Monday, April 12, 2010
Future Tigers in spotlight at Jack Jones Shootout
All-star contest provides early look
By Dan Wolken
Sunday, April 11, 2010
With just enough room to operate, Antonio Barton spun his way into the lane, scored in traffic and drew a foul. Though the future University of Memphis point guard missed his ensuing free throw in the first half Saturday at FedExForum, forward Hippolyte Tsafack, another future Tiger, had blocked out Virginia-bound James Johnson just enough to get his hands on the ball first for an easy stickback.
It may seem like a long wait until the 2010-11 basketball season, but Saturday's Jack Jones Shootout gave Tiger fans a taste of what to expect when the No. 1 recruiting class in the country arrives on campus this fall.
A new high school all-star game created in the honor of local philanthropist John Paul Jones, the Shootout included four of Memphis' seven signees, all playing on the same team and often on the court together. Though it was a losing effort for the future Tigers, getting a chance to play on the court at FedExForum with other top talent from around the country Saturday offered an experience that should be beneficial coming into college basketball.
"It was a good opportunity to come in here and play with the players I'm going to be playing with next year," said Sheffield guard Chris Crawford, who had a pair of deep 3-pointers in the second half. "It's a good experience playing with some competitive players in your class to show them you have talent also."
The Jack Jones Shootout was created by Ernie Kuyper, who runs a local program, with the goal to one day rival the McDonald's All American Game in prestige on the high school all-star circuit.
Though attracting the elite players is difficult, especially when NCAA rules limit them to two all-star games, Saturday offered a chance for others to grab some spotlight and practice in a competitive environment with former NBA coach Eric Musselman and former Virginia assistant coach Drew Diener.
Especially in a city like Memphis with such a deep talent pool of Div. 1 talent, it was also an opportunity for several hundred fans to see players like Arkansas-bound guard Mardracus Wade and Minnesota-bound guard Austin Hollins one more time before they depart to college.
"It was the only all-star game I've been in this summer so it was a great experience, just to see what kind of competition I'm going to have next year," Ridgeway forward Tarik Black said. "It's also great because you get to see the fan support you're going to have."
Each of the four Memphis signees made an impact in the game, including Barton, who might be the most overlooked member of the recruiting class simply due to the fact that his brother, Will, ranks among the top-10 players in the country.
Antonio Barton, who played his senior season at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., had a strong first half running the point, getting past his defender and scoring off the dribble.
He also ran the floor hard on defense, deflecting balls and getting back quickly in transition. His performance was yet another reminder that the Tigers will have significant backcourt depth next season and freshmen backups who will be capable of making an impact.
"It's going to be real competitive," Crawford said. "Practices are going to stay competitive every day and we just have to go at it all year."
Memphis should also have solid frontcourt depth, though Saturday's game didn't necessarily clarify how much of difference Black and Tsafack will make right away. Black, an athletic 6-9 forward, cleared some tough rebounds and protected the rim defensively but missed several close shots.
It's clear that his progress in the weight room this summer will determine whether he's ready to play against physical forwards next season.
"Stuff like this, playing in an all-star game, lets you see that," Black said. "You're big in Memphis but when people come in from outside who are just as strong as you, the weight room is very, very important. I've been waiting on it. Like I tell everybody, college is time and opportunity. It's time management, and if you decide you want to work hard and get better, that's what's going to happen."
Tsafack, the 6-8 native of Cameroon who plays at the Miller School in Charlottesville, Va., showed an impressive aptitude for physical play but also needs skill development work.
"It's not good to lose the first game I played with them," Tsafack said. "That means we have to work very, very hard to win next year. We had some bad turnovers, made bad decisions, bad shots. We have a long way (to go)."
Call Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his Tiger basketball stories and blog at gomemphistigers.com.