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December 29, 2004

Academy National: Day one highlighted by OT games

HOUSTON, Texas - Day one at the Academy National Invitational tournament at the beautiful Aldine Campbell Center is in the books. Some of the early favorites went down and a brilliant effort by two-sport star Martellus Bennett was for naught and a couple of overtime loses pushed two Florida powers to the loser's bracket already.

That signature tournament performance hasn't happened yet in a winning fashion. All of the big dogs must be saving their bite for the final two days of tournament play. The guys who are supposed to put in memorable moments have taken a back seat to players that don't normally shine in the biggest stage. Parody is alive and well in high school hoops.

That parody was evident in the Aldine and Alief Taylor game on Tuesday afternoon. Aldine knocked off the older, bigger and deeper Taylor team thanks in part to a solid 20-point performance from super sophomore Gary Johnson. The 6-foot-8 forward solidified his spot as one of the top prospects in the class of 2007 according to a number of eyes inside the game.

For Alief Taylor, 35 points from two-sport superstar Martellus Bennett wasn't enough. Bennett said he's "definitely not erased basketball" from his collegiate future. The 6-foot-7 forward/tight end said hes still planning on visiting at least three schools for hoops - Duke, Kansas and possibly Georgia Tech. Bennett said he'll play in the Army All-American game in San Antonio and will be in the Alamo City Jan. 7-16. He'll visit Miami on Jan. 21 and the Blue Devils could be soon after, he said. Kansas was in the house to see Bennett play.

Double the fun

Westbury Christian has never won the Academy National Invitational. On Tuesday afternoon, the program took a step forward in making that happen with a dramatic 51-43 double overtime victory over Montverde Academy out of Florida.

Guys like junior guard Monice Garrett, Wendell Preadom and Sean Coleman all came up with huge shots to helped Westbury walk away with the win. Garrett, a 5-foot-9 point guard, played much bigger than his tiny frame by making big free throws and setting the tone on offense. Preadom showed of some toughness down the stretch after taking a hard foul and Coleman, a 6-foot-7 forward knocked down a huge three pointer that gave Westbury the final lead of the game.

Nothing quite like free basketball

Nationally-ranked Arlington Country Day from Jacksonville was upset in overtime by a gritty and tough Christ the King team from N.Y. but the Apaches had a valiant effort from point guard Josue Soto. The 6-foot junior isn't the top athlete in the country or the fastest guy in the nation but he's smart, makes the right play, right pass and gets the ball into the hands of the guys he can count on to score. His school list is in continual change but he should be looked at long and hard by high-majors.

Christ the King played brave all game long and earned the every ounce of their victory. Senior big man Adam Walker was on the brunt end of an elbow from 7-foot-2 junior center Jason Bennett. Walker sustained a nasty blow to the head and will probably see the Looney Tunes figures spinning around his dome all week.

Then, in overtime, Larry Davis got a three finger swipe across his right eye and took out the team's top offensive threat. Davis, a 6-foot-3 smooth shooting guard, finished with 12 points and six rebounds. The always poised junior

Unsigned senior Akeem Gooding only had six points but his toughness and resiliency set the tone for the Royals. Christ the King head coach Bob Oliva said he's never coached a harder working guy than Gooding. Note: Oliva has coached eight guys that have played in the NBA. That's good company.

Gooding competed hard inside against the bigger and stronger bodies at 6-foot-4 and managed to secure nine rebounds in the victory. Mid-majors from the northeast are waiting to get him on their roster for next year. He's got all five official visits still.

Good way to start

In the first game of the tournament, Texas A&M bound David Devezin put his Marshall team on his back in the closing minutes of a tight game against South Garland (Texas) High School and pulled away with a 71-68 victory.

The 6-foot point guard knocked down two free throws, banked home a floater in the lane and threaded the needle for a bucket that helped keep the six point lead in the closing minute of the game. Devezin isnt going to win any beauty contests with his play but it's always efficient and his ability to get to basket is a trait that the Aggies will like.

Trent Boone of South Garland looks like a lot of players here in Texas. He looks like a middle linebacker. The physical 6-foot-3 guard gets inside with his bull in the china shop style and scores at the bucket with an intimidating fashion. He finished with a game high 25 points. A bit of a national sleeper in the class of 2006, Boone could be a guy with a good number of Big 12 programs interest over the next couple of months.

You're ranked, so what?

With three nationally ranked players on the Bellaire (Texas) roster, it would be easy to assume the Houston suburb team is a team that rarely loses. Westfield (Texas) didn't seem to care who or high how Jai Lucas, Isaiah Rusher and Dale Van Wright are ranked. Westfield utilized good 'ole high school basketball plays to knock off the big boys. Derek Barnes, a 5-foot-10 senior guard, had 15 points including four three pointers.

Lucas played well in the second half, scoring 10 of his 14 in the final 18 minutes but Bellaire didn't get the ball into Rusher, a 6-foot-9 center, enough. He scored on all four of his attempts. The big fella cleared space all day but rarely was rewarded with the entry pass. Rusher isn't even close to the elite player he can become. When it all comes together, he has a chance to be special.

And ones

Montverde Academy is a team loaded with Division I talent and the biggest sleeper on the team doesn't even start. When Franck Ndongo, a 6-foot-7 wing forward, understands how to play offense, he'll be a total package player. The class of 2006 product is a beast on the defensive end and sticks to his opponent like a gnat.

Future Florida shooting guard David Huertas was a dismal one of 12 from the floor in ACD's loss to Christ the King. With nine international players on his roster, Montverde Academy head coach Kevin Sutton said he speaks one language and one language only. It's English, thank goodness. Everything is bigger in Texas. The Aldine Campbell Center is one of the nicest high school facilities in the country.

Feelin' it

With a host of schools were in the house for the tournament, the school lists from players were interesting to hear.

Christ the King players are guys that know how to play at the next level. Akeem Gooding rattled off a list of Quinipac, Hartford, Penn State, Canisius and Drexel. Larry Davis, a talented guard in the class of 2006, will list a number of high-majors before he commits. The 6-foot-3 shooter said Pitt, UNC, NC State, Syracuse and Virginia are involved right now.

Junior forward Darius Santee of Ft. Bend Marshall (Texas) said Florida A&M, Arizona, Illinois, Oklahoma and Cal are on top of his list.

Wendell Preadom of Westbury Christian said his top three are Jacksonville State, Oakland and Lamar. The six-foot guard said he'll likely commit soon after making his official visits come February.

Sean Coleman, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, came up big with a three point bucket to help put Westbury Christian in a position to win. The unsigned prospect said he's looking at Texas A&M and Kent State.

"It's a little slow right now," Coleman admitted. "I got hurt this summer and they kind of went away but playing in tournaments like this my stock is starting to go up. I'm confident that I can go to a very good school."

Obi Iakokor said his knee rehabilitation is coming along well but instead of enrolling at a college in the fall, the 6-foot-9 prospect said he'll likely look at a prep school. Where exactly is yet to be determined.

On tap for Wednesday

9:30 - South Garland vs. Bellaire
11:00 - Arlington Country Day vs. Montverde Academy
12:30 - Alief Taylor vs. Cypress Ridge
2:00 - Reserve Christian vs. Southern Lab
3:30 - Ft. Bend Marshall vs. Westfield
5:00 - Christ the King vs. Westbury
6:30 - Aldine vs. Kingwood
8:00 - DeMatha vs. Westchester


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