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Like Cliff: Memorable Individual Performances

Kevin Love of Lake Oswego, Ore. got a standing ovation from a partisan Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calf.) crowd after he led the Lakers to a 61-52 victory over the Monarchs with 36 points and 15 rebounds. Photo: Scott Kurtz

Kevin Love of Lake Oswego, Ore. got a standing ovation from a partisan Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calf.) crowd after he led the Lakers to a 61-52 victory over the Monarchs with 36 points and 15 rebounds. Photo: Scott Kurtz

Power forward Cliff Alexander put together a memorable performance to help Curie (Chicago) knock off the No. 1 team in the Student Sports FAB 50 over MLK weekend. It was the best solo performance on a big stage in recent memory. Naturally, we dug in our memory bank and archives for the other top individual performances against a top-ranked team since the turn of the century.

Louis Williams, South Gwinnett (Snellville, Ga.) vs. No. 1 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), January 2005.

Similar to Cliff Alexander’s recent performance, Williams performance came over MLK weekend at the Martin Luther King Classic in Greensboro, N.C. Southwest Gwinnett was playing in its third game in four days covering over 1,000 miles and had to overcome jet lag, a talented Oak Hill team featuring Ty Lawson (team MVP), Jamont Gordon (All-American) and Kevin Durant (All-American), not to mention a 12-point deficit, to pull out a 82-60 victory.

The Comets’ All-American guard scored a game-high 32 points. It was quite an impressive MLK Monday performance considering South Gwinnett was coming off a Saturday 88-79 double overtime loss to Monta Ellis and his team at Lanier (Jackson, Miss.) at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.

Williams made 12 of 14 free throws for the Comets in the win over Oak Hill and also got major help from backcourt mate Mike Mercer, who netted 22 points for the defending Georgia Class 5A state champions.

South Gwinnett outscored a team with nine eventual Division I players 51-31 in the second have to improve to 16-2. It was the second loss of the season for Oak Hill, which bounced back to win the rest of its game and finish No. 2 in the Student Sports FAB 50 behind Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Williams, the Student Sports National Junior of the Year in 2003-04, had 34 points in the loss to Lanier before 6,000 fans and 30 NBA scouts. Ellis, who would go on to be named EA SPORTS Mr. Basketball USA over Williams and junior Greg Oden, finished with 46 points. Both Williams and Ellis entered the NBA Draft in the final season before the “One-and-Done” rule was put into affect the by NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that summer.

Kevin Durant, Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) vs. No. 2 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), March 2006.

It was a game that put to rest a rankings debate that would have raged on until this day. It will go down as one of the greatest high school games in the Washington, D.C. area — and maybe anywhere.

Oak Hill Academy came into the game at Coolidge High in D.C. ranked behind Lawrence North (Indianapolis, Ind.) in the FAB 50 and riding a 56-game winning streak. The Warriors had won a school-record 40 games that season (since broken) and were looking to close out the season 41-0. The game featured future NBA players on both sides such as Oak Hill’s Ty Lawson and Mike Beasley and Montrose’s Durant and Greivis Vasquez. Eight of the 10 starters hailed from the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area and that adds to its lore.

In the end, the great rankings debate over who was No. 1 never happened, as junior Adrian Bowie of Montrose grabbed an offensive rebound and banked in the game-winning field goal as time expired to lift his team to a dramatic 74-72 win. Bowie scored the game’s final six points to help the Mustangs overcome a 16-point fourth quarter deficit.

After the game, the coaches, players and fans knew they were part of something special that would be remembered for a long time.

Bowie was the unsung hero, but Montrose would have never been in position to stay close without Durant, who transferred from Oak Hill after his junior season to a school closer to his hometown. The Texas recruit scored 16 of his game-high 31 points in the first half. Down the stretch, he scored eight consecutive points to cut the Mustangs’ deficit to five points before Bowie went to work.

Lawson, one of the starters originally from the region, dominated at times for Oak Hill. He finished with 26 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds. For Oak Hill, 67 of their points were produced by D. C. area players.

Kevin Love, Lake Oswego (Lake Oswego, Ore.) vs. No. 9 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), February 2007.

Mater Dei really wasn’t in the running for the Student Sports FAB 50 mythical national title, but at NIKE Extravaganza XII it was supposed to be a celebration of the opening of its new 18 million dollar on-campus gymnasium. What better way to break in the new gym than with a win over the first nationally-ranked opponent Mater Dei faced in its new home?

It didn’t happen that way because Kevin Love, the nation’s top post player that year, put on a virtuoso performance in a 61-52 victory over the Monarchs.

He was the Lakers’ only player to score in double figures with 36 points on 14 of 22 shooting from the field. Love did more than just score, however, as he set the tone defensively for a team that upped its record to 17-1. Love blocked three shots and added 15 rebounds. Similar to Alexander last weekend, numbers don’t justify Love’s impact on the outcome of the game. He frustrated and intimidated any defender who tried to stop him from getting to where he needed to be on the court.

Not only did Love play above expectations in front of a pro-Mater Dei crowd, he actually put on a performance impressive enough that the crowd started to cheer his every move as the game went on.

“I could definitely feel the crowd turning around (for us) in the second half,” Love told Student Sports.

With 15 seconds remaining, Love received a standing ovation after being removed from the game.

Since then, Mater Dei, currently unbeaten and No. 4 in this year’s FAB 50, has only lost one other home game. It came in the 2009 SoCal regionals against Senardo Sidney and Fairfax (Los Angeles).

LeBron James, St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron, Ohio) vs. No. 1 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), January 2001.

Those who followed youth and high school basketball in the Midwest might have heard about him or even saw him when he led the Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars to a runner-up finish at the AAU U14 Nationals in Orlando, Fla., but the buzz surrounding LeBron James still wasn’t mainstream. That changed when his team faced the nation’s No. 1 ranked team at the American Family Insurance National Hoop Classic in Columbus, Ohio.

At the time James was a 6-foot-6 sophomore, and most of his teammates were sophomores, too. Oak Hill Academy was the standard-bearer of high-level high school basketball and nobody who have been surprised if the Irish got blown out.

That didn’t happen, as Oak Hill really couldn’t slow James down. SV-SM took a 42-36 halftime lead and went up 10 before Oak Hill went on a 20-8 run to take a 62-60 lead at the end of the third quarter. The teams went back and fourth in the final period, with James twice tying the game late on a 3-pointer and a long jumper. The outcome wasn’t decided until James missed an off-balance 3-pointer in the final seconds. Final score: Oak Hill 79, St. Vincent-St. Mary 78.

Six-foot-3 Billy Edelin was the star for Oak Hill, finishing with 29 points and making all 12 of his shots from the field. James, however, was the best player on the floor and that was a surprise to some — but not to the locals who knew this kid was special. James finished with 33 points on 13-of-27 shots, including 5-of-10 3-pointers.

Clark Francis of the Hoop Scoop was on hand and had this to say about James:

“Last night it was fun to watch him battle Oak Hill with his quickness, finesse, and tremendous understanding of the game. No, he’s not the best sophomore in high school we’ve ever seen, but he’s right up there, along with players like Shawn Kemp, Felipe Lopez, Tony Kimbro, Chris Burgess, Stephon Marbury, and Dajuan Wagner.”

Oak Hill finished 33-0 and ranked No. 1 in the FAB 50. For SV-SM, it was its only loss in a 26-1 season. The Irish finished No. 3 — and a star was born.

Cliff Alexander, Curie (Chicago) vs. No. 1 Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.), January 2014

Most of our readers know what Alexander did on Monday (click here for a recap), but we wanted to break down what his performance means.

Individually, it could help him in the Mr. Basketball USA race the next time the Tracker is updated, which is scheduled for next week. Alexander was already No. 2 in the balloting behind Emmanuel Mudiay, but only garnered one first place vote among the 10-man panel in the last go around.

Still, the race for Mr. Basketball USA won’t be decided until after the McDonald’s Game at its practices, so things can change between now and then. Still, there is no denying Alexander made a lasting impression.

Should Alexander play in the NBA and one or two of Montverde’s best players such as Ben Simmons make it, it will make Alexander’s performance that much more memorable. But as far as making it more meaningful, that will be tied to team success.

The win catapulted Curie to the No. 1 spot in this week’s FAB 50, but should it falter his performance may have less meaning down the line. It will also gain in significance if Montverde Academy keeps winning, too. It the Eagles do not lose another game and win the Dick’s Sporting Goods National Tournament, basketball fans will remember Alexander’s performance for a long time.

Similar to LeBron against Oak Hill, that performance is more meaningful since the Warriors didn’t lose another game and because he has gone on to star in the NBA.


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