Strolling through the sports section of his local bookstore two weeks ago, St. Mary's All-America guard Jerryd Bayless was casually eyeing various subjects before he came across the Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty.
"I was like damn, I didn't know there was a book about high schools like this," said Bayless, an Arizona signee who has been selected to play in the Jordan Brand All-American game as well as the Nike Hoop Summit this spring. "After I looked at that book I knew how good they were going to be, and that they were going to come out fighting."
That Bob Hurley's St. Anthony team, ranked No. 14 in the nation, came out prepared and knowing the book on St. Mary's game plan on Saturday afternoon may be an understatement. Rotating six guards including four juniors who will someday play point guard at the Division I level. as well as a senior shooter named Miles Beatty who has already inked with George Washington, the Friars proved to be inhospitable hosts to Bayless and company, as they nearly doubled a 44-28 halftime lead into an 83-54 final score.
"They were running double team and a box-and-one at me," said Bayless, who scored 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from the foul line. "I take it as a compliment, but I can't be happy about it because they killed us."
Looking to capitalize on the opportunity to showcase Bayless's high level of play across the country, the Knights raised their level of scheduling, but also, in turn, saw their national reputation razed by quality teams who did not just have a senior star, but a supporting cast around him. In all, St. Mary's will head back to regional play in the state tournament next Wednesday with a 14-12 overall record that includes a 1-7 mark against traditional powers that they traveled to Massachusetts, Florida, and New Jersey to face in Duncanville (Texas), Arlington Country Day (Fla.), Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), Lincoln (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Hillhouse (New Haven, Conn.), and American Christian (Astor, Pa.). In state against their normal competition they are 13-5.
"I think it benefits us with four freshmen and a sophomore in the rotation to be exposed to these teams," St. Mary's coach David Lopez said. "Before this trip I thought we were in good shape. This sets us back a few steps."
St. Anthony, an established name under Hurley, who has won 893 games at the small Jersey City Catholic school, has seen and challenged the new higher tier teams each year, taking on name after name whether it be in their North Jersey backyard or looking to brawl with national powers.
"Defense is one of the things that our team has done well and worked hard on," St. Anthony guard Mike Rosario, who scored 22 points on seven of 12 field goals. "Names don't matter to us, and we don't care who does the stopping as long as we work together."
While the current state of talent does not pair Bayless with a wing man to complement his game, the Arizona signee, who played in a game at the Wildcats' McKale Center in December, will not have to wait long to run with current 'Zona players like Chase Budinger, another Arizona native.
"Jerryd is certainly a gym rat always looking for the best competition whether it be his summer team or this year the school team traveling across the country to face top caliber," said Arizona coach Lute Olson via phone. "We're a program that plays guys right away and Jerryd is better than Mike Bibby was in athleticism and defensively at this stage."
With 0.4 seconds remaining on the game clock and the score tied at 72-72, Oak Hill Academy junior point guard Brandon Jennings was fouled in mid-air by American Christian's Michael Glover as the forward contested Jennings's shot. The roller coaster finish did not end there as Jennings missed the first free throw attempt before making the second one. "Usually we're a good free throw shooting team, but we missed four down the stretch that was uncharacteristic," Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said.
"After I missed the first I just knew I was going to hit the second," said Jennings, who scored 15 points.
Also in the game, American Christian guard Tyreke Evans scored 23 points on nine of 20 shooting, as well as giving out seven assists and turning the ball over seven times. On one play in the second quarter, though, Evans made a hard dribble to his right, and crossed back between his legs, making Duke signee and Oak Hill shooting guard Nolan Smith fall to one knee and place a hand on the ground for balance.
Going up against the nation's No. 2-ranked team in St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.), Lincoln sophomore sharpshooter Lance Stephenson, 16, went off for 42 points, shooting mostly pull up jump shots and slicing to the basket when available. Included in his onslaught were five three-pointers and 17 of 23 shooting from the field before he was taken out from the game with less than a minute left as his team went on to lose 91-74.
"I'm just going out there trying to prove to everyone that I am the greatest," Stephenson said.
If this year's recruiting is any indication, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon will be continuing the bullying tradition of his Big East program in the near future. Schenley High (Pittsburgh) senior forward DeJuan Blair scored 30 points and collected 17 rebounds in Schenley's upset of DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.), 85-74. Guarding Blair for most of the game was Kenny Tate, considered by many to be a top-five player in the football recruiting class of 2008.
"I know he plays football, and he's a good basketball player, but I'm a 6-foot-8, 250-pound house coming at him," Blair said.