Grind Session – Prolific Prep Gains Redemption After 76-70 Win Over Athlete Institute
Written by Jas Grewal for On Point Basketball
Orangeville, ON – Despite the piercing cold that many Ontarians had to bear on Saturday afternoon (January 2nd), the folks of Orangeville had the unique opportunity of briefly circumventing the frigid weather.
Athlete Institute played host to Prolific Prep (Napa, California) as part of their first Grind Session Circuit home game – an ongoing premier elite hoops tournament that includes the top prep schools in North America.
Much of the attention, if not all, surrounded a couple of five-star recruits on the afternoon: 6’8” Josh Jackson of Prolific Prep and 7’1 prodigy Thon Maker of Athlete Institute – both highly touted recruits who are expected to make their college decision by April 2016.
Jackson, rated #3 on the ESPN top-100 high-school player rankings, showed precisely why he is considered by many to be the best player out of the class of 2016, while Maker, whose Athlete Institute out dueled Prolific Prep in their previous outing, displayed his prowess on both ends of the floor.
There was a bit of a scare for Prolific Prep and coach Billy McKnight in the first half of action as Maker and company, who were up 17-15 at the midway point, spearheaded a 24-5 run to push their lead to 21 points, 41-20.
Maker poured in 17 first half points including three trifectas to help lead Athlete Institute to the 45-32 advantage at the break.
Although the pride of Perth, Australia had his way in the initial portion of the game, an irrepressible and determined Jackson seemingly took over on both ends of the floor in the second half.
Behind the immeasurable leadership that Jackson and freshman PG Pierre Crockrell displayed against a gritty Athlete Institute squad, Prolific was able to chip away at the deficit and eventually retake the lead, 63-61, with only 7:24 remaining in regulation.
Although Athlete Institute showed signs of resilience near the end of the game; it wouldn’t be enough to forge a comeback. Prolific Prep eventually held on for the 76-70 win.
The California based team was able to limit Athlete Institute to just 25 points while pouring in 44 of their 76 in the second half of regulation.
Jackson led Prolific Prep with a game-high 29 points while his 7’1 adversary, Maker, had a team-high 21 points for Athlete Institute.
“It didn’t happen the way we wanted at the end,” said a disappointed Maker after the six-point loss. “We started out on fire and took an early [big] lead. I think we got too comfortable at home as they did also at their home [when we beat them]. We just got to find a way to get back to it and just know that we’re home.”
“They’re on a worse traveling schedule [than us] because they went from the east end, to the west coast, back to the east end again, and now they’re going back to the west coast again. So we just got to find a way to pick up ourselves and not have any excuses because they didn’t have any excuses,” mentioned the 7’1 Sudanese native.
Limiting Maker to just four second half points proved to be the difference ‘maker’ in the comeback win for Prolific Prep. When asked how he adjusted to Maker’s sheer dominance, McKnight was quick to credit his buoyant ball club, with particular praise for Jackson who ultimately changed the entire trajectory of the game.
“We had Josh guard Thon [in the second half],” said McKnight as he smiled on. “That was it.”
“Josh can guard one through five, Abu [Kigab] can normally guard one through five. So, we talk about the [Golden State] Warriors having Draymond Green, I think I’ve got two of those guys right now. When we need to switch we can switch them.”
Switching Jackson onto Maker seemed to be the magic recipe for coach McKnight, and Jackson’s will to win is exactly why the Michigan native is considered to be the cream of the crop in terms of the top high-school players in North America.
“Josh is the one who brought it up to me on the bench,” mentioned McKnight. “He said ‘Hey, let me guard him,’ so he did.”
“He’s seen Thon play a lot of basketball and saw him all summer, so he has a good feel for what Thon does. He’s an unbelievably intelligent player.”
Saturday was also a homecoming for Canadians Abu Kigab (St. Catherines, ON), Khaleem Bennett (Hamilton, ON) and Brandon Kenyon (Hamilton, ON). McKnight briefly touched on the Canadian presence on the team and how the trio has transitioned into their roles.
“Abu, I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s absolutely phenomenal. Every coach that I know who’s seen him absolutely loves him. He’s going to have his pick to wherever he wants to go to college,” said McKnight.”
“Khaleem and Brandon are both a year younger, both are sophomores. Brandon’s only been playing basketball for a couple of years, so he’s learning his role. Khaleem is a great athlete, can knock down shots and his game has come so far with his understanding.”
“The things that I’m impressed with about [them] are how quickly they can learn. They’re really dialed in, they pay attention. They know they have to do that in order to get on the floor,” said McKnight.
Written by Jas Grewal
Edited by Drew Ebanks