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March 18, 2007

Southern Shootout tips off AAU season

ATLANTA - The AAU season tipped off this weekend as the Southern Shootout fielded a small but talented group. A number of heavy hitters took to the floor and went head to head on Saturday. Rivals.com was on hand to see the action.

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Last week, we broke down each position and listed a number of players to watch this spring from the class of 2008. Mississippi forward Latavious Williams was one of the power forwards that we felt could be a breakout guy. The 6-foot-7 Starkville native was one of the nice surprises of the day.

Playing with the Birmingham Raptors, Williams was a dominating force inside and gave every team he faced trouble with his quick springs, long arms, soft hands and nice touch in the paint. Offensively, he was nearly flawless around the cup and did all of his damage inside and at the rim. Defensively, he was patient and gave teams fits with his length as a shot-blocker and rebounder.

Williams has become a hot target for a number of programs already after a strong junior year at Starkville High School. The key for Williams is turning the interest into offers. Judging by the way he played on Saturday, that shouldn't be a big problem. He'll be a must-see guy right away in April and could very well be a member of the Rivals150 in the next release of rankings.

Another player to watch with the Raptors is junior wing Courtney Carr, a 6-foot-6, 180-pound product of Selma (Ala.) High School. He's a raw prospect with very little action on the recruiting front but that should change over time.

He's an active, athletic and energy guy that did a little bit of everything inside and out. Carr will determine his own level of recruitment. For now and based on the potential that he has, it's not far fetched to say he'd be a nice player for a mid-major program.

Eric Fields, an unsigned senior with a qualifying score, is another player worth watching this spring. The 6-foot-4 played well at the two and three spots and like Carr, he did a little bit of everything. Those looking for a steal late in 2007, be sure to take a look at him in Arkansas at the Real Deal on the Hill.

Seeing Stars

We're going to go out on a short limb here and bet there are few frontlines that are as imposing nationally on the AAU than that of the Georgia Stars collection of tall, towering forwards and centers.

Boasting 6-foot-9 Al-Farouq Aminu at the wing, 6-foot-10 Ralph Sampson at the power forward spot and Tony Woods, a near 7-footer, at the center position, the Stars have incredible length and skill at each position.

Aminu, the No. 3 ranked player in the country, will play the wing position full-time this year with the Stars but still maintained his ability to do damage inside. He played with great energy away from the basket and did some good things with the ball in his hands as a ball-handler and attacker. His versatility really shined through on Saturday.

Woods, a high four-star prospect, had his strong moments with powerful plays above the rim. He's an aggressive offensive player when he wants to be and still has a world of potential. Few centers have his athletic ability and that's been his strong suit since emerging on the national scene at the same event last season.

While Sampson isn't nearly as athletic as his frontline teammates, he's very skilled and has vastly improved since last summer. The son of the former NBA and Virginia star of the same name is a very coachable kid and plays a smart, fundamental game. His passing from the high post will be a strong benefit to Aminu and Woods this year on the AAU circuit.

Wesley Witherspoon might be the second best long term prospect on the Stars roster. The 6-foot-8 point forward is very skilled for his position. His ball-handling skills are point guard like as are some of his passes both in the half court and in transition.

There were times when Witherspoon manned the point to go along with the towering front line. He looked comfortable at the position and could very well man that spot this spring. The Berkmar High School product has a number of schools on him already and is holding a good amount of offers to date. He spoke highly of the opportunity of playing with his brother Wynton at George Washington.

2009 class is coming after Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins, the No. 1 ranked sophomore in the country by Rivals.com, will have a lot of competition for that top spot this spring and summer.

The 6-foot-9 big man came back to Atlanta with his Birmingham Storm AAU club and showed the flashes of why he's so highly regarded in his class. Despite being the biggest player on the floor, Cousins played away from the basket, handled the ball, made good passes and hit threes.

Cousins showed the flashes of what made him such a well thought of player after the Nike All-American camp last year but understand the gap between him and the other top prospects in the class of 2009 isn't very big.

Derrick Favors and Renardo Sidney have both enjoyed very productive sophomore years and both are playing at a level very deserving of the top honor. The spring will be interesting for all three players as they continue to develop on the biggest stages of the April period.

Favors has a good looking teammate in 6-foot-5 sophomore wing Shaunessy Smith. The Mississippi native is a fundamentally sound player that rarely made mistakes, played calm and under control and understood how to play the game within himself.

The soft spoken sophomore has a good frame for his position and lived up to the reputation he has built for himself in the Magnolia State. Smith said he is hearing from Clemson, Mississippi State and Stanford early in the process.

Top game of the day goes to the Stars

The best game of the day featured the two best collections of Division I talent went at it. The Georgia Stars and Worldwide Renegades, traditional Peach State powers, tangled up in a good one on Saturday afternoon.

Led by the aforementioned trio of towers, the Stars won 56-41 in a running clock game. Aminu scored a game high 14 points while Sampson and Woods each scored eight in the victory.

Known primarly as a scoring point guard during the season, sophomore Mfon Udofia looked good as the set up guy for the Stars. The class of 2009 prospect handed out six assists and looked as good as any point guard in the field on Saturday.

He'll split time with fellow sophomore Taariq Muhammad, who played the role of perimeter threat in the game, knocking down a pair of three-pointers.

Worldwide boasts one of the best athletic 1-2 punches in the Southeast in juniors Teondre Williams and Dequan Jones. The class of 2008 prospects both had their wow moments in the game.

Jones may have had the best wow moment of the entire tournament. The 6-foot-5 Wheeler High School product flew to the rim when Udofia tried to get a dunk in transition. Jones met the ball at the rim and pinned it against the backboard and snatched the ball out of Udofia's hands. He promptly gave the young sophomore a stare, paused for a second for effect and then turned and started the break.

Unfortunately for Worldwide, that was the best moment of the game for the team as the wheels seemed to come off as the game went on. Their lack of an interior presence was evident. Williams had a team high 11 points.

Worldwide's youth shines

The best pure point guard of the day was freshman Phil Taylor. The 5-foot-8 rookie was an assist machine as he found guys time and time again with pin point passing. He's quick in the open floor and tapped into his native New York confidence with strong drives to the rack, where he dropped off the rock for easy assists.

If Erving Walker, a similar sized point guard from the class of 2008, can land at Florida, then there is no reason to think Taylor can't be a guy that can play for a power conference program, too.

Richard Howell is at a crossroads in his high school career right now. The five-star class of 2009 prospect was outstanding for the 16 and under Worldwide team as he looked as good as we've ever seen him at the small forward position.

Howell, a 6-foot-7 forward, is in the process of becoming a full time wing despite his strength inside as a rebounder and interior force. He showed a keen ability to attack, create and score off the dribble. His passing skills have always been good for his position and he's starting to glue the pieces together as a wing.

News & Notes

After a huge breakout season at Columbia High School, Travis Leslie is now playing with the Georgia Stars 17 and under club. He has to pick his moments. His best strength, outside of being the best athlete in the Peach State's 2008 class, is rebounding. He carved out his niche as a glass cleaner and did the dirty work inside.

The Stars 16 and under club is also a talented team with size, good guards and athleticism to boot. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the team was 6-foot-7 sophomore Kammeon Holsey.

The Hancock Central stud was the team's best interior scoring over the weekend. Even though his frame is frail, he played strong, showed off a nice array of post moves and went to work against a host of other bigger and stronger post players. He'll be a guy for the high-majors to certainly track this spring.


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