: Thursday lives up to hype

MORE: Wednesday at City of Palms

FT. MYERS, Fla. - Thursday at the City of Palms proved to be the best day of ball we've seen all winter. Games started at 10 a.m. and didn't end until almost a full hour after midnight as Montverde (Fla.) Academy topped Chicago (Ill.) Whitney Young in an epic overtime game to end an action packed day. Andrew Wiggins dominated, JaJuan Johnson took his game to new heights, and Highland (Utah) Lone Peak continued to win games and fans with their execution and teamwork.

Montverde outlasts Whitney Young in a classic

One would have thought the heavyweight battle between Chicago (Ill.) Whitney Young and Montverde (Fla.) Academy could not live up to expectations as it featured a total of nine Rivals150 players from the classes of 2013 and 2014. But the final game of the night didn't just live up to the hype, it easily surpassed even the most demanding of expectations.

Consider this: Whitney Young took the floor with 2014's No. 1 player (Jahlil Okafor) along with No. 55 Paul White and No. 64 L.J. Peak. That's some serious talent. Still, from a pure rankings look at things, they were outgunned.

Montverde rolled out 2013's No. 9 player Kasey Hill, No. 13 Dakari Johnson and No. 91 Devin Williams. From the class of 2014, you can throw in No. 10 D'Angelo Russell, No. 129 Jalyn Patterson and No. 136 Justin Bibbs.

For the most part, they all played at a high level, and we'll start with a rundown of the Whitney Young players. Okafor, the nation's top junior, was outstanding at times and at others too much of a bystander. Some of that was his team not getting him the ball, and a lot of it was Montverde's outstanding defense. Once Okafor catches the ball, he is an incredibly skilled scorer with soft touch and loads of game.

White came out early and at 6-foot-8 was used as his team's primary ball handler. He hit two tough pull-up jumpers and looked to be playing well before foul trouble got him late in the first quarter. White had some moments later but also struggled to find the range on his jumper again and settled for it at times.

Peak was pretty quiet during the first half but came up big during the second half. A big time athlete, the 6-foot-4 wing showed an improved stroke, hit on several key three-pointers and made crucial free throws. It was a very positive evening for him on a personal level. Also big for Whitney Young was three-star junior guard Miles Reynolds who hit several tough shots and important free throws as well.

Things were just good enough on the Montverde side for them to survive the slugfest. Hill was pretty good and had a limited number of mistakes. The future Florida Gator has a tremendous first step that allows him to get by anybody he wants, but at times he'll dance a bit with the ball. All in all, though, his competitive juices were flowing and he did an outstanding job running the show.

Johnson put up better numbers against an inferior opponent on Tuesday night but was much more impressive on Thursday. Using his big frame, Johnson showed significant toughness around the rim and made Okafor fight for every inch he got on the floor. His offense isn't as developed as Okafor's, but he more than proved he can go toe-to-toe with an elite big man. From his final three of Kentucky, Georgetown and Syracuse, only the Hoyas were in attendance as John Thompson III was joined by an assistant.

Plenty of times, Williams joined in on laying a body on Okafor. The 6-foot-8, 240-pounder is a bruiser with sneaky athleticism, and he played alert and smart all night. He did a great job adjusting to playing a quicker, more perimeter-oriented player in White, and the West Virginia signee also gave his squad an offensive boost.

Finally Russell was strong as well. Put him on the floor, and he's going to score. He's a good, but not great, athlete but has a well-developed feel for putting the ball in the hoop. His high-level offensive play is similar to Doron Lamb in that it's a mix of sometimes herky-jerky drives and jump shooting.

Wiggins dominates in a win

A capacity crowd packed the gym at Bishop Verot high school to see what high school basketball's top player Andrew Wiggins was made of, and he didn't disappoint.

The 6-foot-7 wing from Huntington (W.V.) Prep was the best offensive and defensive player on the floor by a long stretch during a scintillating 31-point, eight-rebound effort that included him hitting on 15 of 22 shots from the floor.

With Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton and assistants from Kansas and North Carolina on hand, Wiggins got off to a slow start offensively. While his jumper was a little off early, he was still highly involved in the game and played incredible defense on HCYA star Justin Jackson.

In the second quarter and into the second half, Wiggins flat out took over as Huntington Prep ran away and hid from HCYA. He thrilled the crowd with ridiculous dunks, showed incredible body control on drives and unleashed an aerial assault on the city of Ft. Myers.

Afterward, Wiggins indicated to Rivals.com that he has gotten no further in his recruitment. He confirmed that he will visit Kentucky, UNC and Kansas officially after his senior season and talked a little about what he likes about each school. With Florida State it's about the legacy of following in his parents footsteps. With Kentucky he likes how one-and-done type players have done in John Calipari's system, and with Kansas and Carolina he talked about tradition and player development.

Lone Peak wins over City of Palms crowd

Highland (Utah) Lone Peak is being talked about as the best team ever from Utah. Quincy Lewis' bunch is one that the people in Utah should be proud of and should be sure to see before the season ends.

We've written plenty about the talents of the BYU-bound trio of Eric Mika, Nick Emery and T.J. Haws. On Thursday all three were once again impressive as Lone Peak blew Chester (Pa.) High and their 61-game winning streak out the doors of the field house.

However, Lone Peak is more than just those three players. The tightly knit unit has an identity of smart, fast and team-oriented play that is orchestrated by a high-level coaching staff. He doesn't get as much pub, but senior Conner Toolson is going to help somebody out in college. He makes shots, comes up with hustle plays and could easily be a feature player on many good high school teams.

Thursday night tip-ins

Jajuan Johnson first hit the hoops scene as a skinny sophomore who could shoot the three-pointer a bit. As time has progressed, the four-star shooting guard has developed into a good defender, become dangerous off the dribble and steadily gotten better. The 6-foot-4 senior is still skinny, but he's also added NBA-level explosiveness to his game. Buzz Williams and Marquette picked up a winner with significant upside in Johnson.

He's still a bit inconsistent, but four-star sophomore Franklin Howard is about to turn the corner from prospect into player. A 6-foot-4 wing with good athleticism and length, Howard is already being tracked closely by high majors and claims offers from programs such as Cincinnati, Florida, Georgetown, N.C. State, Villanova, Miami, Ohio State and many others.

Wiggins wasn't the only guy to play well for Huntington Prep. Big man Dominic Woodson got on the glass and was an effective scorer around the bucket early to help carry the load offensively. Arkansas-bound Moses Kingsley scored from between 6 and 10 feet and was a beast on the glass. Then even though he didn't shoot it like he usually does, Florida State bound Xavier Rathan-Mayes slid over and handled much of the ball-handling load and delivered with 13 assists.

From a statistical standpoint, Justin Jackson didn't have the best game of his life. He also found out firsthand what it was like to try and score on a defensive phenom like Wiggins. But the No. 29 player in 2014 passed the test from an evaluation standpoint. He's probably pushing 6-foot-8 now, and while he's still got to develop more physical strength, Jackson showed plenty of fight and a more rounded out offensive game. The baseline floater is his weapon of choice, but he's posting up some and is much better at creating his shot off the dribble. Jackson strongly denied that he was close to making a decision and mentioned North Carolina, Kansas, Ohio State, Texas, Duke, Arizona and more. Of the programs recruiting him, the Blue Devils are the only program yet to offer.

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