Thursday, October 27, 2016

Flashback Friday with Joel Embiid, the GAIS Eagles, and Buck Harris's historic 2015 Laney squad

Buck Harris led the 2014-15 Laney Wildcats, the
best team this area has seen in the last decade.

Two seasons ago, Buck Harris's Laney Wildcats captured the attention of hoops watchers throughout the state of Georgia when they blitzed their way through their regular season schedule in stunning fashion, winning 29 straight games against a who's who of the peach state's most accomplished programs. But last night's debut of the NBA's most highly regarded rookie, Philadelphia's Joel Embiid, who some have projected may one day be a Hakeem Olajuwon type player, reminded me that I actually may have been before Buck in scheduling the best of the best to test his high school team.

For when the GAIS Eagles (the team I last coached) opened the 2012-13 season, it was against The Rock, a high powered program out of Florida which featured the 7 footer Embiid, then a senior, just days before he signed with Kansas, which I reported on at the time here.

Watching Embiid score 20 points in 22 minutes in his much anticipated NBA debut made me recall the first time I saw the giant center from Cameroon who moves and shoots with the grace of a sharp shooting small forward. Here's how I told the story of walking in the gym to see Embiid stroking threes in warmup to a couple friends in Facebook thread:

"My main guys were seniors so we scheduled all these prep schools and high powered high schools. The first school on the schedule was "The Rock," Embid's school. Scottie Wilbekin had played there and his brother Mitchell was a junior on the team at the time.
Anyway, we didn't know Embid, but when we walked in he was shooting threes from the top of the key, and making moves off the dribble and shooting all these jumpers, while a guy was rebounding for him. That was the first thing we saw. Matt Miller and I stood there and watched him for a while and finally I said, trying not to spook him too bad but just telling the truth, "that guy looks like Durant with how tall he is and the way he shoots. But we're still gonna kick his butt." The second part was just me saying that to try to keep our competitive spirit up. All our guys were 6'1" and under except TJ Massenburg, who at the time was only in the 8th grade.
Anyway, once the game started he played around the bucket. But he was awesome! That was TJ's first varsity game and he had to play against Embid, who signed with Kansas like a week later. We hung with them for a half then lost like 80-52. Embid scored 12 and their team made 12 threes. They were probably the best high school team I've watched up close when you combine the talent and the discipline. That coach at The Rock was a great one."

Even if I didn't want Matt to think I was worried about our chances in that first game of his senior season, I was obviously worried that Embiid's team would quickly run away from us. And The Rock almost did just that. But anybody who watched that Eagles squad play wouldn't be surprised to hear that in a matter of about 3 minutes, Austin Crown, who, like Miller, scored over 3,000 career points as an Eagle, turned an 11-0 first quarter deficit into a more manageable 21-15 score leading into the second.

As you know from the story above, we weren't able to hang with the Rock for 32 minutes. But as I describe in this post recounting that "GAIS's unusual weekend," we DID end that weekend with a win over eventual McDonald's All American and current South Carolina Gamecock PJ Dozier's Spring Valley squad in the Will Avery Hoops Preview at Evans the day after facing Embiid.

Long time AugBball readers know I was impressed with my old coach Buck Harris's 2014-15 run. And I've always encouraged coaches to schedule like he did that season. But recalling that weekend makes me question whether he learned that trick from me! Facing a lottery pick who has the NBA audience buzzing in anticipation of an All Star and beyond career Friday morning and a McDonald's All Ameican Saturday evening is tough to beat when it comes to scheduling the best. And if that pair of games doesn't prove my point, consider that between those two games, we also played two games against these two guys Friday afternoon and Saturday morning!

Evan Payne in the most impressive AugBball highlights you've probably never seen

The 7 footer who was the fourth best player the GAIS Eagles faced in that 36 hour period

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