MYRTLE BEACH | According to the analysts, South Carolina landed the state’s best boys and girls basketball prospects in the Class of 2011.
The duo went out and proved the validity in those lofty rankings in Saturday’s Carolinas All-Star Basketball Classic.
Goose Creek forward Aleighsa Welch, the first instate player to sign with Dawn Staley, earned MVP honors and led South Carolina to a 64-52 win over the Tar Heels.
J.L. Mann’s Damien Leonard, a sharpshooting guard, then scored 35 points to lead the Sandlappers to an 87-84 victory in the boys game.
They are both key players moving forward for both the men’s and women’s programs at USC. Leonard should give the team a perimeter threat, and Welch will immediately infuse athleticism into the lineup.
Leonard broke the all-star game record for points and 3-pointers (eight). He won the game with a 3 in the game’s final five seconds, taking a loose ball and nailing a pivotal jumper from the elbow.
“I told [point guard Eric Washington] I was going to fake to the basket and come back to the corner, but he lost the ball, so I had to go get it and shoot the 3,” Leonard said. “I knew right when I shot it that it was going to go in.”
Just about everything else seemed to for Leonard in the second half. He was the only player in double figures in the first half, scoring 15 points on 4-for-11 shooting. He was 7-of-14 after halftime, hitting 6-of-9 3-point attempts.
The Sandlappers needed every one of his points. Despite leading 51-38 at halftime, the Tar Heels would eventually take the lead midway through the second half before Leonard’s heroics won the game for South Carolina. He was named the game’s MVP.
Brookland-Cayce’s Jonathan Rumph had 12 points and eight rebounds and Irmo’s Jeremy Clinkscales scored six points for South Carolina.
Showing off her inside-outside abilities, Welch scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds in a team-high 30 minutes, shooting 4-for-11 from the field. A post player throughout much of her career at Goose Creek, it was one of Welch’s first chances to prove her worth on the wing, a role she’ll fill with the Gamecocks.
“We gelled as a team,” Welch said. “That’s not an easy task to do. Of course, it’s an all-star game, so people want to do their own thing, but I think we played good team ball. It was a really great experience, and I enjoyed myself.”
Hartsville’s Jasmine Phillips also had 10 points for South Carolina. Spring Valley’s Briana Robinson added five points and Eau Claire’s Eboni Ross had four points and eight rebounds in the victory. The Tar Heels were led by 15 points from UNC signee Danielle Butts.
Scott’s Branch football and basketball standout Jerell Adams, a USC football signee, had originally committed to play in the event but pulled out due to a scheduling conflict, Scott's Branch coach Leonard Johnson said.