Boys Basketball

Big test awaits Mt. St. Joe

Gaels to square off with national power Oak Hill Academy

Varsity

January 20, 2008|By Stefen Lovelace | Stefen Lovelace,Sun Reporter

Mount St. Joseph is the top-ranked basketball team in the metro area. Today, the Gaels will find out how they stack up against one of the best teams in the nation.

The Gaels (16-1) will face Oak Hill Academy of Mouth of Wilson, Va., at 3:45 p.m. in the Spalding Hoophall Classic High School Invitational in Springfield, Mass. The game is part of a four-day mixer run in conjunction with the Basketball Hall of Fame and featuring highly touted teams from around the country.

The Gaels' only game in the mixer will be shown online at ESPN 360.

"This is a lifetime chance," Gaels center Henry Sims said of playing on an ESPN outlet. "You have to make sure you're on point and play your best. We have to come ready to play with the whole nation watching."

Oak Hill is ranked No. 11 in the ESPN Elite 25 and No. 4 on prepnations.com. The Warriors get players from all over the country, play a national schedule and are perennially one of the best teams in the nation.

"Oak Hill was one of the first high schools to play a national schedule," said Jerry Meyer, a rivals.com national recruiting analyst. "It's a brand. Coach [Steve] Smith said he doesn't recruit, all he has to do is answer his phone. I believe him."

The Gaels have proven this year that they are deserving of national attention, too. They're ranked No. 14 in the ESPN Elite 25 and No. 15 in the prepnation.com poll.

Oak Hill features one of the top prospects in the country, Brandon Jennings. The 6-foot-2 senior point guard from Temecula, Calif., will attend Arizona next fall and paces a potent Warriors offense.

"He's the best player in the country," said Brad Eye, East Region correspondent for studentsports.com. "He's a lightning-quick point guard that can get into the paint if he needs to, and if guys play off of him, he'll shoot the three. There really hasn't been a player able to stop him this year."

It will be the responsibility of guards Eric "Smooth" Atkins and Justin McCoy to try to slow Jennings.

"I expect him to try to score 30 to 40 points since it's on ESPN," Atkins said of Jennings, who is averaging about 35 points per game this season. "I expect him to try to have a big game, but it'll be great for me since I'm playing the best point guard in the country. I can see where my game is at and see where I stack up."

Mount St. Joseph is led by Georgetown-bound Sims, a 6-11 senior who is one of the best big men in the area. The Gaels will look to get Sims involved early and often.

He'll likely be guarded by junior forward Keith Gallon, a 6-9, 300-pound prospect ranked No. 22 in the country on scout.com for the class of 2009 and No. 37 on rivals.com. The Gaels will try to use Sims' quickness to gain an advantage against Gallon.

"We don't want to make it a track meet, but at the same time, we think Henry can run on him," Gaels coach Pat Clatchey said. "I think if Henry gets out on the break, we might be able to create a numbers advantage."

Sims is no stranger to facing top prospects this season. He played 7-foot, Wake Forest-bound center Ty Walker of New Hanover (Wilmington, N.C.) at the Leon Brogden tournament at New Hanover on Dec. 28. The Gaels defeated New Hanover, 64-58, in overtime.

Sims outscored Walker 17-9, Mount St. Joseph won the tournament and Sims was named tournament Most Valuable Player. Gallon will be another tough opponent for him.

"This will be a good test for Henry against some good big guys in Oak Hill," Meyer said. "With his frame and mentality, he can play with anybody. If [Mount St. Joseph] can control the inside game and keep Jennings under control, they can win."

Win or lose, the Gaels plan on using this game to help prepare them for the competition of the Baltimore Catholic League and the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference.

"Anywhere you go, you say you're playing Oak Hill and everyone knows who you're talking about," Sims said. "Playing them will help us. When we come back to Baltimore, we'll have no fear of anybody."

stefen.lovelace@baltsun.com

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