Kasey Hill Steals the Show at the ESPNHS National High School Invitational

[h2]Despite his team losing to national powerhouse Findlay Prep in the championship, Montverde Academy’s talented junior point guard, Kasey Hill, proved to be the tournament’s best player[/h2]

Findlay Prep, the national prep powerhouse from Henderson, Nevada, capped off a miraculous fourth quarter comeback to defeat Florida’s Montverde Academy, 86-83, in overtime of the fourth annual ESPNHS National High School Invitational championship game on March 31st.

Hosted at the sparkling Hanley Center on the beautiful campus of Georgetown Prep in North Bethesda, Maryland, the event brings in eight elite high school teams from around the country at the end of the season to compete for the NHSI tournament championship.

Over the past few years, the NHSI has showcased the talents of some of the top prospects in the country like Austin Rivers, Doron Lamb, Pe’Shon Howard, Roscoe Smith, Tristan Thompson, Myck Kabongo, Corey Joseph, Avery Bradley, Tiny Gallon, Mouphtaou Yarou, Isaiah Armwood, Terrance Ross, Baye Moussa Keita, Lamont “Mo Mo” Jones, James Bell, Nick Johnson, Josh Hairston, Tyrone Johnson, Quinn Cook and Amir Garrett, among plenty of others.

This year’s semifinals featured four teams ranked among the nation’s top 15 in Findlay Prep, Montrose Christian, Montverde and St. Benedict’s Prep.

Here are some observations of the semifinal teams and the players that made an impression on me at this year’s NHSI. \

St. Benedict’s Prep (New Jersey)

6-foot-3 senior guard Melvin Johnson, a New York City native, is a fantastic shooter and gifted offensive player who’ll suit up for the University of Miami next year who can also score with a nice array of floaters while moving toward the basket. Junior point guard Tyler Ennis does a good job getting all of his teammates involved in the offensive flow and thrives in compiling assists and steals.
But the St. Benedict’s player who impressed me the most was another Big Apple native, 6-foot-3 freshman, Isaiah Briscoe. Briscoe is a physically strong combo guard who doesn’t get rattled and understands situational strategy. He lets the game come to him and never seemed bothered by the defensive pressure and trash talk that Findlay Prep bombarded him with in the semis.

“I don’t believe in pressure, so I go out and just play and everything else will follow,” Briscoe said in explaining why he didn’t seem rattled on the big stage, despite being a freshman. “From now until next season tips off, I’m going to be in the gym, working on trimming down and getting faster in my speed and quickness, getting stronger and improving my footwork so when I’m in the post, I have some more moves that I can utilize.”

Despite the 68-55 St. Benedict’s loss, Briscoe was a national revelation with his intellect, composure, 17 points and overall floor generalship against a loaded team of All-Americans and future, immediate impact players on the college level.

“I had Jay Williams for four years in high school,” said St. Benedict’s Head Coach Mark Taylor, who also coached a bevy of other Division I players, along with the Laker’s Andrew Bynum, during his tenure at St. Joseph’s in New Jersey. “I tease Jayson and tell him that I think Isaiah’s better than him. That says a lot because Jayson was the national high school player of the year and won the Naismith Award as a junior at Duke. Isaiah is special. He can do a lot of things on the court. If he adds different physical and mental facets to his game each year, he’ll be in the NBA and we’ll all be watching him on TV.”

Montrose Christian (Maryland)

Having watched Montrose, the defending NHSI champion, with some regularity over the past few years, I was surprised that their 6-foot-7 swingman Justin Anderson, who’ll suit up for the University of Virginia next year, was not named to either the McDonalds or Jordan Brand All-American games.

Anderson had his worst offensive game of the year in Montrose’s 50-47 semifinal loss to Montverde. He was only 1 of 14 from the field, but his offensive struggles never sabotaged his leadership or defensive intensity. Anderson has a pro’s body, ridiculous athleticism and is a fantastic defender. He’s an electric player with unlimited potential who will be a regular contributor to ESPN’s SportsCenter highlights for years to come.

While Anderson has the wow factor, 6-foot-6 senior forward Michael Carrera is a coach’s dream. In the semifinal loss, Carrera, a native of Venezuela, finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds. He’s not an elite athlete like Anderson, but Carrera’s a consistent double-double machine who will fight, scrape and claw his way to some impressive scoring and rebounding numbers, despite being somewhat undersized.

Last year, Montrose coach Stu Vetter told me that Carrera reminds him of another undersized player and rebounding and defensive savant that he’d once coached, George Lynch, who won an NCAA title with the North Carolina Tar Heels and played 12 NBA seasons. Carrera’s work ethic and hustle are second to none. He’s currently considering scholarship offers from schools like Temple, George Mason, Pitt, Gonzaga and Richmond, among others. His ferocious appetite for rebounds in the paint is a joy to behold.

Also impressive for Montrose was muscular, 6-foot-6 junior Ishmail Wainwright, who played all five positions at various intervals this year. One of the top juniors in the country who already has scholarship offers from the likes of Duke, Kansas and UCLA, Wainwright showed an ability to handle the ball and pass that is rare for a player of his size and impressive build.

Findlay Prep (Nevada)

Findlay Prep captured the NHSI title for the third time in the four years of the event’s existence. Head Coach Michael Peck, a former assistant at UNLV, has an astounding 157-8 overall record at Findlay and he brought another loaded team in this year, including 6-foot-1 point guard Dominic Artis, who’ll bring his well-rounded skills to the University of Oregon next year, and San Diego State bound Winston Shepard, a 6-foot-8 guard/forward who can score, rebound and pass, along with being a top-flight defender.

Brandon Ashley, a 6-foot-9 forward who’ll suit up for Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats next year, scored 15 dominating fourth quarter points in the championship game en route to a team high 31. His long arms allow him to play like a 7-footer and he’s deceptively quick for a big man.

“I wasn’t really demanding the ball,” said Ashley of his fourth quarter outburst. “My team was just feeding me and they noticed that I was scoring, had the hot hand and was getting to the free throw line. They could’ve easily taken some of those shots but they just kept getting me the ball.”

“Brandon Ashley was the Brandon Ashley he’s supposed to be,” said Peck, referring to Ashley’s championship game performance. “He’s capable of that and put the cape on in that second half.”

Anthony Bennett, who was named the NHSI’s MVP, is a man amongst boys, with the size, strength and body that looks like it has no place in the high school game. A native of Canada, he’s a dynamic athlete for someone so big, an intimidating presence in the paint who assaults rims with powerful, violent dunks. In addition, he has very good form on his jump shot, shoots over 80% at the charity stripe and looks like he could be a three-point threat, if he worked on it, as well.

“This is my second year at Findlay Prep and I’ll be taking that ‘Hard Work’ mindset with me to the next level,” said Bennett. “Every practice is hard and we go through a lot of defensive work. Playing against the top competition in the nation, I’ve learned a lot playing here. Next year, I’ll take all of those things with me, playing as hard as I can in practice and games.”

Bennett will make his college choice after he plays the Jordan Brand All-American game. He’ll make the coaches and fans at whatever program he chooses, the finalists being Florida, Kentucky, Washington, Oregon or UNLV, extremely happy.

“We have had some pretty good groups and some pretty special kids,” said Peck, referring to the teams he’s coached in the past few years at Findlay Prep. “But this one takes the cake. I couldn’t be more proud of a group than I am of this one.”

Montverde Prep (Florida)

Montverde doesn’t have the national reputation of schools like Findlay Prep or Oak Hill, but it’s evident that they are well on their way. This is coach Kevin Boyle’s first season at the helm after 23 years at the consistently excellent St. Patrick’s program in New Jersey, where he coached, among others Kentucky standout freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and NBA Rookie of the Year favorite Kyrie Irving.

6-foot-3 guard Michael Frazier, a shooter extraordinaire who can stretch defenses with his range, will be playing in the SEC next year for the Florida Gators. Patricio Garino, a 6-foot-6 senior and native of Argentina who’ll play his college ball at George Washington University in D.C., impressed with his 20 point, seven-rebound performance in the championship game. And Miguel Cartagena, a 6-foot, baby faced assassin from Puerto Rico, showed exceptional long-range shooting ability and the confidence to make big shots in crunch time.

“Miguel is confident and he shoots it well,” said Boyle. “He showed his ability to shoot in this tournament and now he has to go to the next level and develop more of his ball handling skills for next year. He did an excellent job hitting big shots for us.”

Kasey Hill (Photo Credit: Dewain Clark, Diamond Eye Sports)

But for all that was right about this year’s NHSI, they got one very big thing wrong. As good as Findlay Prep’s Anthony Bennett is and how well he performed throughout the tournament, there was one player who stood head and shoulders above all others who, without question, deserved to be named the tournament MVP. And that was Montverde’s spectacular 6-foot-1 junior, Kasey Hill.

Hill is pure point guard who flicks delectable passes in the midst of turbo-speed penetration. His ability to attack the rim, body control and soft touch in traffic is breathtaking and he’s extremely dangerous on the pick and roll. He’s at his best in a full court, up-tempo game, but he presents problems in half court sets as well, along with being an intelligent defender and supreme floor general.

Hill lulls you to sleep because of how smooth he operates, but when he shifts into a gear that most players don’t have, and starts converting jumpers and delicious floaters in traffic against the big boys, you quickly understand that you’re watching a very special player.

“Kasey’s just a tremendous, terrific player,” said Peck, the Findlay Prep coach. “He’s probably one of the more difficult players we’ve faced this year because of his speed with the ball and his ball skills. And we’ve played against Jabari Parker, Shabazz Muhammad, Kendrick Nunn, Marcus Smart and Phil Forte. Kasey’s a true point guard who sees things two and three steps ahead. He’s got an unbelievable feel for the game and a great motor.”

In Montverde’s semifinal victory over Montrose Christian, Hill was spectacular with 20 points, seven assists and two steals. In the title game against Findlay Prep, he was a force of nature from start to finish, attacking the paint, hitting jumpers from deep and delivering eye-opening passes. He was locked in from the tip off, announcing his intentions by scoring nine of Montverde’s first 14 points, en route to 23 points, six assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

“I think Kasey solidified himself as one of the top 10 kids in his class and even though we lost, he was the best player in the tournament,” said Boyle.

In this year’s NHSI, which possessed an overabundance of elite talent, Hill was spectacular and easily stood head and shoulders above all others. He’s not simply one of the best players in his graduating class, he’s among the best point guards in the country, period.

With one year remaining in high school, Hill could start on the major college level right now. And when he arrives in Gainesville to play for the Florida Gators in the 2013-2014 season, he’ll easily thrive in Billy Donovan’s guard-centered system.

The National High School Invitational is a great opportunity to see plenty of future NCAA and NBA stars while they’re still in the formative years. With that being said, and with a few years down the road to grow and develop, this year’s outstanding group of players has many bright days ahead to look forward to.

And if this is your first time hearing about Kasey Hill, be ready to hear plenty more.

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