I had the pleasure of spending most of Sunday at Hackensack HS in New Jersey watching the 2012 Playaz Club "New Years Jump-off." This had to be the best 4 game event in the history of NJ high school basketball on paper. With 6 of the top 7 teams in the state competing it was bound to be a sell out, which is why I arrived as early as possible after eating with my very good friend Bobby Holford, ex D1 Coach and current head of the Urban Leadership Academy in Queens NY. By the way it was great seeing Bobby, especially since he paid for breakfast.
As I entered Hackensack HS it brought back so many great memories of my son playing there and getting his 30 and 10 a few times years ago as a player at Teaneck NJ HS. Well enough of the parental bragging, time to discuss the event and the games.
On paper all four games seemed to be outstanding! But to live up to the hype would be a very hard thing to do. But guess what? The games were even better than any of us could imagine! They were so good I already ordered tickets from Jim Salman for next years event that hopefully will be held at the same location. I also hope ESPN or some other station gets involved because this event was much better than the Springfield Ma. Hall of Fame HS event held and televised each year. In fact it was not even close.
With a sell out crowd and great concession food, this was an event that every basketball junkie would enjoy. The first game was Dwight Morrow HS of Englewood NJ vs Hackensack HS of guess where? Hackensack NJ! This was the local warm-up game for the 3 huge games that were to follow. Problem was the game was so good and entertaining we felt in no way would the next 3 games be as good. Well they were even better.
Back to the Dwight Morrow vs Hackensack game. Hackensack has a very classy coach in Aaron Taylor. This young man is in his second season and building something special that will be very good and entertaining in the future. Englewood has a new coach in Donald "Ozzie" Osbourne, one of my former players and a person I have watched develop into one of the best coaches regardless of talent in the entire state of New Jersey. Guy can just flat out coach and does it with mirrors because Dwight Morrow has always had decent talent, but very little skill development or program building ever took place there so the kids on that team really have no clue about what it takes to win and be successful. Hackensack to the contrary has always had winning programs going as far back as the days of Mel Henderson and Darryl Harris, two very good coaches. Scratch that, two Great Coaches. The game was all Dwight Morrow early and they led by 16 or 17 but Hackensack with more skilled players accustomed to winning stormed back and won the game at the end. Donald Osbourne did a superb job coaching and motivating his kids who really were not capable of finishing Hackensack off. You could feel it in the air that they would not win at the end. Hubie Brown and Mike Fratello could not have pulled it out if they coached the Dwight Morrow kids for only a half season to date. As I watched Dwight Morrow I could only dream about how good they will be in a few years with this new coach. I could only dream about what the two big guys on Dwight Morrow would be right now if he was with them last season. As far as Hackensack? Next season top 15 team in the state with some great players returning including potential top 100 National Player Rashad Figures, some great guards, and the Iona College AD's son Gene Marshall, a 6 ft 2 clean up guy supreme.
Next game was Teaneck NJ HS who has turned out more D1 players in the past 15 seasons than any other public school in the state, against Perennial national power St. Patricks. This game was even better than the first game and had to be decided in overtime after Teaneck Junior Joel Hernandez hit a game tying off balance 3 pointer. Teaneck went on to win when Hernandez hit 2 free throws with a second left in overtime. What a game this was with the talent on the court so great it made the first game, despite how good it was, look like a JHS or Freshmen game. And for those who feel St. Patricks is done? Think again! They really were a solid team with wonderful and solid guard play to go along with great up front talent in De Andre Bembry (a top 100 type junior player if not higher) from North Carolina and 6 ft 6 Jarred Nickens, a potential great player with wonderful skills who will only get better next season when he is a senior. Honestly the coaching on the St. Patricks bench was very very good with A very active and involved staff. It was also interesting seeing the usual St. Patricks fans, including "Red" who Kevin Boyle talked about in the documentary saying he was sitting there like he was court-side at an NBA game. Honestly this staff seemed better than the previous staff. JMHO
Teaneck has a great team and features an outstanding coaching staff led by Head Coach Jerome Smart. I am so proud of this program win, lose, or draw based on them being a true program. Curtis March believed in this and the program is in great hands with Coach Smart and the other coaches. Led by Chris Jones, a 6 ft 6 guard/forward who is very under recruited despite having a number of mid major D1 offers, and a true top 4 senior in the state. When speaking to Jay Gomes of NJ Hoops, he admitted to me Chris Jones might be the best available senior in area and definitely better than many on his current top 10 NJ senior list. This kid is going to great as a college sophomore. Teaneck also has Joel Hernandez who is only a junior. He reminds me so much of Ricardo Greer at the same stage with Ricardo being much more aggressive offensively, which is code for shoot first, pass second. Hernandez is a definite D1 player and will only go where his summer work ethic takes him. Like Chris, he will be under recruited initially, but with work, he like Chris could be a high major player. Next player on Teaneck is re-classified junior Neville Finch, a 6 ft 9 tough power player finally coming into his own. This is the kid who you love on Monday and dislike on Tuesday based on inconsistent and often bone headed plays such as over fouling or unnecessary elbow throwing. But when he gets it right and gets a few go to moves, WOW! I can see this kid at Kansas or somewhere similar in his future. Finally there is 5 ft 7 Shakir Lindsey, a shake and bake guard who is tough as nails and understands controlling tempo. This kid can also shoot the lights out. MAAC, CAA, NEC, where are you? What a game this was! Dunks, great passes, hard play, transition baskets, and overall great play. A true nail biter and one I wished I had on tape to play over and over again.
Next up was Hudson Catholic vs Plainfield. Two PROGRAMS as well! Great coaching on both sides but I honestly feel Hudson Catholic players talk back and rebel a bit too much for my liking. The talent and coaching is there, but they just have to Jell. Plainfield, like Teaneck , is a public HS that only draws from the actual town and does not recruit, although the top big guy attends a local charter school as opposed to actually attending Plainfield HS. Rules state a player attending a charter school without a team can play at the HS in his district or town.
Plainfield might be the hardest working teams I have ever seen. They never give up and come at you all game long. They bite and claw their way to victory every game they play. Well, the game was one of runs by both teams. Hudson Catholic has at least 4 or 5 D1 players including top 100 juniors 6 ft 7 Reggie Cameron (whose Dad and Uncle often attended games with me when my son played years ago), and 6 ft 9 Mike Young. They also have potential top 100 junior in Kayon Stewart, who depending on the day you watch is either great or just OK. Well to be honest Plainfield just out toughed Hudson Catholic for the win. They played harder, smarter, and with purpose to win the game. It did not hurt that Plainfield has some very good players also in Sekou Harris, a fully qualified guard who every NEC, and MAAC school should be all over, DiJon Allen-Jordan, a 6 ft 6 player with great atletic ability who plays at the rim, and Yale bound Justin Sears, a 6 ft 7 power player who just works his butt off and COMPETES every play. A well coached team that played the entire game on a mission to prove they were legit. And they are!
I have to keep it real about Hudson Catholic. I still believe in this team and would hate to play them because when they get it going or shall I say if they get it going, they will be GREAT. To do this Reggie Cameron needs more plays run through him, Mike Young needs touches down low, and Kayon Stewart needs to be consistent and prove he is one of the great guards in NJ. But more important is those kids need discipline and the buck starts and stops with the coaching. Nick Marininiello is a very good coach but he needs to coach and tell the others to be supportive as opposed to Co-Coaches. Kids are hearing 3 and 4 voices coming at them. These are talented kids who with discipline and smart play including understanding who their bread and butter is (Cameron and Young), could do great things this and next season.
The final score saw Plainfield edge Hudson Catholic and shall I just say I saw Plainfield THUG (which means out tough) Hudson Catholic to win the game. This made it NJ Public Schools (Teaneck and Plainfield) 2 wins and NJ private schools (St. Pats and Hudson Catholic) who recruit 2 losses.
Next was the headline game of the day. The game that made me arrive home at 12 midnight because I had to see it. St. Benedict's vs St. Anthony's. What talent, what coaching, what teams! St. Benedict's has outstanding talent in Melvin Johnson who is headed to Miami of the ACC next season. I still wonder why high level recruits sign there since no one even comes out to games. Maybe it is the weather, or Luke the Miami King Of Porn Rap, who has on occasion has invited U of M athletes to his events, is involved lol. Anyway Melvin Johnson, the former Rice HS, Gaucho and LI Lightning Dingle star is a heck of a player. Also on the St. Benedict's roster is Isaiah Briscoe a great freshmen guard rated top 5 nationally, Tyler Ennis the Canadian recruit who is a top 100 junior with poise and great skills, and a host of others including 6 ft 8 jr. Isaiah Watkins who is playing with ZERO confidence at this time. I can feel this kids potential and have watched him get it done in he past. If he gets his confidence back he could be a high major played or at the least a CAA or A10 player. By the way I was extremely impressed with the St. Benedict's coaching staff led by Mark Taylor who only knows and understands winning! Guy has won wherever he has been. Loved the way he and his Assistant often played good cop and bad cop on the entire team.
St. Anthony's also has great talent to go along with a great Hall of Fame Coach in Bob Hurley. It is hard to beat a team with great coaching and a team use to winning. Kyle Anderson is Kyle Anderson! Top 3 national player and most likely the number one respectful kid in all of basketball. No ego, great personality, unselfish. smart, good manners, respectful, and much more. Again basketball needs him as much as he needs basketball. Also on St. Anthony's is the biggest steal since Jessie James did his thing in Tomb Stone, 6 ft 8 Jimmy Hall who will attend Hofstra in the fall. How SHU, SJU, and Rutgers slept this kid I do not know. Solid and true team player. Add fully qualified Tariq Carey a highly rated transfer from Newark NJ Eastside HS who will be a high to mid major player, Jerome Frink, a 6 ft 6 solid D1 player, and Josh Brown a jr. who has already committed to Temple University to form a great nucleus to work towards another undefeated season.
The game itself was decided at the very end with St. Anthony's winning by a point. What a day, what an event! The organizers need to be commended for raising the bar regarding local HS showcase events. My only criticism is the bogus scouting services eating and being wined and dined not paying to attend and getting free food while others who actually blog and promote are not provided a soda lololololol. One guy I see all the time always has press credentials yet I have never seen a Blog or story done by him. Trust me when I tell you some bloggers get 10,000 hits on certain days. Even my blog often gets 2500 and has gotten as high as 9700 on a particular day. Oh well, I had some potato chips and a soda at 7-11 on my way home which was a 2 hour drive. But overall I give this event a 10 out of 10 star rating. Well Done Playaz Club!!!!