SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The capacity crowd and ESPN broadcast crew were in Springfield College’s Blake Arena Sunday evening because of the respective stars of the Huntington (WV) Prep and New Hampton (NH) School squads.
Neither Andrew Wiggins nor Noah Vonleh knocked the spectators — in the building or via the telecast — for a metaphorical loop. But they showed plenty of glimpses about why all the hoopla has been climbing to giddy heights since last spring.
The 6-foot-7ish Wiggins — a Toronto import who has become the consensus top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2013 — is still recovering from a bout of bronchitis. But he scored a game-high 19 points for Huntington Prep in its 56-47 victory during the 12th Spalding Hoophall Classic.
Vonleh, who signed a letter of intent with the University of Indiana in November, was limited to nine points while playing just 16 minutes because of a severe case of “foulitis”.
Vonleh, who can more readily be called 6-8 than can Wiggins (he appears ever-so-slightly taller), picked up two fouls less than four minutes into the game.
He was whistled for a reach with less than a minute to go in the second quarter and then picked up a fourth a couple of minutes into the third.
Vonleh was excused from further duty by an official after bumping the driving Wiggins with 54 seconds to go in the fourth quarter and his club trailing by five points.
Truth be told, Vonleh had a nine-point and five-rebound effort that set the “wow” standard for numbers that were non-descript in themselves.
He swished a couple of shots that were from well behind the arc. And his third field goal came after a catch and crisp pivot inside of the Huntington Prep zone and quick head feint that led to Wiggins leaving his feet and fouling Vonleh as the future Hoosier scored.
But despite, going vertical in a hurry to snatch five rebounds and demonstrating his well-polished ball-handling skill, he missed his other six shots — several of those definitely of the “ill-advised” variety.
And, obviously, defensively he was a mess. The adrenalin must have been pumping hard for Vonleh and, other than for a few brief moments in the second quarter, he never seemed “in sync” offensively.
That aside, Coach Tom Crean and the Hoosiers are getting a player with as much potential — and already developed skills — as anyone who’ll be a freshman in college hoops a year from now.
And I’ll say the same thing for whichever coach and program lands Wiggins this spring for his (oh-so-likely) one and only college season in 2013-14.
Wiggins has so much going for him as a prospect that it will sound like a chronic case of “nit-pickitis” to touch upon the areas he’ll need to focus on developing or at least polishing during his (once again, “likely”) brief experience with college dorm life.
There isn’t a faster player, at his size or bigger — who isn’t already collecting NBA pay stubs — with or without the ball. His strides are SO long and sudden that it seems as if he could go top of the key to top of the key in three dribbles.
But he doesn’t appear to have a lot of confidence in his left (off) hand as a handler.
He can score points in a hurry because he gets into the lane and well above the rim, off the dribble, with well beyond the greatest of ease on this level.
But he doesn’t have much of a scoring repertoire with his back to the bucket (other than fall-away jumpers). He’ll knock in two or three deep jumpers in a row but he’s far from a “pure” shooter as yet. When I watched him during the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League last spring and at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July he often struggled a bit at the free-throw line. I was in Portland last spring, too, for the Nike Hoop Summit and the practices leading into it and I noticed the same thing.
He’s got the physical (and mental) makings to be a top-notch defender but he really doesn’t play a lot of defense now, other than the occasional eye-popping block.
Just so I don’t give the appearance of carving him up with my nit-pick cutlery, Wiggins is also a very good — and very willing — passer. He also plays with the demeanor of a player whose first instinct is to try to do whatever it takes for his team to win, even if that doesn’t entail putting up a lot of shots and points.
And some would suggest that is as important as any other on-court “skill”.
Let me come up for air . . . OK, on to some of the other games played Sunday:
*St. Benedict’s Prep 63, Montrose Christian 51: In anything but a fluid and efficient offensive affair, the squad from Newark was in reasonable control throughout despite missing 20 of its 30 shots from the field in the first half.
A couple of future ACC players — point guard Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) and forward Mike Young (Pittsburgh) — scored 16 points apiece for the Gray Bees while teammates Denzel Taylor and Jonathan Williams chipped in with 11 and 10, respectively.
The Mustangs’ 6-5, 220-pound (or so) Ishmail Wainright, who played his first two seasons in the Kansas City area before transferring to the Rockville (MD) prep school, had 14 points and 10 rebounds and did a reasonably job of checking the 6-2, 170-pound Ennis (five of 14 from the field). Wainright signed with Baylor in November.
But the Mustangs mostly struggled to get quality shots, although things improved a bit after intermission (when they hit 12 of 27 from the field after a seven of 21 first half).
*Brewster Academy 88, South Kent School 55: Syracuse-bound (after another year of prep school classes although this is technically his fourth year as a “high school student”) forward Chris McCullough had too much horizontal and vertical explosiveness for his South Kent opponents.
The 6-9 McCullough (who is from New York; Brewster is in New Hampshire) hit eight of 12 shots from the floor — five of those dunks, if I’m not mistaken — and all five of his free throws en route to a game-high 21 points.
Unsigned point guard Martez Harrison (who used to be a teammate of Wainright’s on the Kansas City 76ers travel program) had quite a stat line — 12 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, and five steals in 35 minutes — for Brewster.
Forward Kamall Richards, a Xavier signee, led South Kent with 14 points although he was just six of 17 from the floor.
*Worcester Academy 69, Wilbraham and Monson School 62: Guards Matt Mobley (a Central Connecticut signee) and Rene Castro (he’s Butler-bound) combined for 32 points while dropping 14 of 20 shots from the field for the victors.
Goodluck Okonoboh, a 6-9 junior with spring-loaded legs, had 11 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots in 27 minutes for Wilbraham and Monson.
He was a teammate of Castro’s for the Boston Area Basketball Club travel program.
*Tilton School 71, Vermont Academy 67: Guards Wayne Selden (he signed with Kansas in November) and Chester Victor (a junior) scored 24 and 26 points, respectively, while two 10th graders, Jonathan Joseph and Terance Mann, had four assists apiece for the victors in the New England Prep School Athletic Conference AA affair.
Look for the 6-5ish Selden to get a lot of the minutes that will be available with the Jayhawks when Ben McLemore — as expected — declares for the NBA Draft this spring.
If you follow my Twitter account (@FrankieBur) you read my comparisons of Selden to former Ohio State and NBA player Jimmy Jackson (now an analysis for the Big Ten Network).