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December 9, 2012

National Hoops Festival Recap

HYATTSVILLE, Md.--- Two members of North Carolina's 2013 basketball signing class, as well as its top remaining uncommitted 2013 prospect, took center stage Saturday evening in the National High School Hoops Festival at famed DeMatha Catholic High School, the scene of some of the top prep basketball in the greater Washington D.C. region over the past few decades.

In a thrilling tripleheader of action in which the games themselves overshadowed the players we came to watch, five-star Andrew Wiggins and four-star UNC pledge Kennedy Meeks each recorded double-doubles in victories, while fellow Tar Heel signee Nate Britt, playing through an injury, made his return to the D.C. area as a member of storied Oak Hill Academy.

Tar Heel Illustrated was there for all the action featuring Wiggins, Meeks, and Britt, and will have video highlights in the coming days.


Huntington (W.V.) Prep, one of the nation's current heavyweights in prep hoops, features Wiggins---the No. 1 ranked overall prospect and No. 1 small forward in the Rivals.com 2013 rankings---but he's far from the only talent on this loaded squad.

Wiggins' supporting cast is formidable, with the likes of center Dominic Woodson, a powerful 6-9, 295-pound center headed to Baylor (No. 39 in 2013 Rivals 150), 6-9, 210-pound center Moses Kingsley, who is headed to Arkansas (No. 62 in Rivals 150), and guard Travon Landry, a 6-0, 175-pounder who is headed to Tennessee.

Huntington Prep also features Florida State-bound guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (No. 28 in Rivals 150 for 2013), but Rathan-Mayes was out of commission and didn't play on Saturday.

Rathan-Maye's absence handling the ball, combined with a strong first half performance by Huntington Prep's opposition, Upper Marlboro (Md.) Riverdale Baptist, made this game turn out way closer than Wiggins and his teammates would have preferred.

Riverdale Baptist came out of the gate like they were going to blow out Huntington Prep, building an early second quarter 25-12 lead.

Wiggins got off to a solid start early on with a three-pointer and slam dunk, and it was he who helped get Huntington Prep back in the game with a spinning lay-in and a second slam dunk, which cut the score to 25-20.

Wiggins finished the first half with nine points, but Riverdale Baptist surprisingly led, 30-27, at halftime.

But Huntington flipped the switch in the third quarter, out-scoring Riverdale by 10 points over the next eight minutes. Wiggins added a free throw and running lay-in to help Huntington Prep take a 38-33 advantage.

"In the first half we struggled. Our whole team needed to pick it up. In the second half it kind of started with me. I just think we didn't come to play until the second half," Wiggins told us afterwards.

The newly-reclassified senior continued to put the ball in the basket in the fourth quarter, again converting back-to-back field goals, and then making a nifty assist to a teammate to help keep Huntington Prep in the lead down the stretch.

In the end Huntington Prep got a hard-fought 53-44 triumph, with Wiggins earning game MVP honors with 21 points and 11 rebounds. He was eight-of-16 from the floor (1-4 three-pointers), made four of six free throw attempts, and added 11 rebounds (eight defensive, three offensive), four assists, and four steals, playing all 32 minutes of the game.

Aside of his incredible all-around talent and numerous ways of putting the ball in the basket, one of the things that really impressed us in this one about Wiggins was his poise.

He was the beneficiary of multiple hard fouls over the course of this contest, including a particularly rough one under the basket called an intentional foul, but even after some jawing and some tense, awkward exchanges between the two teams, Wiggins kept his composure and stayed in control.

"There was a little bit (of trash talk), but it didn't really faze me. I just played my game," he said. "I just don't let it affect me. I just play my game."


The second game of our tripleheader was an intriguing matchup between West Charlotte High School, NCHSAA 4-A champion in 2011 and runner-up in 2012, against the home school, DeMatha Catholic, a longtime powerhouse in one of the most competitive areas for prep basketball in the country.

The environment in the gymnasium was electric, with a couple thousand fans cheering on the home squad, and others from around the D.C. area and all over the East Coast on hand to watch this showdown of top two prep programs.

It was an opportunity for Meeks to get a glimpse of potential future competition in the ACC, as DeMatha featured future N.C. State big man Beejay Anya, who played well in several stretches on his way to 14 points and 13 boards on the evening.

Meeks got off to a slow start in this one, scoring just three points in the first half, all on free throws, but he picked it up early in the third quarter, converting on three straight field goals under the basket to give a small glimpse of his quick-strike capability in the post.

"This game I kind of got off to a slow start. I couldn't really get into a rhythm (early on)," Meeks told us afterwards.

The game remained close, within a few points, until DeMatha rallied in the fourth quarter and appeared to be pulling away.

That appeared to especially be the case when Meeks fouled out midway through the final period with West Charlotte trailing.

But the Lions persevered, rallying to tie the game and getting the ball for a memorable final shot, a three-pointer by Trey Foster from the left wing as time expired.

Many among the pro-DeMatha crowd, as well as neutral observers, thought the ball clearly left his hand after the horn sounded, but the officials made the call in favor of West Charlotte and they got the huge road triumph.

Meeks finished with a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds in this huge win for West Charlotte, one of the favorites to win the state title in North Carolina's highest classification.

Meeks was four-of-10 from the floor, made three of five free throws, and added two blocked shots and a steal in 26 minutes of action.

"I think I'm playing real good," Meeks said when asked about his play in the early part of the new season. "I was averaging about 20 and 15 up until this game (against DeMatha)."


It was going to be difficult for Saturday's nightcap between Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy and Fairfax (Va.) Paul VI to better the West Charlotte-DeMatha game in terms of theatrics and late heroics, but it just may have.

Oak Hill is not a school accustomed to losing on the basketball court.

In fact, in nearly a decade of covering Steve Smith's program, this writer had seen the Warriors lose previously only once before in person (during the Kevin Durant era) heading into Saturday's nightcap.

But Paul VI, winners of last year's ultra-competitive D.C. Catholic league (WCAC) and nationally-ranked this year, weren't coming into this one just to make a good showing, and they proved right from the start that they could hang with the powerful Oak Hill squad.

The player that really stood out to us in this one was Paul VI 2015 forward Marcus Derrickson, who played like a kid out to prove something.

The rangy Derrickson was seen making plays all over the court, including multiple power moves in the paint, a couple of three pointers, multiple defensive rebounds, and even an assist or two.

With Derrickson stealing the show in the first half, Paul VI surprisingly took a 23-19 lead into halftime, much to the delight of a collection of Paul VI students along one of the baselines who brought a 'Cameron Crazies' feel to this prep war.

Derrickson fouled out in the fourth quarter, but not before scoring 16 points to help keep Paul VI in position to pull off the upset.

Nate Britt, future UNC point guard, was playing with a torn meniscus as we learned after the game, but the Washington D.C.-area native couldn't bring himself to miss his return home for this intriguing matchup.

Britt struggled shooting from the floor all game, failing to convert a field goal in regulation. But he did some nice things with the ball in his hands, setting up his teammates for several baskets to keep Oak Hill right there.

Although Britt's numbers weren't spectacular, he was the undisputed floor general for the Warriors, working the ball around mostly with precision and playing solid overall defense.

This one was close from the outset, with neither team taking any kind of controlling lead and heading into overtime tied at 43 apiece. In the first overtime session both teams missed key shots, and the contest headed into double overtime tied 45-45.

In the second overtime Britt came alive, making a huge blocked shot in the final two minutes on a shot that could have put the game out of reach for Paul VI.

With Oak Hill trailing by four in the final minute, Britt then nailed a clutch three-pointer---his first field goal of the entire evening.

And then he fouled out.

He had been playing with four fouls for a while, and with Oak Hill desperately trying to force a steal, he got whistled to end his night.

It was an emotional moment for the senior point guard, as he tugged at his jersey and wouldn't leave the court until his coaches motioned for him to join him on the bench.

We didn't know it at this instance, but Britt knew this was going to be his last game action for quite some time, as he will likely miss at least a month or more of action as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery.

Oak Hill had a couple of decent looks to tie and send the contest to a third overtime but the final tip bounced off, setting off a wild celebration on the court for the Paul VI players and students.

"It was a huge win," Derrickson said. "We just came off a loss to Gonzaga where we didn't play our best game. We tried to do a lot of one-on-ones and didn't play good defense, but we worked hard all week (in practices). We didn't want to have that same outcome. So we came out and gave it all we got."

Derrickson was especially proud of his teammates for holding it together and pushing through without his help after he fouled out late in the second half.

"It's terrible (to have to watch after fouling out). But we came through with the win. I'm proud of them. They played their butts off, so I'm happy."

Derrickson, who is definitely a name to remember in the 2015 class, says that Georgetown and Indiana are two schools that have been recruiting him particularly hard, and while North Carolina visited one of his workouts, he said he hasn't heard much from the Tar Heels.

But if Saturday's performance is any indication of future potential, UNC would be well-served to get involved with Derrickson, who has a chance to emerge over the next three years as a big-time prospect.


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