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December 20, 2005

City of Palms rolls on

FORT MYERS, FLA. - North Carolina always gets the ink. That's what people say. But when guys like Wayne Ellington and Brandan Wright play like they did on Tuesday, it's justified to have the future Tar Heels in every story all year long. The City of Palms provided another day of great action from the Sunshine State as the quarterfinals are in the books.

Not feeling so blue in Carolina

North Carolina assistant coach Steve Robinson sat on the baseline of the Bishop Verot gym with his usual stone face demeanor as he watched two future Tar Heels Wayne Ellington and Brandan Wright. And though his face showed little emotion, he had to be thinking nothing but great thoughts after the two put on a show on Tuesday evening.

Ellington and his Episcopal Academy team had their hands full with the Florida favorite Lake Howell squad. Both teams are well-coached, employed with good players at the skills positions and competitive as heck.

One problem tough, Lake Howell just wasn't athletic enough to contain a guy like Ellington. The future Tar Heel is a quiet killer. At the half he had 19 points. You would never know it though. He finished with 30 and made it to the line for 11 scores and helped the Churchmen claim a 81-65 victory.

Ellington is a smooth operator. He always is. But when there is a need for the turbo button, he'll hit it and get to the lane for a driving score. He can shoot it but when he sensed Lake Howell couldn't defend him, he drove to the hole for the majority of his scores.

Ellington stayed around to see his future teammate in Wright, sitting next to the stoic Robinson, and cracked a grin or two when he saw what the gangly 6-foot-10 forward from Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy was doing to Brooklyn (N.Y.) Lincoln. It just wasn't right.

Wright has been on a tear since July. He's one of the most difficult players to defend in the country. Obviously he's going to score in the paint but his passing skills are vastly overlooked. Ellington had to notice though. He was finding teammate Joshua Bone, a Southern Illinois signee, on the wing for open looks because the Lincoln defense collapsed on Wright like Florida mosquitoes on a blue bug light.

Once the fourth quarter hit and Wright had 32 points (12-15 FG), eight rebounds and a gazillion altered shots, Robinson cracked a smile. Brentwood Academy won 82-63.

Fans in Chapel Hill will probably be smiling for a long time with this class of 2006.

Supporting cast not too shabby either

When Ellington is on, it's easy to not pass out the props to Duke bound Gerald Henderson. Not on Tuesday. The 6-foot-5 chiseled athlete was his usual self, scoring 22 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. When he leaves his feet, you just hope you have your camcorder on record.

Henderson fit's the slasher roll to a T. With the current Duke team, Henderson could be the guy that keeps the Blue Devils at the top.

Chandler Parsons better buy a nice Christmas gift for Nick Calathes and Joey Rodriguez because the two guards were hooking him up with great shots with drive and kicks out to the perimeter. Parsons took advantage of the passes and connected for 28 points and six three pointers.

Parsons is an intriguing player because of his size and shooting ability but he's not a wing that will put it on the floor and create for himself. At least not right now.

Earlier in the year Parsons tried to verbally commit to Florida State but has since said he's looking at other options. He could possibly develop into a surefire ACC level player and if Tuesday's performance said anything at all it was that he was ready to take the next step.

Calathes, a 2007 Florida commitment, had an off night despite his 19 points and 7 assists. The ever-growing guard had a hard time getting his shot to fall and the pestering defense of EA caused him to turn the ball over 7 times. A guy like Calathes won't sulk over a game like that. He'll come out even stronger against Compton (Calif.) Dominguez on Wednesday.

Rodriguez may not pass the look test at 5-foot-10 but he's jet quick, smart with the ball and loves to set the tempo. He'll be looked at by the ACC, SEC, et al but would be a major steal for a mid-major program.

Reserving the last shot

Konstantinos Brozos was in the three-point shoot-out on Monday night but he didn't advance to the championship round. On Tuesday afternoon, he hit the only three that mattered to him so far at the City of Palms. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard for Reserve Christian sank home a three-pointer from the right corner with 4.6 seconds to play to help his team take home a 58-55 win over Piney Woods (Miss.). Brozos finished with 13 points.

There are few guarantees in life, right? Demond Carter scoring 25-plus points a game is a given in the world of prep basketball. But it didn't look like the future Baylor Bear was going to get to that mark to start the game.

Carter came out cold, going two for 10 in the first half but caught fire, sinking home eight straight buckets. When he's getting to the bottom of the net, he's one of the best scorers around. When the buzzer sounded, Carter finished with 27 points on 11 of 24 shooting from the floor and 3 of 10 from deep.

But there is always going to be that question hanging over his head - how well will he translate at the next level? At the end of the day, Carter is still an undersized scoring guard. The kid that dropped dimes and found his teammates at a regular clip are fewer and far between. So again, how well will he translate at the next level? That's up to him.

Piney Woods had a hard time getting any of their shots to fall but it's a team with a bevy of college prospects. Wayne Brent, a former Ole Miss assistant, and his new assistant Rahim Lockhart, a former Ole Miss star, running the ship, the Piney Woods players are getting well schooled.

Junior guard Allen Aragbaye has good size (6-2) as a combo guard. He is a nice passer, finds guys in the offense and will take the big shot. Aragbaye ended with a 10 points, three assists, four rebounds and two blocked shots in the defeat but you can see why he's an attractive mid-major plus prospect.

Teammate Chris Sims, another 2007 kid, was the leading scorer for Piney Woods with 15 points and has a rep as a shooter back in the Magnolia State. He didn't have his shot flowing but could be a guy that hooks up with a low to mid-major school down the road.

Gators, 'Canes tangle on hardwood

South Florida is football country but on Tuesday it was a glimpse into the future for two of the best players in the Sunshine State's junior class. Future Florida Gator Gary Clark and his Sarasota Booker team took on Chaminade-Madonna and Edwin Rios, a 2007 Miami commit, in the afternoon.

Rios went scoreless in the first half and didn't look like the kid that could go for 20 points in a quarter a season ago. In fact, Rios hardly even looked at the bucket. Funny how things can change in the locker room at halftime.

The future Miami Hurricane responded with 12 second half points and hit some huge shots to put Chaminade-Madonna back in the game after being down by as many as 15. Rios would probably like to have that one back though. He finished with 12 points on a cold 3 of 19 points (3-14 3 FG).

Clark did a nice job of hitting big buckets for Booker and ended with 18 points on 7 of 16 shooting. He played well in front of Billy Donovan and Larry Shyatt who were on hand for the tangle.

Ironically, Florida and Miami play each other on Thursday night.

Booker held on for a 69-63 victory but the story wasn't Clark or Rios. It was Booker's Eneil Polynice, a 6-foot-5 wing from Booker High School, seemed to be the guy that stole the show all game long.

Polynice played all over the floor, dropping in 19 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the 69-63 victory. A pair of late turnovers are easy to overlook when you have an athletic wing that can play the point but has a future as a two at the next level.

Booker head coach Derrick Kirce said Florida, Florida State, Jacksonville and South Florida have all peeked around this season. Polynice is waiting on his standardized test score but will retake it again in Jan.

Few outside of the state of Florida knew much about the senior sleeper. Clark said it was Polynice's best game of the year for Booker (8-0). Polynice is playing like a guy who is ready to earn a scholarship. He wants to be the first player in his family to go to college. His father was shot and killed when he was six in his native Dominican Republic. Think there is some major motivation there? You better believe it.

Add Eloy Vargas to the must-watch list this year and AAU season. The 6-foot-10, 205-pound power forward from Chaminade-Madonna (Fla.) has the size, length and potential to be a high-major guy. His 17 rebounds and 11 points (9 in the second half) probably didn't hurt either.

Physically, Vargas isn't a guy that can bull players around right now. He may never be but he's got a nice touch around the basket and stepped out an put up a couple of three-pointers. In the second half, Vargas was battling around the rim and scoring with bodies hanging on him. Down the road, you'll probably be hearing more about him. And you'll certainly see the big-timers looking long and hard.

News & Notes

Lance Stephenson, the highly-touted freshman from Brooklyn (N.Y.) Lincoln, didn't play like a kid a few games into his much-ballyhooed prep career. Stephenson finished with 21 points against Brentwood Academy and played with a lot of poise and determination to get into the lane.

Okay, this is getting a little repetitious. Sarasota (Fla.) Riverview forward Tony Davis had another good day at the City of Palms. The future Central Florida wing had 31 points and 12 rebounds in a 58-46 opening game win over Cape Coral (Fla.) High School.

Highly-touted freshman Renardo Sidney may not be playing for Piney Woods this season because of Mississippi transfer rules but he's still with the team and living the life like a seasoned prep superstar. He's signing autographs, shaking hands, smiling at the one-liners thrown his way by the numerous basketball power players in attendance.

On Tap

11:45 a.m. - Nacogdoches (Texas) vs. Sarasota (Fla.) Riverview
1:30 p.m. - Reserve Christian (La.) vs. Lake Wales (Fla.)
3:15 p.m. - Lake Howell (Fla.) vs. Compton (Calif.) Dominguez
5:15 p.m. - Glenn (N.C.) vs. Brooklyn (N.Y.) Lincoln
7:00 p.m. - Lake Oswego (Ore.) vs. Episcopal Academy (Pa.)
9:30 p.m. - St. Patrick's (N.J.) vs. Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy


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