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December 23, 2012

Johnson puts on MVP performance

MORE: Intense play highlights final in Florida

LAS VEGAS -- The final day of the inaugural Tarkanian Classic on the campus of Bishop Gorman was a strong one. In what some had speculated would be a down year for traditional power Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, Gary McKnight's Monarchs rolled through Sin City and took out hosting Bishop Gorman in the championship game. Tournament MVP Stanley Johnson was one of several standouts.

Johnson comes up big in title game

It was a great weekend for Johnson, a Mater Dei junior. The 6-foot-6 five-star small forward, who ranks No. 14 nationally in the 2014 Rivals150, helped his squad win the championship and earned MVP honors.

After playing more of a supporting role during his first two years of high school, Johnson is in a position where he is a primary option. He's responded well, and he did a little bit of everything in Las Vegas. He used his strength to play around the rim and dominate on the glass, finished in transition, served as the primary ball handler at times and made just enough jumpers to keep defenders honest.

What was most noticeable, though, was the fiery attitude and physical edge with which Johnson played. In many ways, his performance was reminiscent of the way Ron Artest played as a high schooler.

Johnson said he will consider taking some spring visits and mentioned Kentucky and "the Pac-12" as those recruiting him the most.

Cunningham exudes toughness

Ask Josh Cunningham what his role is for Chicago (Ill.) Morgan Park and his answer is simple.

"Rebound, rebound, rebound, rebound, rebound."

The 6-foot-7 junior, who ranks No. 139 in his class, did plenty of that. Often playing out of position at center, the future small forward also did a lot of other things.

Cunningham defended guys bigger than him. He scored in the lane, finished above the rim on putbacks and knocked down short jumpers. He can run the floor, has a frame that will fill out and, most of all, he's as tough a player as you will find on a basketball court.

Oklahoma has been making a strong move with him, and DePaul, Nebraska and Michigan State have been showing more interest.

Our Savior duo one to watch

Centereach (N.Y.) Our Savior doesn't have a ton of experience, but it has plenty of talent. While several guys stood out at times on Friday and Saturday, the play of 2015 four-star big man Cheick Diallo and freshman Kassoum Yakwe was a major storyline for the Pioneers.

After seeing Diallo in the summer, we saw enough from the 6-foot-9 power forward as a shot blocker, rebounder and guy who could run the floor to give him that early four-star status. All of those qualities still exist in his game, but he's doing much more. For instance, he doesn't just run the floor, he sprints rim to rim on every possession and is as fast as any big man in the country. He has good touch on jump hooks, has a nice little up-and-under move and plays with a high-revving motor.

A 6-foot-7 freshman who is a lefty, Yakwe is probably more of a power forward right now. But he looks to have legitimate skills and the body type and athleticism to one day make a move to the wing. Or, if he keeps growing, he's a really dangerous four man who can play in space. Yakwe gets tremendous elevation on his jumper, and when you combine that with his high release point, he can get it off over anybody. He's not the thickest kid around, but he plays with zero fear around the rim and is a highly active rebounder.

St. John's, Connecticut, Providence, Cincinnati and others are aware of the duo, and many more should be following.

Championship day tip-ins

Give Elijah Brown a lot of credit. Not only can the 6-foot-3 shooting guard play, but he's got a pretty high level of mental toughness. As most people know, the unsigned senior from Mater Dei is the son of former Lakers and Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown, and the Bishop Gorman student section was ruthless in taunting him. Brown never got rattled and responded by giving out ice-cold buckets. He shoots with range, can get to the rim and is likely the top unsigned guard prospect on the West Coast. St. Mary's and Butler continue to be the most active schools in his recruitment, but others are finding out and Vanderbilt is among the most recent to get involved.

If Brown isn't the top unsigned shooting guard on the West Coast, Rashad Muhammad may have turned himself into that guy. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard showed again that his play as a senior is no fluke. He can bomb away from deep, is much better at creating off the dribble and plays with loads of confidence. He finally got his first scholarship offer from Utah State and mentioned Nevada, Cal State Fullerton and Northern Arizona among others. More are going to be following soon, and Muhammad has a nice perspective on things. He said he had only himself to blame for a lack of offers. He said that for a while his work ethic and commitment to hoops weren't up to snuff and that he had to reevaluate his approach and prove to schools that he has the work ethic necessary. So far, so good.

Keep an eye out for El Cajon (Calif.) Foothills freshman T.J. Leaf. A 6-foot-7 power forward, Leaf is highly skilled and has a game that is advanced for a player his age. He can shoot to the 3-point line, is an instinctive rebounder, passes well and plays a complete game on both ends of the floor. With plenty of growing left to do, he should be a no-brainer for West Coast high majors to start keeping tabs on.

Morgan Park is loaded with talent in addition to Cunningham, and senior Rivals150 guards Billy Garrett and Kyle Davis were good again on Saturday. Junior wing Lamont Walker used his athleticism to impress. But there are also three young guys whom we need to keep an eye on for Nick Irvin's crew. Sophomore shooting guard Kain Harris has bounce, is a confident shooter and has a great frame. Freshmen Alonzo Chatman and Charles Moore had plenty of moments, too. Chatman is a 6-foot-6 combo forward with high-level athleticism and a great motor, while Moor is an entertaining 5-foot-7 point guard who is a dangerous shooter from deep and a crafty ball handler and passer.

He has a lot of work to do to tap into his potential, but after watching him play again in Las Vegas we are going to elevate Jonathan Ross to four-star status in the class of 2015. The 6-foot-8 forward from Long Beach (Calif.) St. Anthony is a high-level athlete with good length and activity level around the rim. Looks like he should develop nicely as a midrange jump shooter, and he's got a body that will fill out. He'll need to be more consistent, but the tools to be a high-major player are there.

Finally, San Diego State signee Dakarai Allen will eventually have a lot more help at Sacramento (Calif.) Sheldon. Fellow Aztecs commit D'erryl Williams will get healthy, and Washington signee Darin Johnson will get eligible after sitting out due to transfer rules. In the meantime, the four-star small forward is doing all he can to help his squad. Allen was good on Saturday, scoring a day-high 36 points and handling the lion's share of the ball-handling duties. His length and athleticism have always made him a good defender, and he continues to evolve as a defender while looking more polished and confident on the offensive end.

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