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December 9, 2013
Chicago Elite Classic showcases major talent
CHICAGO -- With a little help from their friends, the coaches of Chicago high school powers Simeon and Whitney Young have quickly built the Chicago Elite Classic into a must-see event. In it second year at the UIC Pavillion, eight five-star prospects hit the floor during the one- day event. Kansas-bound Cliff Alexander was dominant while Daniel Hamilton sent the local crowd home disappointed with a buzzer- beating dagger.
If anybody in the country was going to be able to slow down Cliff Alexander of Chicago Curie, one would figure that Las Vegas Bishop Gorman might be the team to do it. Headed to Kansas and ranked No. 4 in the class of 2014, Alexander had to contend with Gorman's two five-star junior big men Stephen Zimmerman (No. 2) and Chase Jeter (No. 21).
For the most part, Alexander treated his younger competitors like afterthoughts. The 6-foot-9, 240-pounder was thoroughly dominant on both ends of the floor as he led Curie to a 66-62 win while scoring 22 points, grabbing 20 rebounds and blocking five shots.
Headed into the game, the question was how the Gorman juniors would handle Alexander. Both Zimmerman and Jeter have length and skill, but they are both quite lean while Alexander is arguably the most physical player in the country. That physicality proved to be too much as he big-boyed his way to thunderous jams, beat shots off the backboard and used his strong hands to rip rebounds away from well above the rim.
Both Zimmerman and Jeter had their moments, but struggled at different points. Jeter grabbed nine rebounds and scored six points, but foul trouble limited him to just 20 minutes. Zimmerman had 10 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, but struggled from the floor, missing 13 of 17 field goal attempts. There's no reason for concern with either of the Las Vegas products and the game clearly illustrated how important it is for the duo to get stronger. Louisville's Rick Pitino showed up to check out the duo and Michigan had an assistant on hand while Coach K and assistant Jeff Capel from Duke were surely keeping tabs as well.
Hamilton hits dagger
We have written before that Connecticut-bound five-star shooting guard Daniel Hamilton is the best difficult shot-maker in the class of 2014. He proved it on Saturday night, hitting a buzzer-beating three-pointer with defenders draped all over him to give Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco a come-from-behind 62-59 win over Chicago Whitney Young.
Standing 6-foot-6 and maybe even pushing 6-foot-7 at this point, Hamilton validated his No. 18 national ranking as future coach Kevin Ollie looked on. His final shot gave him 19 points and he added four assists and seven rebounds.
On the other side of the ball, the nation's top player Jahlil Okafor looked like the top player in the country. Well, until he stopped getting the ball during the Bosco comeback. Okafor entered the fourth quarter with 22 points and 11 rebounds, but rarely saw the ball late while finishing with 24 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and a block.
When the Duke-bound Okafor -- who had Coach K in to watch -- did get the ball, he was both unstoppable and efficient. He was 10-for-13 from the field and most of his finishes were at or near the rim. However, on one play, he dazzled the crowd by using a crossover dribble to split the top of Bosco's zone before spinning near the free throw line and dropping home a running floater in traffic.
Matthews making most of opportunity
A senior at Chicago St. Rita's, three-star combo guard Dominique Matthews is sometimes caught in the shadow of his younger brother, five-star Charles Matthews. But, make no mistake about it, the 6-foot-2 senior is a very good player.
With his younger brother out due to an ankle injury, Matthews has upped his game. Coming off a 39-point performance (where he didn't even score in the 1st quarter) against Alexander's Curie squad last weekend, Matthews hit a disciplined and well-coached Washington D.C. Gonzaga squad for 34 points and eight rebounds.
Matthews' game is all about applying pressure to defenders. He attacks the basket relentlessly, gets to the free throw line and has lots of confidence in his ability to create off the dribble. His only offers to date are from SMU, Chicago State, Toledo and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. That should change soon as he's one of the best guards left on the market.
McLaughlin gets win in point guard battle
One of the most anticipated matchups of the day was the point guard duel between Kentucky-bound Tyler Ulis of Chicago Heights (Ill.) Marian Catholic and USC-bound Jordan McLaughlin of Etiwanda (Calif.) High.
Unfortunately, a true mano a mano battle never materialized as neither four-star floor general guarded the other for extended periods of time. But, they were each able to showcase their strengths during Etiwanda's 74-68 win.
Since his team got the win, we will start with the 5-foot-11 McLaughlin. The No. 43 player in 2014, McLaughlin has a better team surrounding him and he spends time playing on and off the ball. He is a good jump-shooter and a very springy finisher in transition. Because of his team's balance, he doesn't have to do too much and was very solid in a 19-point (7-for-10 FG) and three-assist effort. He has to get stronger, but even though he didn't defend Ulis on too many possessions, he does play solid man-to-man defense. The Trojans had an assistant on hand to watch their prized signee and he looks like he could start from day one.
Ranked 10 spots higher at No. 33 nationally, Ulis had to carry much more of the load offensively. He scored a hard-working 30 points (10-22 FG, 0-6 3PT, 10-11 FT) while dishing out seven assists and grabbing five rebounds. Because he is so heavily relied upon to make plays, Ulis had to force the issue on many possessions and because of that he committed six turnovers.
He definitely looks to have gotten stronger since the summer, which is good given his 5-foot-8 frame, and he's a game competitor who gets into the lane and makes things happen. At Kentucky, he'll have more weapons around him which should help him cut down his turnovers and give him more room to operate.