Talent Scouts Flock To See Super Sophs
By Keith Mills
Sean Mosley of St. Frances, Henry Sims of Mount St. Joseph, Troy Franklin of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Jamar Briscoe of Cardinal Gibbons are having outstanding senior years, and Isaiah Fillmore of John Carroll, Derrious Gilmore of Lake Clifton and Andrew Fitzgerald of Owings Mills headline a strong junior class. But it's Baltimore's sophomores that are turning the heads of both college basketball recruiters and local fans.
Led by Roscoe Smith of Walbrook, Eric Atkins of Mount St. Joe, C.J. Fair of City College and Jonathan Graham of Calvert Hall, the area is loaded with talented 10th graders already receiving a tremendous amount of interest from local and national colleges.
"It's a great class," said Mike Daniel, former coach at Towson Catholic and current coach at City College.
Here's a breakdown of four of the area's super sophomores.
C.J. FAIR, City College
Fair is the 6-foot-8 son of Carl Fair, who played for Charlie Moore at Lake Clifton. The younger Fair reminds Daniel of a young Carmelo Anthony.
"If he had Carmelo's mean streak, that 'I'm not going to get beat' mindset, we'd be talking about him the same way right now," said Daniel, who coached Anthony at Towson Catholic for three years. "But he's very good. He has a great feel for the game. He can do a lot of the same things Carmelo could do when he was that age."
Fair, a major weapon away from the basket, can shoot and put the ball on the floor and go by his defender.
"He's a very tough matchup," said Daniel, who won 320 games and four Catholic League championships in 20 years at Towson Catholic. "Someone is going to get a very good player."
Maryland is one of many schools interested in Fair, who has teamed with fellow sophomore Jordan Lathan and 6-foot-7 James Carmon, an All-State defensive lineman in football, to help the Black Knights win 10 of their first 12 games.
ERIC ATKINS, Mount St. Joseph
Pat Clatchey has coached some outstanding players in his 16 years at Mount St. Joe: Danny Whye, Will Thomas, Brian Johnson, Louis Birdsong, Dino Gregory and now Atkins -- though Atkins is the only one to start as a freshman.
"There was no doubt he could handle it," Clatchey said. "He was out there last year with Henry [Sims] and Dino Gregory, and there was no doubt who was in charge."
Atkins is an extension of his coach on the court, unfazed by the responsibility of being the Gaels' point guard.
"We think alike," Clatchey said. "He knows exactly what I want in certain situations. You never really know how young players are going to react, but from Day 1 he's been just outstanding."
The 6-foot-1 Atkins is thin, yet deceptively strong. While he can shoot from anywhere, it's his lightning-quick first step and driving ability that gives opposing defenses fits. He rarely makes a bad decision and has the maturity of a college senior.
"He's really poised," Clatchey said. "Sometimes you forget he's a 10th grader. He makes all the right decisions."
ROSCOE SMITH, Walbrook
Maryland has already made an offer to the 6-foot-7 swingman Smith, who has turned into a triple-double machine for coach Kelvin Bridgers. In last week's 58-41 win over Forest Park, Smith scored 16 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and blocked 10 shots.
"Roscoe can really play," Daniel said. "He's tough, and he can score."
Smith is the third Division I prospect at Walbrook in the last four years. Velmar Coleman and Rodney Spruill are both now at Towson University after helping the Warriors win the Class 4A state title in 2005.
JONATHAN GRAHAM, Calvert Hall
At 6-foot-8, the son of former Dunbar and Maryland standout Ernie Graham is one of the area's most talented big men. Under first-year coach John Bauersfeld, Jonathan Graham plays quite a bit with his back to the basket, posting up opposing defenders with a quick first step and soft touch around the basket. When he gets to college, his quickness and shooting touch may mean a move outside.
"He can score, and he has great range," Daniel said. "I think he is a big-time player."
It's impossible to argue that. With his dad at courtside for virtually every game, Graham has handled the fame of his last name with a strong work ethic and polished game that make him an extremely attractive college recruit. Maryland is interested in the talented sophomore, as is Georgetown.
"He works hard and he's getting better," said Ernie Graham, Maryland's all-time single game scoring leader (44 points vs. N.C. State in 1978). "I keep telling him hard work is the key to everything."
Along with that foursome, Jason Sharp Jr. of Lake Clifton, Donte Holmes of St. Frances, Justin Jackson of Digital Harbor and Justin Kuntz of Cardinal Gibbons make this year's sophomore class one of the best in years.
"There are so many kids now who play a lot of big games by the time they're freshmen," said Bryan Moorhouse, who played at Cardinal Gibbons, coached under Ray Mullis and eventually took over the Crusaders’ program when Mullis passed away. "AAU and summer leagues. By the time they get [to the high school level] it's not that overwhelming."
GAELS ROLL DESPITE BRISCOE'S 36
While Calvert Hall's Sean Holmes was beating archrival Loyola Blakefield with his dramatic buzzer-beater Sunday, Mount St. Joe was beating its neighborhood rival in one of the best games of the year. Despite 36 points from Cardinal Gibbons senior guard Briscoe, the Gaels beat the Crusaders, 68-63, last Sunday for their 19th win in 21 games.
Clatchey has had more talented teams in his 16 years in Irvington, but this year's Mount St. Joe squad is one of the coach's toughest ever.
The Gaels know how to play and how to win.
Gibbons had won five straight games, including road wins over St. Frances and Loyola, and the team was completely healthy for the first time all year. The Crusaders came out firing behind Briscoe and 6-foot-3 senior Ryan Zepp to grab an early lead.
But Mount St. Joe matched its rival basket for basket in an entertaining first half that featured a couple of ties and three lead changes. The Gaels took control of the game late in the third quarter behind Atkins, whose play justified Clatchey's enormous faith in his young point guard.
"That was really big," said Clatchey, whose record at Mount St. Joe since the Gaels won their first Catholic League title in 2003 is a 142-21. "He sees the whole floor."
The win spoiled a tremendous effort from Briscoe, who has emerged as the unquestioned leader of coach Jeff Cheevers' Crusaders and is one of the top players in the area.
In a league that features Sims, Mosley and Gerrard Sheppard, all dominating seniors with size and strength, the 5-foot-8 Briscoe has been scoring with quickness, toughness and an ability to score from anywhere on the floor.
Against Mount St. Joe, Briscoe made 13 of 16 shots to go over the 1,000-point mark in an outstanding career that included a second team selection to the Baltimore Catholic League All-Star team a year ago.
But even Briscoe's magnificent performance was not enough to lead the Crusaders to the win as Atkins, Justin McCoy and Sims found a way to win again, one week after losing by three to nationally ranked Oak Hill Academy in Springfield, Mass.
Clatchey grew up in southwest Baltimore, competing on the local playgrounds with Quintin Dailey, former Gibbons standout Timmy Coles and Rudy Archer and Kenny Bannister of Southwestern. He attended Mount St. Joe, took over at his alma mater in 1993 and immediately began scouring the local AAU, recreation and CYO leagues for players. Now, because of his team's enormous success the last five years, the players come to Mount St. Joe through word of mouth.
Under coach Gene Neiberlein Sr., the Gaels had long been a Catholic League power. Barry Scroggins and Milt Walker led the way in the late 1960s and early '80s, and when the Catholic League tournament began in 1972, Mount St. Joe, behind Delmar Harrod and Neiberlein's sons Gene Jr., Rob, Chris and Karl, were a threat to win the title every year.
But it wasn't until 2003, behind Keon Lattimore and Thomas, that the Gaels finally broke through, beating Rudy Gay, Will Bowers and Archibishop Spalding in the finals, 49-48. In all they've won four of the last six, and right now they are the team to beat again as the grueling Catholic League heads into the final month of the season.
LAKERS ARE BACK
Once again, Lake Clifton is among the area's premier public school teams, thanks to point guard Gilmore and a balanced attack that has helped the Lakers win 15 of their first 16 games.
Gilmore is a 5-foot-10 junior who runs the Lakers’ offense like Shawnta Rogers did 15 years ago for the late Charlie Moore. Rogers went on to George Washington and is one of the best pure point guards to ever come out of Baltimore. Last week against Edmondson, Gilmore scored 20 points and added 12 assists in the Lakers' win.
He has plenty of options. Cleveland Melvin is the son of Cleveland Melvin Sr., one of the area's top power forwards in the late 1980s. Senior Antoine Allen and Sharp are consistent scorers for coach Herman Harried, one of the area's premier coaches.
Harried was a member of Dunbar's 1984-85 national championship team and played on the Syracuse team that lost to Indiana in the famous 1987 championship game. Like many public school coaches, he has seen the defection of quite a few players to private schools, but his latest team is one of Lake Clifton's best in years.
'THE GAME' WON BY MERCY
Bola Jacqueline Banjo, "B.J." for short, stood at the foul line with nearly 4,000 fans screaming in her ear. At stake wasn't a berth in the NCAA Tournament or a high school state championship, but a victory in what is known is simply as "The Game."
Banjo made the shot and three other free throws down the stretch and scored 26 points as Mercy beat the Institute of Notre Dame in the 2002 version of "The Game." Three years later Chandrea Jones drove through, around and sometimes over the Mercy defense as the Indians won.
Jones went on to help Odessa College win last year's Junior College National Championship and is now a junior at Syracuse. Banjo went on to East Tennessee State, where she led the Bucaneers in scoring in 2005 and was named to the All-Atlantic Sun Conference first team.
Both are two of the notable alumnae of “The Game,” which celebrated its 42nd anniversary last Friday night before 3,500 fans at the Towson Center. And it is clearly more than just a game. Students from both schools dress in IND blue and Mercy red, carrying signs and screaming virtually the entire game while alumnae come back to celebrate what is one of the highlights of the high school basketball season.
Mercy coach Mary Ella Marion is a member of the Loyola College Hall of Fame. She played in this game back in the mid-'70s and now so has her daughter. Sophomore Maggie Marion hit the first shot of the game last Friday and helped the Magic win, 44-28, and raise their record to 15-3.
Issue 3.5: January 31, 2008