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April 6, 2013
MEQUON, Wis. -- Just a few days after the McDonald's All-American Game, travel ball is in full effect. On Final Four weekend, some of the best grassroots ball could be found just outside of Milwaukee at NY2LA's Swish 'N Dish. On Friday night, the nation's best player in the class of 2014, Jahlil Okafor, put forth an effort worthy of his ranking.
By the time Mac Irvin Fire junior Okafor tipped in sophomore teammate Jalen Brunson's missed layup late in double overtime, the clock was creeping toward midnight. Luckily, the nation's No. 1 player in the class of 2014 decided that he'd had enough and was ready to get to the hotel. His tip just before the buzzer finished a dominant 34-point performance against Ray Allen Select.
It wasn't always pretty for the 6-foot-10 center from Chicago (Ill.) Whitney Young. Facing a 2-3 zone that was packed tight to avoid giving him touches, Okafor was often double teamed and missed some chippies in the paint early. As the game wore on, though, the five-star center became more and more dominant on both ends of the floor. He continually got deep position on the offensive end for one easy look after another. If he missed, he often got his own rebound and stuck it back in. On the defensive end, he was grabbing every board and deterring the Ray Allen team from heading inside.
Getting back to Mac Irvin's sophomore point guard, Brunson, the savvy floor general made an impressive debut at the Swish 'N Dish. Ranked No. 45 nationally in the class of 2015, the 6-footer from Lincolnshire (Ill.) Stevenson showed some kind of poise and a diverse floor game. Skilled, confident and unafraid of barking out orders to older players, he played the role of scorer with deep 3-pointers and beat the zone with drives and passes. The four-star prospect will be watched heavily down the road.
Harris gets after it
If only a few more of Malek Harris' chippies had rolled through the basket instead of off the lip of the rim, it would have been a huge night. As it was, Harris had a standout first night with his Illinois Wolves club as it knocked off a scrappy TP Elite team.
A 6-foot-7ish combo forward from Orland Park (Ill.) Sandburg who ranks No. 120 in the 2014 Rivals150, Harris was an absolute man on the glass. He also showed much more polished dribbling skills on one drive to the bucket after another.
"I've really been working hard on my dribbling," Harris told Rivals.com. "I'm feeling a lot more comfortable attacking from out on the wing."
Final Friday notes
When the 2014 rankings were updated a little less than a month ago, Ohio State-bound Keita Bates-Diop made the move to five-star status. Based on Friday night's action, it was the right call on the 6-foot-7 wing from Normal (Ill.) University. As the Illinois Wolves kept juggling their lineup, the things that were constant were the previously mentioned Harris' rebounding and Bates-Diop's solid game on the offensive end. Bates-Diop is a smooth athlete and dangerous corner jump shooter, and he's vastly improved off the dribble. The Buckeyes got a very good one out of the Land of Lincoln.
Because of a flight delay, we weren't able to drop in on Tyler Ulis and his Meanstreets club until they had their game against the Madison Spartans well in hand. The No. 69 player in the class of 2014, Ulis was just tying a bow on a strong first-game performance in which he used his quickness and savvy to keep opponents off balance. College coaches have started warming to the 5-foot-9 four-star point guard, and he has offers from Iowa, Oregon State, Purdue, DePaul and Colorado State. Among those keeping tabs have been Florida State and Michigan State. Minnesota has just been getting more heavily involved, and Ulis said he hopes to hear from new coach Richard Pitino soon.
The Wisconsin Swing put a hurting on the D-Rose All-Stars on Friday night, and junior point guard Lamonte Bearden played a big role. A long and wiry 6-foot-2 floor general, Bearden doesn't let his lack of bulk deter him from getting into the lane. He's generally under control, isn't afraid to take a shot, and it seems about right that he's drawn offers from North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Finally, it seemed as if Riley LaChance was going to will his Ray Allen Select team to a victory over the Mac Irvin Fire on Friday night. The 6-foot-2 guard hit three straight 3s during the two overtime sessions and made heady plays with the ball in his hands. Unfortunately, he and his teammates just had no answer for Okafor. LaChance finished with 22 on the evening, and he continues to look like a solid mid-major prospect.