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December 3, 2012
The Marshall County Hoopfest in Benton, Ky., has come and past. In one of the premiere events of the opening weekend for the high school season, college coaches from Memphis, Indiana, Marquette, Louisville, N.C. State and several mid-majors stopped by to check out the talent on the court.
After two days of intense competition, here is what we learned about some of the top prospects:
Young fella has next
Every time people go to see 2013's top-ranked player, Andrew Wiggins at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, they inevitably begin to check their game programs to try to identify Montaque Gill-Caesar. The 6-foot-5 small forward, who moved to West Virginia this year from his native Canada, is one of the hottest names in the nation in his 2015 class.
"He's not quite as athletic as Andrew is, but he's very skilled for a sophomore and is really strong," Huntington Prep head coach Rob Fulford said after Saturday's game. "Montaque might already be our best standstill shooter on the team, which is great because we see so much zone and sagging man defense."
After two more strong performances over the weekend, both wins for H-Prep, Gill-Caesar figures to get more national attention in the upcoming events that his Express team travels to.
Gill-Caesar spoke with Rivals.com following Saturday's game, and in addition to discussing how grateful he is for the attention, he went on to break down what he thinks he does well on the court.
"I think that I'm a two-guard at the next level," the sophomore said. "My shot has gotten better, and I can always get to the paint and then the foul line. I'm getting better at finding guys to kick the ball out to. Defensively, I try and play really hard."
According to Gill-Caesar and Fulford, the swingman has received offers from Ohio State, West Virginia and Central Florida. Other schools to show interest are Baylor and Kentucky. Gill-Caesar said he took an unofficial visit to Lexington last summer but hasn't heard a whole lot from the Wildcats since.
Look for Gill-Caesar to break into the rankings once Rivals releases the initial set for the class of 2015.
"There's no question that he can be one of the top players in his class nationally," Fulford said. "Absolutely no question."
Awakening the beast
Speaking of Huntington Prep, Andrew Wiggins is no slouch, either. Over the course of the two games this past weekend Wiggins averaged 27 points, which is not outside his usual scoring output. But it wasn't the fact that he scored those points; Fulford has been quoted numerous times saying that Wiggins is the best amateur scorer on the planet. It was the way that he scored them.
In both games, Wiggins started somewhat slowly. Particularly in the first game, when he matched up with a hot-shooting Nick King of Memphis (Tenn.) East, Wiggins was getting burned early by King's offensive skills. But, after a few words from King seemed to raise Wiggins' energy, the monster inside him woke up.
Through the final three quarters of the game, there was absolutely no stopping Wiggins and there was nothing that anyone could do about it. The 6-foot-7 swingman rebounded, blocked shots (including three of King's jumpers), scored the ball around the rim and threw down enough dunks to keep the fans on their feet for the majority of the second half.
In doing all of this, Wiggins proved two things. First, he's a nice guy off of the court without much of an ego. Second, if you disrespect him, you will get burned.
Never give up
One of the most impressive performances at the Marshall County Hoop Fest came from Chicago Curie's star 2014 center, Cliff Alexander, a five-star prospect.
Even though his team was getting blown out by Oak Hill (Va.) Academy in a game that started 19-0, Alexander never quit, thus showing tremendous heart in the loss.
Alexander finished with 26 points, and at one point he had 20 of his team's 29 points. But it wasn't the number of points that Alexander scored, it was the way that he got those points.
The 6-foot-10 powerful athlete posted up with physicality, worked nonstop to pursue the ball and did everything going toward the basket to generate contact.
In addition, Alexander showed his versatility by not only being effective at defending the post and rebounding but also stepping out and guarding Oak Hill's top slasher in Troy Williams.
After the game, Alexander took no solace in scoring a lot of points in a blowout loss. The junior five-star wanted to win, the true mark of a champion, regardless of the stats.
Alexander got a big ovation from the Kentucky fans in the crowd, and in addition to the Wildcats he mentioned North Carolina State, Michigan State and Louisville as schools who have been in contact with him the most recently.
Home of the Ballers
Memphis is sometimes referred to as the "Home of the Blues," but it should be called the "Home of the Ballers." In Marshall County, top 2013 talent including Austin Nichols, Nick King, Jonathan Williams III and JaJuan Johnson proved that their names belong in the conversation with anyone in the nation.
While none of their teams got a win, the four players (all of whom are ranked in the top 100 in the 2013 Rivals150) showed off the strengths of their games -- and some Memphis toughness.
In a city known for producing top talent, and athletes, Nichols, King, Williams and Johnson all tallied at least 17 points, with Johnson being the high scorer with a sizzling 31-point performance in a loss to Oak Hill on Saturday.
As four committed prospects -- King and Nichols to Memphis, Williams to Missouri and Johnson to Marquette -- the Memphis quartet didn't get quite as much attention from the fans as some other guys, but they undoubtedly proved that their city is as good as it gets per capita at producing college-ready talent.