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Friday, January 4, 2013
HS hoops on TV: Players to watch

By Paul Biancardi

The Cancer Research Classic, held this weekend in Wheeling, W.Va., is an up-and-coming event with a tremendous amount of talent from a variety of high school teams across the country. And two of the premier games from the event will be televised live on ESPN networks Saturday night.

No. 1 Montverde Academy (Fla.) will take on No. 12 Chicago Simeon at 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 and WatchESPN. That matchup will be followed by Gonzaga (D.C.) against Salesian (Calif.) at 8 p.m. ET on ESPNU and WatchESPN.

The two televised games feature a ton of elite talent in the 2013 class, led by No. 2 overall prospect Jabari Parker (Duke), No. 2 point guard Kasey Hill (Florida), No. 1 center Dakari Johnson (uncommitted) and No. 23 overall recruit Jabari Bird (Cal). But there will also be elite underclassmen on display, as well as recruits for Villanova, Illinois and Dayton.

In fact, all four teams feature multiple Division I prospects. So with that in mind, here are 10 players to watch on Saturday night when you tune into ESPN2, ESPNU or WatchESPN.

Montverde Players to Watch

Kasey Hill
Florida-bound PG Kasey Hill delivered a clutch performance in the NHSI title game.
Kasey Hill, PG, 2013
No. 9 in the ESPN 100
Signed with Florida

No one in high school hoops possesses more end-to-end speed with the basketball in his hands than Hill. His style puts a defense on its heels and he looks to attack gaps by driving the ball. Not only does he display pure speed in the open floor, he also does a good job changing speeds with a hesitation dribble to keep defenders off balance. Hill recently led his team to the championship at the prestigious City of Palms Classic. This future Gator is exciting to watch.

Dakari Johnson, C, 2013
No. 12 in the ESPN 100

Johnson’s game has grown tremendously in a short time. He’s now a legit threat to score one-on-one inside with a power move or a jump hook as he is slowing down and reading the defense. Johnson is keeping the ball up on his catch and scoring it high -- another sign of growth in a big man who would bring the ball down for others to steal. He’s an absolute monster on the backboards as he pursues every shot as if it was a miss. His final list of schools is down to Kentucky, Georgetown and Syracuse.

D’Angelo Russell, SG, 2014
No. 13 in the ESPN 60

Russell can play all three perimeter positions both offensively and defensively. He’s loaded with the natural ability to score by way of the 3-point shot or driving the ball with a shake and wiggle to his drive. When he moves over to play some point guard he is impressive with his throw-ahead pass to create tempo. His versatility is such that he can lead the break or finish the play. In addition, a long, athletic frame allows him to contest shots and extend himself on the glass.

Simeon Players to Watch

Jabari Parker, SF, 2013
No. 2 in the ESPN 100
Committed to Duke

After sitting out for five months with a fractured foot, he returned a little too soon early this season. Now after rehab and conditioning he is working his way back into form. Both from a mental and physical standpoint, this young man can impact a game in many ways. His high basketball IQ and instincts for the game are impressive, and his consistent jumper easily extends to the arc. Parker can also operate in the low post when he senses a mismatch, and he’s always an unselfish and accurate passer. Over the holidays he helped lead Simeon to the Pontiac Holiday Classic championship. As he continues to get his on-court timing and rhythm back, he will be a difference-maker.

Kendall Pollard, SF, 2013
Three-star prospect
Signed with Dayton

Pollard plays the game with joy and passion, and it shows with his energy. In the absence of Parker earlier this season, Pollard had to give his team more of a lift and he did. Alert and active talking on defense, he will block shots and apply aggressive ball pressure. He can also finish plays at the rim on offense. Physically, he has long arms and an excellent vertical jump, while mentally he’s extremely tough, which helps him be a productive rebounder and defend multiple positions. He usually takes on the opposing team’s best scorer and can be very effective.

Kendrick Nunn, SG, 2013
No. 59 in the ESPN 100
Signed with Illinois

This left-handed shooter has been quiet so far this season due to being hurt. Although streaky at times, he’s a knock-down shooter behind the arc and without question the jumper is Nunn’s best weapon. Over the years he has added a straight-line drive to his skill set, and he can be an excellent defender because he is strong and focused. His team needs him to have a breakout scoring performance and he has the ability to do so. Playing against the No. 1 team in the nation on national TV would be a good place to start.

Gonzaga Players to Watch

Kris Jenkins
Villanova-bound power forward Kris Jenkins strikes a balance between paint and perimeter.
Kris Jenkins, PF, 2013
No. 73 in the ESPN 100
Signed with Villanova

Jenkins continues to improve in terms of his production and skill set. With the size of a small forward he can extend his tools beyond the arc by way of shooting off the catch or driving the ball. When he senses he can get a shot off inside the paint, he will post up and seal for position. Play him at the small forward spot and you can be a big team; utilize his skill at the power forward position and you can stretch out a defense. He’s a valuable player who beats opponents with an understanding of his strengths.

Bryant Crawford, PG, 2015

Crawford is only a sophomore but has taken over the reins at the point guard position for perennial power Gonzaga. He’s a high-level point guard who wants to make his teammates better by handing out assists. After games when most care about their points he is far more concerned with winning and his assist total. Watch his change of speed on his drives and explosiveness at the rim, and if left open he can knock down 3’s. Crawford could be one of the next great players from the D.C. area. His recruitment is becoming intense as Villanova, Virginia, Florida, Georgetown, Seton Hall, South Florida, Indiana, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Rutgers have all offered.

Salesian Players to Watch

Jabari Bird, SG, 2013
No. 23 in the ESPN 100
Signed with California

Bird is an underrated player who is one of the elite scorers in the country. Comfortable and confident from almost anywhere on the floor, he is especially effective from mid-range and has a soft touch behind the arc. There's a decent chance this will be junior Allen Crabbe's last season in Berkeley, but Bird is an ideal replacement. Bird brings similar intangibles to the lineup as Crabbe, including a smooth stroke, ball skills and basketball acumen.

Markel Leonard, PG, 2013
Signed with Cal-Poly

Leonard doesn’t possess the strength you need to play at the college level right now, but he can definitely stroke the jumper. He has the shooting ability to hit multiple long-range shots. He also has good speed in the open floor to score or find his teammates.