Friday, January 24, 2014

Alexander leads star-studded class at Hoophall Classic

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The organizers of the Hoophall Classic loaded up the final day of action at Springfield College. One big timer after another took the floor, but it was the No. 4 player in the class of 2014, Cliff Alexander, who stole the show as Chicago (Ill.) Curie pulled off a big win over a loaded Montverde (Fla.) Academy. Top 10 prospect Rashad Vaughn made his return from injury, Kelly Oubre impressed and Rex Pflueger had a breakout outing in the nightcap.
Cliff Alexander came up big as he usually does in big events.
Alexander explodes No matter the situation, be it a summer camp, travel ball event or a big time high school showcase like the Hoophall Classic, Cliff Alexander comes up big. The 6-foot-8 power forward from Chicago (Ill.) Curie who has committed to Kansas is in the midst of a monster senior year. Monday, he showed the entire nation just how dominant he can be as he mauled Montverde (Fla.) Academy in a game that few gave Curie a serious chance to win.
All anybody would have to do is read the numbers and see that Alexander went for 30 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in a win to know that he was impressive. But, those who saw his performance firsthand also saw the mental anguish that he inflicts on opponents who are trying to stop him.
If any team in the country could stop Alexander, Montverde seemed that they would be the one that could do it. Their star power forward Ben Simmons is potentially the top player in the class of 2015 and their other bigs Jordan Caroline (Southern Illinois), Chris Egi (Harvard) and Makinde London (Xavier) are all quite talented. And for a half, Montverde kept Alexander in check holding him to just six points and two rebounds.
During the second half when it mattered most, though, Alexander dominated both ends of the floor scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. For good measure, he tossed in a few intimidating blocks. While the majority of Alexander's buckets came on violent dunks, he showed plenty of low post savvy. He dished to open teammates, showed an understanding of how to operate against double teams and then physically intimidated. Alexander's ability to get inside the head of opponents and seemingly strike fear into them at the high school level is rare.
Bottom line, Alexander is putting serious heat on those ranked ahead of him and it's hard not to envision making an immediate and pretty significant impact for Bill Self.
Pflueger comes up big
During the nightcap, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei held a comfortable lead for most of the night against a solid Philadelphia (Pa.) Neumann Goretti and got the win. How they did it wasn't quite what was expected. The script would have called for Mater Dei's star Stanley Johnson -- the No. 3 player in 2014 -- to put up huge numbers in a win. Instead, four-star junior Rex Pflueger stepped up with a huge effort on a night when Johnson battled foul troubles and turnovers.
After a quarter, Johnson was in foul trouble and Miami bound Goretti stud Ja'Quan Newton was going to work scoring 11 of his team's first 13 points. Mater Dei took Johnson out to prevent a third foul and that's when the 6-foot-4 Pflueger stepped up. Ranked No. 50 in the class of 2013, Pflueger is no slouch to begin with and his strength is in his versatility. He can run some offense, he can pass, he is a very good defender and scores from deep or at the rim. The junior did each and every one of those things during an impressive 30 point, eight rebound and two assist night.
Pflueger wasn't the only Monarch stepping up. Sophomore big man M.J. Cage continued his breakout sophomore season. A very good looking low post prospect, Cage showed again that he has high level hands, hoop smarts and skill. He finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds and quietly controlled the lane.
On the college front, Pflueger mentioned offers from USC, San Diego State, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Florida and California.
Oubre and Vaughn key Findlay route
Theo Pinson's big first half wasn't enough to help his team to victory.
For a half, five-star wing Theo Pinson put High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan Christian on his back and gave Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep a heck of a game. In the second half, Findlay's talent kicked in and led by five-star senior shooting guards they went on a 30-0 run to blow the game wide open and coast to victory. Headed to Kansas, Oubre is a smooth and offensively gifted 6-foot-7 wing who can shoot from deep and attack the rim. The lefty is a bit dominant with his natural hand, but he is a pure scorer who can get buckets all over the floor. He showed his entire arsenal on Monday while scoring a team high 23 points and grabbing five rebounds. The Jayhawks are undoubtedly going to lose Andrew Wiggins to the NBA Draft and Oubre looks poised and ready to step right in and pick up a large amount of the slack.
Playing for the first time in a month because of a knee injury, the 6-foot-5 Vaughn showed some rust at times. At others, he showed big time game on both ends of the floor. He asked to be switched onto Pinson during the second half and gave a big time defensive effort. Offensively, Vaughn showed his ability to create off the dribble - particularly by driving left - hit deep jumpers and finish above the rim. He only scored 12 points on 11 shots in 22 minutes, but his ability was plenty clear.
"I've been dying to get back," Vaughn told "It was great to get back. I've just got to get back into the gym and get my confidence and my wind back.
"I felt pretty good and I did whatever I could to help us get the win."
Vaughn and Pinson traded some chatter during the second half but Vaughn said it was just two friends going at it.
"I asked my coaches in the first half and they wouldn't let me guard him," said Vaughn. "The second half they put me on him. We were talking some, but he's my guy."
On the recruiting front, Vaughn is officially down to Kansas, Kentucky, Iowa State, North Carolina and UNLV. However, the Jayhawks look to be long shots. Vaughn said that they continue to show interest, but added that he didn't have any plans to visit officially at this time. He's been to Ames and Vegas and will visit Chapel Hill when the Tar Heels host Pittsburgh. John Calipari was there to see Vaughn on Friday and the five-star said that he is looking to set up a visit to Lexington.
More Monday notables
Findlay's sophomore point guard Derryck Thornton had an important developmental moment on Monday. He struggled with his shot and decision making in the first half missing all of his field goal attempts and having just as many turnovers as assists (3). Thornton only made 1-3 from the field in the second half but he dished out another seven assists to zero turnovers and played ball hawking defense to finish with six points, 10 assists and six rebounds. It was a mature change in approach and the type of outing that Thornton can learn from moving forward.
One of the top remaining point guard prospects in the class of 2014 has to be Tarin Smith of Jersey City (N.J.) St. Anthony. His team faltered late against Fairfax (Va.) Paul VI, but Smith had some very nice moments while scoring a team high 16 points and dishing out three assists. Smith is a solid 6-foot-1 floor general with good speed and the ability to make shots and get to the rim. His handle is a little loose at times, but he is a pretty good competitor and is a bubble high major prospect.
The nation's top ranked player in the class of 2014 Jahlil Okafor never really seemed into it on Monday. He got some early buckets on deep position but also battled foul trouble and difficulty at the free throw line. Enter Georgetown bound Paul White. The 6-foot-8 combo forward continued what has been a very strong senior season by leading Whitney Young in both scoring and rebounding as they made a nice comeback to knock off Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill 53-50. White controlled a lot of action out of the high post with his passing and shooting and he was more active than ever on the defensive end. He still has to get stronger, but he's a nice compliment to incoming Isaac Copeland and was terrific in a 19 point, 11 rebound and four block effort.

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