The 2013 SCISA basketball tournament in Sumter will be remembered as being the center of the South Carolina basketball universe last weekend, based the ever-improving talent level in the organization and the number of high-profile college coaches who dropped in to watch two of the top junior girls basketball players in the land – Heathwood Hall’s A’ja Wilson and Northwood Academy’s Amber Campbell.
Wilson is ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2014, according to ESPN’s HoopGurlz Super 60.
The parade of big-time coaches included UConn’s Geno Auriemma, North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell and South Carolina’s Dawn Staley. Wilson did not disappoint with a 33-point game in a semifinal win over Northwood and 30-point performance in the championship game loss to Pinewood Prep.
Auriemma, according to sources close to the Chargers, made the trip primarily to watch Campbell, who is not in the ESPN Top 60 as was previously reported.
On the boys side, Cardinal Newman’s Austin Ajukwa will head to Clemson better prepared to make an immediate impact after heeding the forceful advice of new head coach David Ross to become more of a playmaker than a scorer. Ross knows something about playing at the next level. He was served as team captain at South Carolina under Eddie Fogler.
Ajukwa still got his points while staying patient within the Cardinals structured offensive system. He carried the team to a semifinal win over Porter-Gaud by scoring 27 of his 34 points in the second, 18 in a decisive fourth quarter surge that broke open a close game. Ajukwa had 23 points in the championship romp over Midlands rival Hammond.
The CN mentor was highly complimentary of the role players around Ajukwa, including seniors Jacob August and Zakki Parker, junior Joe Armstrong and sophomore John Ragin, who Ross called “the glue of the team because he holds things together for us.”
Armstrong, Ragin, Stephone Brown and D.J. Halfacre will be the veteran building blocks next season. Armstrong emerged as a solid scoring threat in the low post when Ajukwa was out of the lineup with an injury for a few weeks in December. Ragin’s offense picked up as the season progressed, and he will be expected to score more next season.
Ross sounded like an Oscar winner in a post-tournament interview.
“I’m a lawyer, not a teacher, so I have to thank my firm (McAngus, Goudelock and Courie LLC) for affording me the flexibility to pursue this opportunity,” he said.
“But I really have one person to thank the most, and that’s my wife Kelley. She held the family together for the last six months. Without her support I certainly would not have been able to give the job the commitment it deserved.”
Looking ahead to next season, Cardinal Newman will be a factor, of course, but Hammond should be the team to beat, and the Heathwood Hall girls have one more chance to get it done with Wilson in the fold.
Hammond made a big jump in Mark McClam’s second year, and returns the bulk of the team that went 22-5. The Skyhawks have a core the core of proven standouts in Seventh Woods, Xavier McDaniel and Spencer Carlson, and will welcome back talented Doak Fisher who missed all of this season with an injury.
Heathwood Hall brings back all five starters, while Pinewood Prep graduates all five starters. Do the math. The Highlanders and Northwood Academy figure to be the prime teams, with on-the-rise Hammond possibly in the conversation, too.