By Steve Spiewak
The Spalding Hoophall Classic is annually one of the premier events of the high school basketball season. This year's installment features four days of boys and girls action spanning the holiday weekend.
Friday, Jan. 18
The weekend tips Friday night with three games. The marquee attraction will be the 7 p.m. pairing of girls powerhouses Ursuline Academy (Del.), featuring the nation's top player in Elena Delle Donne, and New York City's Christ the King, one of the country's most revered programs.
Delle Donne is back after sitting out due to mononucleosis. She became Delaware's all time leading scorer earlier this season.
Christ the King, who through the years has produced Chamique Holdsclaw, Sue Bird, Tina Charles and Lorin Dixon, to go along with several national championships, is one of the most recognizable and respected programs in the country.
With a 6-5 record this season, Bob Mackey's squad is down a bit. They are young, but show some promise, especially talented freshman Bria Smith.
Saturday, Jan. 19
Saturday's boys action will feature arguably the best guard from the junior class, Lance Stephenson, and the sophomore class, Brandon Knight.
Stephenson's Lincoln Railsplitters will be taking on Pius High School (Wis.), traditionally a powerhouse in Milwaukee. Stephenson is currently serving a suspension for fighting with another teammate, and might be forced to sit out against Pius if the suspension is upheld by the school.
Knight will lead his Pine Crest (Fla.) squad into battle against Holyoke High School of Massachusetts. He has missed a lot of time this season due to a back injury, but has recently returned to the line up and appears healthy.
The other big game on the docket is Chester, perhaps Pennsylvania's best team, taking on Montverde Academy, a Florida squad loaded with international talent.
Sunday, Jan. 20
Sunday features more top-notch boys matchups with teams traveling to Springfield from all across the country.
The 12:15 p.m. game pairs Benedictine (Va.), featuring 6-9 forward Ed David, taking on the St. George's School from Tennessee. St. George's boasts one of the nation's top senior guards, Elliot Williams, who is verbally committed to Duke.
At 3:45 p.m., Virginia juggernaut Oak Hill Academy will be challenged by Baltimore's top squad, Mount St. Joseph. Oak Hill is having a down year by its standards, which means it has already lost three games. Still, Brandon Jennings is possibly the best senior in the country, and will give Mt. St. Joseph fits.
The Gaels have some firepower of their own, with 6-10 Henry Sims clogging up the middle. Sims, a Georgetown recruit, outplayed 7-1 Ty Walker over the holidays, and is having a fine season. His matchup down low with Oak Hill's Tiny Gallon should be fun to watch.
Later in the day, St. Benedict's (N.J.) will be taking on DeMatha (Md.) in a battle of northeast powers.
St. Benedict's, fresh off a big win at Madison Square Garden against Rice (NY), features the intimidating frontcourt duo of 6-8 Samardo Samuels and 6-9 Greg Echenique.
DeMatha is coming off a big win of its own, having recently knocking off previously unbeaten Gonzaga (D.C.) in a highly-anticipated league game. Kenny Tate, back from the U.S. Army All-American Game, bolsters a lineup that includes premier guards Naji Hibbert and Josh Selby.
Expect an abundance of college coaches in the gym Sunday, as most teams are off, freeing up coaches to scout all the top talent in attendance.
Monday, Jan. 21
The action concludes on Monday with several big teams on the schedule, including the No. 1 team in MaxPreps National Rankings, the St. Anthony Friars of Jersey City, N.J.
Bob Hurley's undefeated Friars will take on defending Kentucky state champion Scott County. The Cardinals have struggled this year without last year's star Bud Mackey, but have notched some big wins, including one against Hales Franciscan (Ill.) at the City of Palms Classic.
Holy Cross (N.Y.) vs. Archbishop Mitty (Calif.) will start the day. Holy Cross is currently ranked seventh in the MaxPreps National Rankings, while Mitty checks in at No. 4. Each has a superstar (Holy Cross' Sylven Landesberg and Mitty's Drew Gordon) capable of taking the game over.
Another big game on the docket is St. Raymond (N.Y.) taking on California's Taft.
St. Raymond has established itself as one of New York's top teams, led by Darryl "Truck" Bryant and Omari Lawrence.
Taft is led by North Carolina-bound guard Larry Drew. Drew is averaging over 13 points, 8 assists, and 3 rebounds per game. He has led the Toreadors to a 12-2 record; they are also the only team to have beaten powerful Dominguez (Calif.) this year, having done so twice.
MaxPreps will be on hand all weekend. Check back for full coverage of the event.