Aug 25th, 2007 by bobbyciafardini
By Bobby Ciafardini
NEW YORK – It takes one to know one.
And current Houston Rocket playmaker and New York City streetball legend Rafer “Skip to My Lou” Alston knows a pro when he sees one. Alston played the role of scout Friday night at his old stomping grounds – Rucker Park – as the head coach for the Orange Squad in the second annual Boost Mobile Elite 24 Hoops Classic.
The Orange Squad, fittingly named “Skip to My Lou,” lost 169-164 to the White Squad, which was named in honor of Rucker legend Earl “The Goat” Manigault. Nevertheless, Alston was on-point with his analysis, singling out Ohio State-bound B.J. Mullens, a 7-foot-1 center, early in the game. “That kid can play,” Alston told InsideHoops.com from the sidelines during the first half, referring to Mullens, who dropped 14 points in the opening two quarters for Skip to My Lou and the Orange Squad. “He’s special. He’s got a chance to play at the next level.”
Alston felt the same about high school freshman LaQuinton Ross, a 6-foot-6 small forward from Callaway in Jackson, Miss. Ross was the youngest player participating in the game that brought together 24 of the country’s top juniors, seniors and soon-to-be college freshman, regardless of grade or sneaker affiliation.
Ross finished with 10 points in the loss. Mullens added 18.
But Alston saved his highest praise for star point guard Tyreke Evans and Brooklyn’s own shooting guard Lance “Sir Lance a Lot” Stephenson. “Lance has been doing his thing at EBC and all around the city against the big boys. This is nothing for him,” Alston added. “Tyreke is equally dangerous and plays up. If they keep working hard, you’ll see them at the next level someday.”
Stephenson, a Lincoln High School star, led all scorers with 38. He shot 17-for-22 from the field, including 4-for-5 from behind the arc. He also grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists en route to being named co-MVP for the Orange Squad along with UCLA-bound Jrue Holiday. Holiday went 9-for-10 from the field and a perfect 3-for-3 from 3-point land, finishing with 24 points in a losing effort.
Evans paced the White Squad offensively, scoring 26 to tie DeMar DeRozan for the team lead. Evans, a 6-foot-4 guard from American Christian in Aston, PA., spent most of the evening on the wing, teaming with fellow White Squad co-MVP Brandon Jennings in an explosive backcourt. Jennings, an Oak Hill Academy point guard who’s heading to Arizona, dropped an astounding 23 assists in the win, while also contributing 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
It seemed like Jennings was firing no-look passes and alley-oops all night long. From bounce passes to floaters to line drives off the backboard, Jennings stole the show through most of the game until Stephenson began to go one-on-one in the second half, destroying ever opponent he faced. Stephenson scored 14 in the first half and 24 in the final two quarters, but Jennings, Evans and the White Squad put the finishing touches on one of the highest scoring high school all-star games in history by tightening up defensively in the last quarter.
“Why are you guys keeping stats,” Alston joked with press row, which included a host of statisticians with ESPN in the house televising the game. “This is a nonsense game. It’s all about scoring and putting on a show.”
And the prep stars certainly did that. In front of a packed house that included everybody from rapper Fat Joe to legendary college coach Jerry Tarkanian and Golden State star Baron Davis, who coached the White Squad, the prep stars delighted the crowd bucket after bucket.
When word spread on the street that the nation’s 24 best young hoopsters were playing in the park, a line gathered around the block. The park quickly filled to capacity and security was forced to turn spectators away. Many decided to watch the game – as best they could – from the street outside. Even media and VIP guests struggled to get into the park with the large crowds. “This is crazy,” said Bobbito Garcia, the announcer for the game. “This is like old school Rucker when the legends would come out.”
Garcia, a multi-talented performer who hosts MSG’s hit show “Summerball” later added: “This is also got to be one of the highest scoring games for a team of prep stars. This has been great. Even better than last year.”
Stephenson agreed. “I think everyone came to play,” he said. “I played last year and I was happy to be part of it again this year. The players did a good job. We showed what kind of talent we have.”
Stephenson had no trouble playing to the crowd. He nailed some deep NBA 3-pointers and cleared it out on several occasions to go one-on-one against his defender. He finished strong on several attacks of the rim and even showed some finesse with a pair of late scoop shoots and up-and-under moves around the basket.
“I’m used to the Rucker,” Stephenson explained of his performance. “I’ve been playing at the Rucker for four years. I’m just happy that we played as a team in the second half and gave it our best shot. We realized in the closing minutes that the game was slipping away and we had some fun. I didn’t expect this much competition in the game, but I think all the players involved wanted to win and show the fans that we’re for real. We’re the future.”
Mullens was in awe of Rucker Park, but his game didn’t reflect it. “This is my first time in New York,” he said after the game. “It’s been a great experience. It’s special to come here and play in such an historic place. I’m honored to be part of the Elite 24.”
Evans echoed similar thoughts on the game. “The crowd comes to see the young fellas show what they can do,” he said. “We put on a show and it was a good time for everybody, from the players to the coaches to the fans. It’s great to follow in the footsteps of legends like Dr. J (Julius Erving) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who once called Rucker home.”