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January 14, 2013

Jennings Invitational: Utah school fun to watch

MORE: Hardaway Hoopfest: Memphis pulls them in

MILWAUKEE -- In year No. 3, the Brandon Jennings Invitational has become a staple of the high school travel circuit and a must-stop January event. The 2013 edition featured an excellent field of Under Armour-affiliated teams and plenty of talent, including Theo Pinson, Eric Mika and freshman Harry Giles.

Lone Peak holds serve

With its travels across the country over the past two years, Highland (Utah) Lone Peak has emerged as one of the most popular teams in high school basketball. The BYU-bound trio of senior four-stars Eric Mika and Nick Emery and junior four-star T.J. Haws combine with their teammates to play a fundamentally sound and fast-paced style that is fun to watch.

For most of the day on Saturday, it looked as if High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan Christian, led by five-star junior wing Theo Pinson, three-star junior point guard JaQuel Richmond and almost sure to be five-star freshman big man Harry Giles, had Lone Peak's number. Wesleyan Christian used its length and quickness to disrupt Lone Peak, and the Utah team's shooters weren't hitting as they usual do.

In the end, though, Lone Peak made just enough shots and free throws to escape with a come-from-behind four-point win after trailing for almost the entire game.

Let's start with the play of the Wesleyan Christian guys because we've covered the Lone Peak trio in depth all winter. A 6-foot-6 small forward who is known for his athleticism, Pinson came out on fire from deep. In the past his jumper has looked a bit funky, but on Saturday he showed a cleaner, crisper and more compact stroke. Pinson has gotten a bit stronger while retaining his elite-level quickness, bounce and ability to change directions. Those tools should allow him to be a high-level defender, whether he ends up at Duke, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio State, Louisville or any of the other programs recruiting him. He's got his first official visit set for Indiana during the first weekend of February.

Richmond is a scoring point guard who is at his best getting into the lane and making plays for himself near the rim. He has a floater, can change pace and will take shots from deep but is more of a streak shooter. In Giles, Wesleyan has one of the nation's premier freshmen. A 6-foot-8 forward, Giles won't turn 15 until May but already plays like a much older player. He is athletic and quick around the basket, and he has an impressive combination of lean strength and skill. He fought toe-to-toe with the bigger and stronger Mika without giving an inch. He also hit a step-back 3-pointer, fooled the entire gym on and up and under that he finished on the opposite side of the lane from where he started and showed uncanny passing ability. The tools to be a big-time player are there, and Giles is as impressive a freshman as there is in the nation. Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State, Wake Forest, South Carolina and many others are in hot pursuit.

As for Lone Peak, it was a bit of the usual as it grinded to the win. A junior point guard, Haws made all kinds of plays off the dribble and mixed in a few deep jumpers. He also came up with a timely two-handed tip dunk late in the fourth quarter to give his team a lead. Emery didn't hit deep jumpers like he has in the past, but he continued to show evolved passing skills. Mika did his thing, playing with physicality in the paint.

Denver East escapes with win

When it came down to it, Denver (Colo.) East cut things about as close as possible in its one-point win over Minnetonka (Minn.) High. Junior guard Jevon Griffin didn't score the game's deciding bucket until there was less than a second to play, and watching the game it was tough to see how it even came down to East needing a last-second play to win, given its talent advantage.

Actually, the effort of Wisconsin-bound Riley Dearring had a lot to do with it. It took some serious hunting of shots, but the three-star wing made just enough jumpers and plays driving to the hoop to score 17 of his game-high 22 in the second half and keep his team in the game. A thin wing who lacks strength, Dearring plays with confidence and has improved off the dribble. He'll need to focus on getting stronger and developing his left hand.

For East, Griffin was fantastic as part of the dangerous junior that trio also includes four-star combo guard Dominique Collier and rapidly emerging wing Ronnie Harrell. A burly 6-foot-2 guard, Griffin seems to have a nose for being in the right place at the right time, makes smart plays and has the toughness that coaches appreciate.

Harrell is a former 5-foot-10 shooting guard who has grown to 6-foot-6 in the last year, and he's likely got a few inches of growth left in him. He's a very good ball handler, moves fluidly and is starting to generate recruiting attention. While still developing, the three-star wing has earned offers from Wyoming, Montana State and Northern Colorado, while Gonzaga, San Francisco, Arizona State and Colorado have jumped into his recruitment.

Finally, Collier was off to a great start before landing in early foul trouble. The 6-foot-2 junior is very quick and slippery off of the dribble. He is at his best getting into the lane and making things happen. He finished the game with 15 and reported offers from Iowa, Missouri, Kansas State, Colorado, Stanford, Gonzaga, Minnesota and UCLA. He said they've all been in to see him during his junior season.

"UCLA, that's the newest offer," Collier told Rivals.com. "They came in for an open gym and liked what they saw from me and offered right after that."

Collier said he's looking into the possibility of taking spring visits but he's leaning toward waiting until the fall because he and his family haven't talked much about whom he favors.

"We haven't really talked about it a lot just yet," Collier said. "I'm looking for where I would fit in best as a scorer and the coach who trusts me the most to do what he needs."

Riley makes the most of chance

Even playing without five-star forward Rondae Jefferson, nobody thought Chester (Pa.) High would have much trouble with host Brookfield (Wis.) Central. Well, at least not many people who weren't associated with Brookfield. That's all that mattered, though, as junior shooting guard Riley LaChance stepped up big to score an event-high 29 points.

Being courted by the likes of Iowa, Marquette, Northern Iowa and Creighton, and holding offers from North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Western Michigan and South Dakota, the 6-foot-2 LaChance is a skilled wing player. He drained 3s and kept defenders off balance with his dribble penetration early, made some passes and closed things out by hitting free throws down the stretch to carry his team.

"We had a lot of people here supporting us," LaChance said. "Nobody really expected us to win, but we believed we could do it and we used it as motivation to go out there and get a big win."

Final notes from the Brandon Jennings Invitational

Chicago (Ill.) Orr is a well-balanced club that has plenty of young talent. On Saturday, its junior core of four-star wing Tyquone Greer, three-star big man Marlon Jones and shooting guard Louis Adams carried Orr. Greer is a long wing who is starting to fill out and always has been a threat off the drive. On Saturday, he hit a few jumpers to go with his driving. He listed Providence, DePaul, Illinois State, Miami, Baylor, Bradley and Louisville. At 6-foot-2, Adams is a high flyer who can shoot from deep and has the smarts you would expect out of the son of a coach.

However, it was the 6-foot-7 Jones who did the most work for Orr. After a quiet first half, the junior power forward took over the second half and dominated the higher-ranked and five-inch-taller Trayvon Reed from Shiloh (Ga.) High. The slender and athletic Jones was all over the offensive glass, ran the floor and played with passion. Jones feels like he's got offers from Providence and Bradley, while Nebraska, DePaul, Illinois, Miami, Notre Dame and Purdue are tracking his progress.

UNC Greensboro has gotten a good player in three-star wing Tevon Saddler. The product of Baltimore (Md.) St. Frances plays with toughness and physicality, and he is capable of making things happen while headed to the rim. A good transition player with athleticism, the 6-foot-4 Saddler will play defense and get on the glass. He is in the process of improving his jumper to become a better all-around threat. Jumper or not, he'll be good in college.

He didn't play in the Brandon Jennings Invitational, but we stopped in on five-star forward Kevon Looney on Friday night. The 6-foot-8 junior at Milwaukee (Wis.) Hamilton has continued to fill out and had a highly productive game against an overmatched Milwaukee Custer squad. In just about 2 quarters of play, Looney went for 23 points, 15 rebounds, 12 blocks and five assists as he dominated both ends. Marquette, Stanford, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Louisville are among the schools that have been in to see him this winter.

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