Friar Basketball

Live from New Haven: Wrapping Up a Busy Prep Season for Cooley, Staff (March 7, 2012)

Friarbasketball’s final trip of the prep season came today at the National Prep Championship semifinals in New Haven, and as has been the case throughout the season, Providence’s staff was out in full force.  Ed Cooley, Andre Lafleur, and Brian Blaney were all in attendance for the first semifinal, a hotly contested battle between Brewster and Notre Dame Prep, and they stayed to see undefeated Hargrave pull away from New Hampton late.

In a sharp contrast to last season, nearly everywhere I went this year Ed Cooley and his assistants were there.  They were in New Haven in November at the National Prep Showcase, and Wolfeboro, New Hampshire for both the Brewster Invitational and the Brewster/Tilton tilt on President’s Day.

I saw them at the St. Andrew’s Christmas Tournament, throughout the weekend at Rhode Island College for the National Prep School Invitational, in Thompson, Connecticut for the Hoop Moutain Prep Classic, and finally today for the final day of the Prep championship.

From the tournaments I attended, Providence’s staff was far more prevalent than any other.  What that results in in the wake of PC landing Ricardo Ledo, Kris Dunn and Josh Fortune is yet to be determined, but Cooley and his staff have backed up his words from last summer in regards to attacking the recruiting trail full bore.

What Cooley and Co saw in the 11am game was one of the best prep games of the season.  After Brewster opened up a 20-11 lead, Sam Cassell Jr pulled ND Prep back into the game behind his blazing hot shooting from deep.

When Cassell pulled Prep to within a point (22-21) with a deep two it marked the beginning of a back and forth battle that was so close that neither team led by more than two possessions until an Aaron Thomas dunk off of a turnover gave Brewster a 69-63 advantage with 3:55 left in the game.

Prep twice pulled to within three points in the final minute and a half before Brewster finished it off at the free throw line en route to a 78-74 win.

A closer look:

1. In a game that featured two of the top big men in the country in Michigan-bound Mitch McGary and Pitt’s Steven Adams, neither had much of an impact, as Adams battled foul trouble throughout, while McGary struggled to establish himself.

Instead, this was a game of tremendous guard play with Cassell and Myles Davis taking turns catching fire from beyond the three point line, before the Brewster guards put the clamps down on them.

On the offensive end, Brewster’s Thomas and Semaj Christon were huge down the stretch, with the prettiest play coming when Thomas faked a behind the back look and finished at the rim to snap a 59-59 tie with eight minutes to play.

Thomas is well under the radar and will be a good scorer for Florida State.  Clutch player.

2. While limited offensively, Brewster’s Joe Bramanti defends as well as any guard on the New England prep circuit this year.  Jason Smith has used him to slow quick guards and bigger players like Tilton’s Georges Niang.  The Andover, MA native started the game on Davis, Prep’s most explosive scorer, and kept him off the board early.

When Cassell got hot early (and he was very hot with 13 early points on a variety of difficult jumpers), Smith stuck Bramanti on him.  Soon after Cassell was visibly frustrated with the powerful guard who made life very difficult on him.

It’s worth noting that when the game was on the line Smith went with Bramanti, Christon and Thomas in the 1-3 spots with the season on the line, with the high scoring McDonald’s All American TJ Warren on the bench.

While scoring gets much of the publicity on this level, Bramanti is a solid D1 player on his defense alone.  He’s tenacious and smart and should find his way into playing time at the next level on his ability to defend 1:1.

3. While he started with a flurry (six of Brewster’s first 10 points on 3-3 shooting), Jakarr Sampson struggled offensively as the game worn on.  I had him with 12 first half points, including a basket to tie it at 39 with a minute to go and a late dunk to give Brewster a 41-40 advantage.  His jump shot, which had improved this season, was well off this afternoon and he couldn’t take advantage of the smaller ND Prep defenders bodying him in the paint.

4. I sound like a broken record, but the backcourt of Davis and Christon is going to be just outstanding at Xavier.  Christon plays much like Kris Dunn, and Davis might be the most clutch shooter on the East Coast.  These are two kids who just really compete.

5. Another player to keep an eye on next season is New Hampton point guard Olivier Hanlon.  The Canadian continues to improve and plays the game with a maturity well beyond his years.  Hanlon is nimble around the basket, scores on difficult layups and floaters, has solid three point range, and is one of the best passers in New England.

6. I was down on Zach Auguste the past two seasons, but the Notre Dame commit has emerged in his final year under Pete Hutchins at New Hampton.  He’s always been a very good athlete, but his skills are starting to match that athleticism.  His on-court demeanor can leave something to be desired at times, but he’s certainly improved this year.