On a sunny, 41-degree afternoon on Saturday, January 15, 2005, I drove to Rocky Mount, Virginia, to see the 4-game "Member One Time Technologies 2nd-Annual Hoops Classic," a basketball extravaganza held at the beautiful, refurbished 'Samuel M. Hawkins Central Gym' at Franklin County High School. It has new, dark red seats, a dark red circle in the center of the dark yellow-brownish
floor, and a dark-white ceiling full of lights and beams. Most high school gyms are poorly-lit, but this one was bright. My only complaint was that the public address system was poor: it was hard to understand much.
The first game, at 3:00 P.M., was Group AA William Fleming High School of Roanoke, VA against Group AAA Cave Spring High School from the Roanoke area. (This game had no real basketball recruiting interest to me, or to anyone, I'd suspect.)
In this somewhat meaningless (from a basketball recruiting standpoint only) first game, Cave Spring came out with their red warm-up tops and black warm-up pants. William Fleming was wearing white warm-up shirts and gold shorts. For the game, Cave Spring wore an all-white uniform with black shoes and socks, while William Fleming wore an all-neon bright gold uniform (!) with white socks and shoes.
William Fleming has a so-far little-used 6-0 freshman point guard named Brian Ashford, (wearing number 32) who's father was a
star point guard for Virginia Tech in the mid-1970's. He played some but isn't ready for high school basketball just yet. Cave Spring has a junior named David Redick, the 6-4 225 brother of Duke basketball star J.J. Redick, but David Redick (who wore number 44) is likely a small-college tight-end football prospect.
David Redick's left leg was braced, but he entered the game with 4:23 in the 2nd quarter and immediately aggressively started shooting and scoring. Still, William Fleming led for the entire game, and won 42-29 in a game that at times featured a spread offense by Cave Spring.
From another football standpoint, William Fleming's powerful senior inside player, number 52, 6-4 250 Darryl Gresham, is the animalistic linebacker who changed his verbal football committment to UVa and is now likely headed to the University of Florida. However, UVa's football staff is recruiting his junior teammate, William Fleming's junior point guard/defensive back (#24 on the basketball court) Dwayne Priest, listed at 5-10 in the game program, but certainly not that tall. Priest hit a three-pointer in the first minute, and no one on Cave Spring's team could guard him around the mid-court area. His future at the college level is strictly in football, however.
The second game of the day matched Salem High School, with future ACC prospect 6-7 225 forward Kenny Belton, who wears number 30, against one of the nation's better high school teams, Mount Zion Academy of Durham, NC. Because of the fact that the perception in the state of Virginia is that the bottom has dropped out of the University of Virginia men's basketball program, this 4-game classic had nothing really to do with the University of Virginia, unless Belton winds up playing for UVa one day, which is indeed possible, because his game seems to have regressed. He hasn't developed the skills to play facing the basket, and doesn't seem capable of playing against players taller than himself. Still, to his credit, he never got frustrated by the fact that his team didn't look to get him the ball.
True, Belton is just a mere sophomore. But in this game, he literally never touched the ball against Mount Zion's two big starters, 7-0 290 junior Franklin Jones and 6-11 220 post-grad Shawn Taggert. Mount Zion led 33-24 at the half, and Belton scored his first two points when his team was down 56-28 in the third period and he was facing Mount Zion's back-up 6-8 post player.
All 10 of Belton's points, all 3 of his rebounds, and his 4-8 field goal shooting and his 2-2 on free throws were against Mount Zion's subs, and after the halftime. Mount Zion won 67-46. For whatever reason Belton played very little in the first half, when the game, Salem's biggest of the year, was still in doubt.
For Mount Zion, their human highlight film, top 10-in-the-nation senior Brandon Rush, who's 6-6 185 and wears number 15, didn't enter the game until the 5:36 mark of the 2nd quarter for disciplinary reasons it appeared, but then put on an electrifying display of basketball. He scored 20 points, had 3 different alley-oop dunks, had a behind-the-head layup, also played some point guard, hit on 8 of 10 shots, and shot 4 of 6 from the free throw line. He appears to be as good as advertised, but I have to wonder about his self-discipline. If he goes straight to the NBA, how could an NBA team justify investing millions of dollars in him?
The third game between Group AAA Patrick Henry High of Roanoke, VA and Group AA Gretna, VA High from south of the Lynchburg area had no well-known college basketball prospects. Patrick Henry won 69-54. About the only interesting thing I noticed from this game is that maybe the next football star of the future for Gretna High School was playing for the Hawks, number 24, 6-0 freshman point guard Tyon Bennett. Someone will need to take up the slack for University of Virginia football quarterback signee Vic Hall, and it appears Bennett will be the key man in upcoming years for Gretna High. Gretna High has had two straight 14-0 state championship football seasons at the Group AA level behind Vic Hall.
Finally, the last game matched Group AAA Franklin County from south of Roanoke, Virginia against the nation's number-one team, Oak Hill Academy, which is located near the Virginia-North Carolina-Tennessee triangle. Oak Hill has 10 players, and all 10 are college prospects, but most are seniors, and have already committed, and I just try to follow underclassmen, because it's more fun staying one step ahead of the game. (Franklin County High boasts 6-8 junior forward Lewis Witcher, and Oak Hill has national-top-10 junior Kevin Durant, plus a muscular junior point guard who's so good that UNC has already offered him: 5-11 Tywon Lawson.)
Even if the University of Virginia does have one free scholarship to offer, do they have any chance at Lawson, Witcher, or Durant? Not if University of Virginia head men's basketball coach Pete Gillen's staff is still here, they don't. And as for the sophomore Kenny Belton, he's either not as good as I had thought, meaning he won't be good enough to play in the ACC, or he needs to move to a private school that has another big man, so he can play on the perimeter some and get to develop his face-the-basket skills. In today's game, he wasn't able to get open against the bigger players that Mount Zion threw at him. Ever.
As usual, when Oak Hill Academy comes out to warm up, the courtside is lined with little kids who marvel and the crowd roars as Oak Hill's players put on a dunking exhibition in pre-game warm-ups. The only real weapon that Franklin County had was big-time player 6-8 junior Lewis Witcher. Witcher is the same size he was last year, about 6-8 or 6-9 and 220, but he's even better. He has a great attitude, and is coachable. He wisely looked for his shot each time he touched the ball: Franklin County needed all of the points that he could give them. He is a rarity for a big man in that he has a perfect free-throw shooting form.
Playing in the far-western part of Virginia hasn't hurt Lewis Witcher's development, because it's obvious that he must spend countless hours working on his game. Plus, being only a high school junior, once he gets to college and is able to take advantage of a leg-strength program, you can tell that he'll really be able to develop in to a big-time leaper around he basket. Witcher is a player from the western part of the state (which due to it's small population size, rarely produces a good big man) who Virginia Tech can't afford to lose to the school that is rumored to be leading for him, Wake Forest. Wake Forest is in the lead right now. Witcher faired well: it's not easy shooting over a player like 7-1 center Bamba Fall of Oak Hill, who can come out and guard someone on the perimeter.
Although these two players, 6-9 Kevin Durant and 6-0 Tywon Lawson, are both from Maryland and are juniors, for now they're playing their high school ball in Virginia, so they're fair game for anyone to recruit, so I'm considering them to be Virginia high school basketball players. Kevin Durant (who wore number 33) pretty much does it all on the court, and has a great 3-point shot. It's obvious that he's a future NBA-starter one day. Physically and facially, he looks exactly like another native of the state of Maryland, former Georgetown University All-American Reggie Williams. Kevin Durant transferred to Oak Hill Academy in Mouth-Of-Wilson, VA from National Christian Academy in Suitland, Maryland, which is in the Washington, D.C. area.
It's hard to say if Tywon Lawson (who wears number 1) will ever play in the NBA one day due to his lack of height, but he's a great high school all-around point guard. He's everywhere: running the spread offense, stealing the ball, creating havoc on defense, and leading the team. It's not hard to see why the University of North Carolina wants him, and he looks like he was born to play for UNC with his style of play. This is just a guess, but I suspect that he'll wind up playing there. It's not safe to dribble the ball anywhere near him. Tywon Lawson transferred to Oak Hill Academy from Bishop McNamara High School, which is also in the Washington, D.C. area, in Forestville, Maryland.
Oak Hill was wearing their customary all-black uniforms with red numerals and their red school name on the front, Kevin Durant had on white socks, and huge white sneakers with horizontal blue stripes on them. Franklin County was wearing all-white uniforms.
Oak Hill Academy led 42-20 at the half, and won 95=51. Tywon Lawson rarely shot, but still scored 14 points: he was 3-4 on field-goal attempts, 2-2 on 3-pointers, and 2-2 on free-throws. Lewis Witcher took 7 of his 14 field goal attempts in the first quarter, when the game was still in doubt and he was trying to keep his team in it. He shot 7-14, plus 6-6 from the line, and scored 20 points. Kevin Durant was taken out of the game with 2:18 to play in the last quarter, and by that time he was 5-9 from the field, 3-6 from 3-point range, and 3-4 from the foul line, for 22 points. He only took one shot in the last quarter. The game was so one-sided that the sell-out crowd started leaving mid-way through the last quarter.