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Sunday, December 23, 2012
City of Palms Classic: What I Learned

By Dave Telep

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The City of Palms Classic is the best pre-Christmas high school basketball event in the country. And just imagine if top-10 senior Julius Randle (Dallas/Prestonwood Christian) hadn’t been injured and elite junior Joel Berry (Orlando/Lake Highland) hadn’t hurt his knee? How many events could lose two stars and still stand tall?

Unfortunately, the theme of this season continues to be injuries. Regardless, they played the games and there were still plenty of elite-level stars who stood out. This year’s event was capped Saturday night when No. 1 Montverde Academy (Fla.), led by No. 1 senior center Dakari Johnson and No. 2 senior point guard Kasey Hill, defeated No. 4 Lone Peak (Utah) and its band of BYU-bound stars in the championship game.

Over the course of three and a half days in Florida, I was able to find the answer to some questions I had.

Dakari Johnson
No. 1 senior center Dakari Johnson proved he's not just a good prospect, but also a great player.
Is Dakari Johnson ready to be a leading man?

There’s a difference between being a good prospect and a great player. Great players can shoulder the load and be the primary focus for a program once they ascend from high school to college. Occasionally, the big guys have a problem establishing that identity.

Johnson demonstrated he’s ready to make that jump.

Johnson’s rebounding, scoring and presence indicate he’s not only a good prospect, but he’s a guy you can toss it to in the lane and expect a bucket. It sounds simple, but some bigs have a hard time going from prospect to player. Johnson is already there.

Does anyone have a player like Kasey Hill?

Montverde goes to the bench and brings mid-major Division I talent into the game. That’s a blessing to be that deep. However, the team’s biggest weapon is its point guard.

Hill is the real deal, the best senior point guard Billy Donovan has ever recruited at Florida. Hill’s ability to put pressure on defenses and drop the hammer to get in the lane is special.

He defended Lone Peak BYU signee Nick Emery in the title game and Montverde won easily. No elite high school team (Travis from Texas has good talent but isn’t yet an elite squad) has a point guard like Hill.

How will a home-school team fare here?

Houston HCYA needed more firepower to step onto the national stage. What it does have is a junior with a unique weapon. We’ve discussed it before, and since my wife used to work for a patent lawyer, I’m spearheading the movement.

Justin Jackson (Houston/HCYA) owns a baseline floater that is wicked. Soon, I’ll own the patent. We’re branding this bad boy as his, and why not? Jackson’s signature shot -- he says he’s getting to the point where he can use both hands -- is stylish, accurate and a firm part of his arsenal.

Quick Hitters

• The more time I spent with No. 1 senior Andrew Wiggins (Thornhill, Ontario/Huntington Prep), the more excited I get about his ability to reach his maximum potential. There’s humility to the young man that comes with his desire to improve. Sometimes the best player in the class thinks he has all the answers. With Wiggins, he’s apt to ask more questions than offer up answers.

Jordan Bell
Oregon signee Jordan Bell has a special knack for swatting shots.
• If Floyd Mayweather is pound for pound the best boxer in the world, then Oregon-bound Jordan Bell is his equivalent as a shot blocker. I’ll give him 6-foot-7 (hey, it’s Christmas season), but he’s no taller. Regardless, the fast-twitch muscles and shot-blocking instincts he owns are out of this world.

• Uncommitted Douglas Brooks (Lake Wales, Fla./Lake Wales) is a senior shooting guard who needs to lock down his academics. If he does, he is exactly the kind of hard-playing, good-shooting type of two-guard who will rocket up the best-available charts.

• What more can you say about Lone Peak and its pipeline of BYU talent? Center Eric Mika continues to improve. Emery isn’t Jimmer Fredette, but his confidence level is in the vicinity. And T.J. Haws is rail thin but an elite shooter. You have to love the talent coming to BYU over the next three years.

• It’s a good thing for Nebraska-Omaha that Nick Billingsley (Omaha, Neb./Central) is tucked away in a football state because there’s no way they would have gotten him otherwise.

JaJuan Johnson (Memphis, Tenn./Southwind) passed the look and the play test. My gut all along was that he would be ready to make an impact at Marquette, and now I’m sure of it. He’s the best prospect on Southwind’s team.

• No. 1 junior center and No. 2 overall ESPN 60 prospect Jahlil Okafor (Chicago/Whitney Young) came up just short against Montverde earlier in the week; otherwise we’d be talking about him as the MVP instead of Dakari Johnson. The kid is the real deal, but we knew that going in. His matchup against Johnson was high level. Those evaluation opportunities might come once a year, and both aced the test.