As you know, I cover a lot of high school basketball. This has been my part-time job since the fall of 1999, when I was a sophomore at Purdue. I do this mostly because of my love for Indiana High School basketball. Every once in awhile though I get to see player that will make noise at the next level. Mike Conley, Greg Oden, Eric Gordon, and Zach Randolph (who is despised by me) are just a few of them. Last year I got to take a definite look into our future when I saw Terone Johnson and Travis Carroll face off. Tonight I went even further in the future when I saw Hamilton Southeastern take on Zionsville.
HSE features one definite Purdue player and two possible players in the future. Senior Randy Gregory has already committed as a defensive end for football. Guards Gary Harris (2012 target) and Zak Irvin (2013 target) also play their prep ball for hte Royals. It is weird to me to think of players like Irvin, who are the same age as my oldest nephew, as hot prospects, but that is the way the college basketball recruiting game is played. There is a reason that Tom Izzo was there tonight. He wasn't there to hire me for one of his basketball camps. He was there because he knows the Spartans need to plan three years ahead.
I know that we will not see Gregory on the basketball court, but he is a lot like Kawann Short. Both are defensive linesmen that starred on their high school's basketball teams. both are role players to more highly touted basketball recruits. What impressed me the most about Gregory is his ability to keep his cool. He showed a lot of athleticism in playing close to the basket, and he got hacked pretty hard on a couple of plays. That, combined with merciless taunting from the Zionsville student section over his suspension for a hazing incident this football season, meant he easy could have lost it and retaliated.
He kept his cool though. I had him for four points and six rebounds, but you could tell he was the strongest player on the court for the entire night. His role is not to be a 20 and 10 guy for this team. He needs to take up space, rebound, and score when he can. I like his athleticism that will come in handy as a D-End. There was one play where it looked like he easily could have thrown a vicious two-handed rebound dunk, but he held off for some reason. He is more lean than Kawann Short, but I imagine he will put on some weight in the weight room once he is done with basketball and gets to West Lafayette.
Harris, as one of the emerging stars of the 2012 class, was the main attraction of the night. I specifically heard Izzo in the hallway after the game say to HSE's coach, "Tell Gary I said hi." He didn't start tonight, but he was the first sub off the bench within the first 100 seconds of the game.
What I liked about Harris was the way he affected the game without scoring. He finished with only six points because Zionsville sophomore Parker Dunshee did a hell of a job on him defensively. he didn't force things though. he got to the line, hitting four of six free throws, and he did a lot of little things. His first offensive play was a sweet assist to teammate Drew Robinson. He was also very active on defense, especially in their 2-3 zone. Normally a 2-3 zone is fairly passive, but with Harris at the top of the zone it was one of the most nightmarish 2-3 zones I have ever seen.
I say that without hyperbole. My high school coach, Basil Mawbey, is famous for his 2-3 zone. if we had a player like Harris at the top of our zone I would have won multiple state championships. He completely disrupted the flow of Zionsville's offense and not only took away the perimeter game, he prevented any dribble penitration. With Gregory playing center field behind him Zionsville couldn't do much if they did get the ball inside.
Harris' final line was 6 points (1 of 6 FG), five rebounds, five assists, and two steals. He had three assists in the fourth quarter on dump offs to a teammate for an easier basket. He is a good player because he is unselfish and did not force things. He could have forced shots when Zionsville made a late run, but instead he drew the defense to him and dumped off for easier baskets. I can see why a lot of coaches are after him because of this quality.
I didn't know a lot about Zak Irvin before tonight except for Andy's updates. At times he looked more dynamic as a scorer than Harris. He finished with 13 points on 5 of 8 shooting from the field and 3 of 4 from the line. It was hard for either team to get into a flow because there were 43 fouls called (Gregory fouled out), including 21 in the first half, but Irvin was the one in the flow early. He scored seven straight points in the first quarter when HSE built its lead. He can cut to the basket and he has a nice mid-range jumper, but he missed both of his 3-point attempts.
Irvin is not as polished as Harris, but he can get there. he has the talent, and he may be a player that comes into his own once Harris graduates. he ended up with five rebounds tonight, but HSE dominated the glass because they were so much more athletic than Zionsville. Irvin seemed to do a lot of his work early and he wasn't as visible without the ball as Harris was, if that makes any since.
Overall, I was impressed with all three. They are going to make HSE a very dangerous team this year. Even though we can't see Harris in Gold and Black for at least two years, it is my hope that Gregory's commitment for football plants a bug in both Harris and Irvin's ear.