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October 24, 2007

NSTC: Taft Ahead of the Pack

The 2007 NIKE SPARQ Team Challenge (NSTC) has more than lived up to its billing, as the tour has challenged some of the best basketball teams and individual players in the country to compete for the highest SPARQ Rating. Last week, Norcross (GA) High set the bar high with a 80.01 Team SPARQ Rating, but a talented team from California's talent-laden L.A. City Section bettered their Southern comrades this week with a stellar 81.25.

Taft High in Woodland Hills is known for producing athletes all across the board, including New York Giants rookie receiver Steve Smith, 1992 400-meter Olympic Gold Medalist Quincy Watts and Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Farmar. During the 2003-2004 season, Farmar led the Toreadors to a 28-4 record and an improbable win in the L.A. City Section title game, but this rapidly approaching season head coach Derrick Taylor could field his best team yet. With five returning starters and eight of his top 10 players back, Taylor's club is not only deep but also extremely athletic as they displayed when the West NSTC truck rolled through Woodland Hills.

On Tuesday Taft topped the 80.01 benchmark set by the Norcross Blue Devils as the top five SPARQ Tested athletes on the Toreadors' team produced a cumulative average of 81.25. Taft's Team SPARQ Rating* is the highest boys team average on the NSTC tour so far this year and Taylor hopes it just the beginning of a memorable 2007-2008 season for his program.

6-foot-6 senior Eugene Phelps led the way for Taft with a 87.56 SPARQ Rating, one of the top five individual marks on the tour thus far. The Long Beach State commit's individual testing marks that made up his individual SPARQ Rating included a 5.47-second average during the Agility Cone Drill, a 3.01 20-meter dash, a 33.6 inch vertical jump, a three-kilogram Power Ball toss of 66 feet and a score of 63 on the 30-second Endurance Jump test. Point guard Larry Drew Jr. also showed some of the athleticism that will likely make him a three-time all-city selection this season. The 6-foot University of North Carolina commit and the son of former NBA guard Larry Drew Sr. recorded a 5.41-second average during the Agility Cone Drill, ran a 2.90 20-meter dash, recorded a 33.8 inch vertical jump, tossed a three-kilogram Power Ball 63 feet and had an excellent score of 70 on the 30-second Endurance Jump test for an overall SPARQ Rating 81.15.

In all, Taft had eight players record SPARQ Ratings that fall into the "elite" percentile of the athletic assessment test that has been conducted on over 2,800 basketball players throughout the country. 6-foot-5 Seth Fowler also had a rating over 80.00, as his 80.25 included an excellent 36.2 inch vertical jump. 6-foot-2 junior Justin Hawkins is arguably the top defensive guard on the West Coast and it should come as no surprise that his 79.82 SPARQ Rating included a cat-quick 5.25-second average during the Agility Cone Drill. Taft's inside presence, 6-foot-5 inch Terran Carter, heaved the three-kilogram Power Ball 69 feet, one of the top 10 marks on the tour so far.

In that memorable 2004 city final, Farmar scored 29 points and secured the city title by nailing four free throws down the stretch in Taft's 64-60 upset win over Fairfax of Los Angeles. Fairfax, however, rebounded to win the California Div. I state title and will be gunning for its third state title in five seasons after winning it all again last season. The NSTC West truck rolled through Melrose Avenue last Friday and SPARQ Tested the Lions and it's no surprise Harvey Kitani's program tested extremely well.

Leading the pack of Lions was junior Renardo Sidney, the top newcomer to a program that returns four of its top seven players from last year's championship club. The Mississippi native and Lakewood of Artesia transplant helped the Pioneers win the CIF Div. III title this year and his addition to an already strong unit ensures the Lions will hold a high spot in the Rivals.com Preseason FAB 50 National Rankings set to be released next week.

The 6-foot-9 Sidney, the No. 1 national junior prospect according to StudentSportsBasketball.com and Rivals.com, recorded the team's highest SPARQ Rating and a top 10 national score, a 86.18 which included a 6.69-second average during the Agility Cone Drill, a 3.11 20-meter dash, a 33.1 inch vertical jump, a three-kilogram Power Ball toss of 71 feet and a score of 65 on the 30-second Endurance Jump. Fairfax's 79.67 team score also included the 80.26 SPARQ Rating of veteran Chris Solomon, a 6-foot-2 senior guard whose individual rating included an excellent 5.69-second average during the Agility Cone Drill. Junior Lance Bailey hopes to make a big impact this season as the Lions defend their state title after coming off the bench as a tenth-grader. He told us he trained hard in the off-season and it paid off as his 78.26 SPARQ Rating included a 37.5 inch vertical jump.

"I've been working on my endurance and general athleticism," Bailey explained. "I did a lot of hill running with the weight vest this summer."

"It was a fun atmosphere and the kids really enjoyed it...it was fun to be part of a national competition," Kitani added. "SPARQ is doing an outstanding job with the technology - the kids relate to it and it inspires them."

Kitani coached the West All-Stars at the 2006 McDonald's All-American Game in San Diego and Taylor did the same in 2007 in Louisville. Sidney will have to wait to play in that national all-star game until 2009, but one player who will definitely suit up in Milwaukee next March is 6-foot-10 Greg Monroe, a top five national recruit by most recruiting publications and Rivals.com's No. 1 recruit. The South NSTC truck rolled through Harvey, Louisiana to SPARQ Test Helen Cox High, the front-runners for Louisiana's Class 4A state title that was won by FAB 50-ranked Peabody of Alexandria last season.

Naturally, Monroe had the highest individual SPARQ Rating for Helen Cox, which recorded a 78.44 Team SPARQ Rating. The 6-foot-10 Monroe recorded a 83.14 SPARQ Rating, which included a 6.15-second average during the Agility Cone Drill, and a score of 67 on the 30-second Endurance Jump. The other athlete who tested above 80 for Cox was 6-foot-2 guard Calvin Thompson, one of four players returning to the starting lineup from a 36-4 club. Thompson's 80.42 SPARQ Rating included the team's best 30-second Endurance Jump score of 75.

Monroe is not the only top five Class of 2008 prospect that tested recently as UCLA bound Jrue Holiday was SPARQ Tested by the West NTSC truck. The 6-foot-4 Holiday is hoping to lead Campbell Hall High (North Hollywood, CA) to its third CIF Div. IV state title in four years and he displayed some of the athletic skills that have him currently ranked No. 3 in the Rivals150 as he recorded a 85.70 SPARQ Rating. The score for the 2006-2007 Cal-Hi Sports State Junior of the Year was calculated from his excellent 5.13-second average during the Agility Cone Drill, a 2.97 20-meter dash, a 35.3 inch vertical jump, 68-foot Power Ball toss and a score of 63 on the 30-second Endurance Jump test.

Holiday, however, was slightly upstaged by a sophomore on the Vikings' squad, 6-foot-6 James "Deuce" Johnson. Last year's sixth man for Campbell Hall, which finished just below Norcross with a 79.62 Team SPARQ Rating, Johnson's 86.23 rating included a 35.3 inch vertical jump and a 72-foot Power Ball toss, both team highs. Johnson actually SPARQ Tested at a 360 Sports Performance Center last August and he improved his SPARQ Rating by more four points in a little over two months. One of California's top sophomores improved in three of the five testing protocols that make up the SPARQ Basketball Rating. He improved his Power Ball toss 16 feet, lowered his Agility Cone Drill average from 7.69 to 6.18 seconds and increased his vertical leap from 31.6 to the previously mentioned 35.3.

Johnson had a goal of improving his testing marks and SPARQ's goal of helping athletes improve their overall athleticism through hard work is coming to fruition as evidenced by Johnson's results. Through the NSTC, basketball players are not only improving the skills necessary to become better overall players, but they are also having fun through competition at the same time.

To learn more about the NIKE SPARQ Team Challenge, CLICK HERE.

To view the updated NSTC tour schedule, CLICK HERE.

To read more blogs from the NSTC tour, CLICK HERE.

*The goal of the SPARQ Basketball Rating is to give coaches, trainers and athletes the tools to assess the overall athleticism of a basketball player with tests that are designed to reflect the specific physical demands of the game. The SPARQ Rating is not designed or intended as a measure of basketball skills or an athlete's potential success on the court. SPARQ realizes that the intangibles of desire, hard work, teamwork and knowledge of the game all contribute to ultimate success in a complex skill sport like basketball. To learn more about the SPARQ Basketball Rating and compare SPARQ Ratings with teammates, training partners and competitors, go to www.sparqtraining.com.

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