They say if you want to beat the best, you have to play the best and that was true for the first 2 years of Penny Hardaway’s regime at East. They were the hunters he said in a recent interview and now they have become the hunted. The #1 team in the country has looked every bit like the team that many feared coming into the season especially the last few games. Now, they are on a collision course with some of the country’s best teams starting today with an always loaded City of Palms field.
Last year, the Mustangs lost to Montverde w/RJ Barrett and others in the championship game but this year, the Florida based team decided to skip it for the Iolani Classic in Hawaii. East will play against Lakewood Ranch at 5:15 Florida time and 4:15 CST time for the Memphis area. It’s a game that they shouldn’t have to much trouble with but that’s when it’s gets interesting.
Thursday, they could face an Oak Ridge teams that features a top 25 player in Emmitt Willams who came over from IMG last year, former Memphis target, Antwaan Jones and Damon Harge who at one time was one of the bigger names in youth basketball. In the elite 8 game, they could see Wesleyan Christian with 2 Virginia Tech commits, Keyshaun and Kobe Langley, Jaylen Hoard a Wake Forrest commit and Aaron Wiggins, a Maryland signee. Simeon with Talen Horton who committed to Iowa State and Orlando Christian with Nassir Little who will be Tarheel next year at Carolina and future Buffalo pg, Ronald Segu will also be standing in the way of East . So if your counting, that’s 10 division 1 commits, 2 top 25 players in their respective classes and one top 5 player in the country by Rivals (Little)
I didn’t even mention the other side of the bracket, that’s just their side and players who they could face. The other side includes a top 10 junior in the country, Cole Anthony (Archbishop), 7’1 Moses Brown, a senior who’s top 20 in the country by everyone, 6’8 Trendon Watford, ( Mountainbrook HS-#10 ESPN), and Vernon Carey, a 6’11 PF/C ( University School-#1 by Rivals in 2019 and #2 by ESPN). Scottie Barnes a 6’7 wing ( University School Top 10 by Rivals and Scout) and Louis King, a top 25 who will be attending Oregon next year(Hudson Catholic) are both dynamic offensively and capable 20 point scorers . Catholic also has one of the best point guards in the country in Jahvon Quinerly, a former Arizona commit who is back on the market now and Luther Muhammad who will attend Ohio State. Those 3 players have been playing together since 6th grade that I know of so they have great chemistry.
So again, if you’re counting hopefully you realize by now that this tournament is loaded with studs, that’s 14 high major division 1 players on that side. For East, this will be their biggest test yet and while they have a had a few so far, this will be the hardest test to date. Keys for them will be their experience having played in it last year, they kind of know what to expect and they must rely on the heels of their leaders. I think their bench might determine a game there, which one, I don’t know but I can guarantee, it will be needed in a game there.
Alex Lomax has been as good as he’s ever been the last 2 games racking up assist numbers, getting in the lane at will and getting his team involved and that will need to continue. Wiseman and Chandler Lawson will be matched up with some heavy hitters but the position they must win every game there is that pg position. Malcolm Dandridge must continue his play as of late. Come out from the jump aggressive and play to his strengths. He must be aggressive on the boards in opportunities to score close through tip dunks, put backs and over the shoulder. Ryan Boyce has been knocking the 3 down at a good clip, he must continue to thrive in catch shoot opportunities but also use his athleticism on the glass as well.
The chance to do something special starts for them in a few hours but it’s also a chance to put the stamp on their #1 status for those who may not believe in them nationally just yet.