While the Final Four will soon get underway a few hundred miles south in Atlanta this weekend, a who’s who of college recruits took the floor in ESPN’s National High School Invitational quarterfinals on Thursday at Georgetown Prep.
For instance, the starting lineups in the evening tilt between Montrose Christian and top-ranked Findlay Prep (Nev.) featured (at least) seven players who are headed to Division I programs.
The Pilots, who rallied for a 57-53 win, feature Washington recruit Nigel Williams-Goss (very smart player who can take over a game, especially in the fourth quarter), Indiana recruit Stanford Robinson (former Paul VI player made key defensive plays and is explosive off the dribble), Michigan State recruit Gavin Schilling (strong post presence whom some compare to Blake Griffin), UCLA commit Allerik Freeman and UNLV commit Christian Wood.
On the Mustangs, senior forwards Ishmail Wainright and Mark Williams anchored the lofty talent. Wainright, a first team All-Met, is headed to Baylor while Williams, a second team All-Met, has narrowed his choices to Temple, Kent State and Vanderbilt.
Williams plans to visit Temple next week, Kent State a few weeks after that and is getting his paperwork in order to set up an official visit to Vanderbilt this month as well. Mustangs Coach Stu Vetter labeled Temple as the front-runner at this point for Williams, who had six points and 10 rebounds on Thursday.
“Mark is an old-school player who works very hard,” Vetter said. “He battles inside. He’s tough. And he’s also developed an outside shot to where we expect it to go in whenever he shoots from three.”
After transferring from Ohio, Williams made his mark in his lone season at Montrose Christian, averaging a team-high 15.4 points during a campaign that saw him get more comfortable and dominant with time.
“He’s one of the best big men I’ve played with,” Wainright said. “He can step out and shoot the three, beat people off the dribble, dunk on them and lock up on defense, too. He can do it all.”
Ironically, Wainwright could have been talking about himself. A self-described “facilitator,” the 6-foot-6, 220-pound point forward was a consistent triple-double threat, averaging 8.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists.
After averaging 13.6 points and 9.8 rebounds as a sophomore at Raytown South in Missouri, Wainright transferred to Montrose Christian before his junior season amid much hype. Last year, he played in the shadow of All-Met seniors Justin Anderson (now at Virginia) and Michael Carerra (now at South Carolina), leading expectations to swell for Wainright’s senior campaign. After he committed to Baylor this past fall, Vetter called him the school’s most heralded recruit since Kevin Durant.
But a stress fracture in his foot and the subsequent surgery this past summer sidelined Wainright until October, making for a more arduous transition into his senior season. All season, Wainright proved efficient, stuffing the stat sheet for the Mustangs, who finished No. 2 in the Post rankings. But on Thursday, with a national audience watching, Wainright unleashed his full arsenal.
After struggling early with six first-half turnovers, a buzzer-beater from beyond midcourt sparked Wainright just before halftime. From there, the senior took over, using an impressive mid-range game while posting up to score 12 of his season-high 21 points and push the Mustangs to the brink of an upset.
During the third quarter, my phone and Twitter were blowing up with messages about Wainright’s efficiency and play. He was that impressive.
“[Being aggressive on offense] is something I knew I had to do, which I should have been doing that since day one,” Wainright said after the game.
He also played solid defense on Williams-Goss, who mostly broke loose in the fourth quarter after Wainright was saddled with foul trouble.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve played with,” Williams said. “If you look at his physique and the way that he looks to get his teammates involved first, I really, really admire that. Also, he can score. We saw that [Thursday]. The coaches at Baylor are very lucky to get him.”
“You don’t get better than Ishmail Wainright,” Vetter added. “He’s a quality person and he walks the talk. He does what he’s supposed to do and people love it and follow him. You know the slogan, ‘You can’t lead unless you know where you’re going.’ Well, he knows where he’s going, so people tend to follow him because of how he communicates and that’s what makes him special.”