Only days before classes began for the spring semester, Springfield College – the birthplace of basketball – was home to one of the biggest basketball events in the country. For five days, Blake Arena was transformed into the premier high school basketball showcase in the country, the Spalding Hoophall Classic.
This year’s field saw some of the best talent the 13-year-old event has ever seen. For much of the weekend, the games provided limited excitement, with many of the games decided by double digits. Leave it to one of the final games of the event to come down to a game-winning shot. In the waning moments of the second to last game – between the nation’s top two teams, Findlay Prep (Nev.) and Montverde (Fla.) – Nigel Williams-Goss drained a three-pointer to give Findlay a 62-58 win in a nationally-televised game.
Williams-Goss, a Washington commit, was one of dozens of Division I recruits, which helped fill the small arena and brought many Division I coaches, such as Indiana’s Tom Crean.
The first several days of the events consisted of mostly local high schools. On Friday, Braintree High School (Mass.) girls’ basketball team took on Springfield High School (Ore.) which features the top female player in the nation, Tennessee-bound, Mercedes Russell. The 6-foot-5 Russell filled the stat sheet. The future Volunteer had 25 points, 17 rebounds and eight blocks in a 51-42 win over one of Massachusetts’ top girls’ teams.
Saturday through Monday featured many of the top teams and players from around the country. Jahlil Okafor of Whitney Young High School (Ill.) shined, showing why he could be one of the next great players to come out of Chicago. The 6-foot-11 junior center wowed with great hands and footwork, finishing above the rim multiple times.
Teammate Paul White said Okafor is the best player in the nation. Okafor’s coach, Tyrone Slaughter, sees it differently.
“I know that [Okafor is the best player], he’s talking about what he thinks, I’ll talk about what I know,” Slaughter said following an 85-52 win. “If you have to stick him one-on-one there is no one person who can do it. Other good players in this country you can defend them one-on-one, the people that are in the conversation they have been defended one-on-one. There is no one individual that can defend him one-on-one.
“Fundamentally, I can say without equivocation that he is the best player in the nation.”
Okafor’s 26 point, seven rebound performance might not even be good enough for the best performance from a Chicago native. Jabari Parker, a Duke commit and the nation’s No. 2 player, put in a terrific effort against national power, Oak Hill Academy (Va.). Parker led his Simeon Career Academy (Ill.) to a win over Oak Hill, scoring 28 points – including the first 11 Simeon points – and added five rebounds in his second appearance at the Hoophall Classic.
Only days before playing on the national stage at the Hoophall Classic, a teen was shot dead outside a Simeon game. Parker spoke after the game about the violence in his city and his post basketball plans to help his hometown.
“For me, it was kind of emotional, seeing my city go down with such turmoil,” said the 17-year-old Parker. “If I so happen to make it one day, I want to be a community activist and just get these kids off the street.”
Parker won his way to Duke, ending his recruitment in December. He lost his top ranking to Andrew Wiggins of Huntington Prep (W.Va.), who headlined Sunday in a game against New Hampton Prep (N.H.). The 6-foot-8 Canadian native is the top international prospect, already being pegged as the top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. In a 55-47 win, Wiggins scored 19 points and 10 rebounds. In what would have been the best matchup of the weekend, Noah Vonleh, a 6-foot-9 Indiana commit, was plagued with early foul trouble.
The recruiting process has weighed heavily on several players, including Parker, who ended his recruitment earlier than expected. Wiggins has offers from Kentucky and Florida State – his parents’ alma mater – but elected to not discuss the recruiting process after the game.
Wiggins was one of the only top players left on the recruiting boards. Aaron Gordon from Archbishop Mitty (Calif.) is a top 10 power forward who has yet to commit, although he is down to only Kentucky, Arizona and Washington. The 6-foot-7 Gordon did his best impression of Blake Griffin on Monday with several highlight reel slams in a loss to Lone Peak High School (Uta.).
On Tuesday, as Springfield College returned to a place of higher education, another chapter of the Hoophall Classic came to an end. Next year, the new crop of future college basketball stars and NBA lottery picks will travel to the place where the game began.