Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
St. Ben’s Stuns St. Pat’s in Thriller; Hurley Compares Elite Prep Hoops to BCS
With its 65-64 victory over Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick Saturday night in the Coalition to House the Homeless Classic in Elizabeth, St. Benedict’s has thrust itself into contention for a high school national championship.
Texas-bound guard Myck Kabongo, pictured at left courtesy The Star-Ledger, went coast-to-coast and scored on a layup with 5 seconds remaining to give the Gray Bees the victory.
“Yeah, I just got it and put a little bank shot runner and it went in,” Kabongo said by phone.
He scored 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter and defended Duke-bound guard Kyrie Irving, who scored 12 of his 26 points in the fourth. After the game, Kabongo made the case that he’s the best guard in New Jersey.
“I just feel like I have a case,” he said. “He [Irving] might be a senior but I feel I do a lot more. I’m a different type of point guard. I’m not a scoring point guard. I just want to show the rest of the country that I’m alright. I’m not just a player. I wanted to show that Canada can produce great players. A bunch of people in New Jersey don’t really know me like that.”
Rutgers-bound forward Gilvydas Biruda added 13 points for St. Ben’s and Temple commit Mike Poole scored 11.
St. Patrick played without star junior Michael Gilchrist, who suffered a sprained ankle in Monday’s loss to Findlay (Nev.) Prep at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass. Gilchrist was out of the state with his family during the game.
“I don’t really have much to say about that,” Kabongo said. “We were ready to play if he was playing or not. We just played the game.”
St. Benedict’s coach Dan Hurley, whose team is ranked No. 10 by USA Today, beat No. 4 St. Patrick for just the second time in nine meetings.
“We weren’t ranked in the preseason as highly as we have been in previous years but I like our team,” Hurley told me before the game. “It’s a different type of team than I’ve had in the past.
“We only took one transfer who’s in our rotation, [Arizona-bound junior] Sidiki Johnson. All the guys that pretty much are in our rotation were on the team last year. It makes it a fun group of kids to coach.”
St. Benedict’s is not a member of the New Jersey State Athletic Association and doesn’t participate in the state playoffs, but Hurley hopes the team will be invited to the ESPN RISE National High School Invitational in April.
“In years past we haven’t had the state tournament but now we’ve got this national high school invitational where they get the best eight teams that they can get. It’s something to shoot for even if we don’t get the top spot,” Hurley said.
St. Benedict’s beat St. Patrick, 68-62, in 2008 when current Louisville sophomore Samardo Samuels was a senior for the Gray Bees.
Last year, Irving and current North Carolina frosh Dexter Strickland tallied 21 points apiece as the Celtics hammered St. Ben’s, 88-62, in the Hoop Group Showcase at Rutgers.
“We’re obviously were very disappointed the way that we played last year,” Hurley said. “We got exposed in that game. We got exposed in the Mater Dei game out in California the same week as not being a team that focused on the things that are going to help you win.
“We spent more time this year working on our halfcourt defense. We’re a lot more well-rounded team than we were last year.”
Hurley made the point that elite high school basketball is kind of like the BCS in football.
The teams that are ranked at the top to begin the season tend to stay there, making it harder for the lower teams to leapfrog.
A single loss can drop a team from contention for the national title, and two pretty much eliminates all chances.
“A lot of the local high school teams are in national rankings where us, St. Pats, St. Anthony and Paterson Catholic this year are all competing. We all want to finish No. 1,” Hurley said.
“High school basketball has become like college football, like the BCS, where you lose a game and you’ve ruined your season. Try coaching with that type of mentality where you lose one game and your season is a disappointment. That’s an enormous amount of pressure.”
You don’t have to tell St. Patrick coach Kevin Boyle about that.
St. Patrick’s dream of a national title appears to be out of reach now that the Celtics have lost twice in the span of six days.
Still, the Celtics will be the favorite to win their third straight Tournament of Champions crown in March, although Gilchrist’s health going forward is uncertain.
“First of all, as a member of the state, the one thing is you have that to fall back on is to try to be a state champion if you’re out of the national picture at any time,” Boyle said before the game.
Boyle said it was conceivable St. Patrick could ask for an exemption to skip the state tournament and focus on the national event.
“There’s that national tournament,” Boyle said. “Most likely we’ll be in the state tournament but you could choose to pass and go in that if it made sense for you.
“Nothing’s ever impossible. You look at all your options. Obviously, you’d have to deal with the state on that as well and does it makes sense for you to do it or not. But that would be a possibility.”
**Boyle and Hurley to coach in college?Read about it here.HARRIS DROPS 36 AND 14 FOR HILLS WEST
Tennessee-bound forward Tobias Harris dropped a game-high 36 points on 12-for-17 shooting and was named Most Outstanding Player as Half Hollow Hills West beat Chester, 82-72, in the Primetime Shootout Saturday in West Virginia. Harris added 14 rebounds and 6 assists.
Tyler Harris, a junior forward and Tobias’ brother, put up 11 points, 8 rebounds, 6 steals and 4 assists. The brothers combined for 15 points in a 25-6 third-quarter for Hills West.
Manhattan Rice senior C Kadeem Jack will visit Arizona Wednesday.
(Photos courtesy The Star-Ledger, St. Benedict’s Prep & Rivals)
Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.