Stars align for this weekend's MLK Classic at Riverside High
Promising point guard Justice Kithcart fits the mold of players who opt out of public schools in order to develop their games at academies with reputations for harnessing elite basketball talent.
But Kithcart, 16, didn’t go that route and is having a fine first season at Hillside after transferring from Riverside High School.
“Basically, it all came down to academics,” said Kithcart’s father, James. “Basketball is an extra-curricular activity and something that is a privilege to play.”
Among those hoops privileges is an opportunity for Kithcart, a sophomore, to return to Riverside for the MLK Black Wall Street High School Basketball Classic. Games are scheduled for Jan. 18 and 20.
The Riverside stage where Kithcart used to practice and perform will be bigger on account of attractions including Thon Maker, the 7-foot, 215-pound sophomore from Carlisle School in Martinsville, Va.
Maker is ranked as the No. 1 center and the No. 3 overall recruit among high school sophomores, according to Scout.com. ESPN also lists him as the top center prospect in his class. Duke, Georgetown, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State and Virginia are believed to be among the frontrunners for his college services.
Carlisle coach Jason Niblett said Maker’s ball-handling skills and mid-range game are improving. He has work to do, but Maker’s not opposed to a little sweat equity, Niblett said.
“His work ethic is like no other,” Niblett said.
A player like Maker certainly leaves Carlisle with no shortage of invitations to play in all manner of tournaments and exhibitions, but Niblett said he was particularly attracted to the MLK Classic.
MLK Classic spokesman Erroll Reese said the participating teams will have an opportunity to tour the area in downtown Durham that was known as Black Wall Street, where black businesses flourished during the segregation era.
Northern High’s Ricky Council II and Kentrell Barkley are also expected to play in the MLK Classic. Council has drawn interest from Wake Forest, Temple, UNC Wilmington and Appalachian State, according to MLK Classic organizers. Barkley is getting looks from ASU, UNCW and UNC Greensboro.
Voyager Academy and Durham School of the Arts have slots in the MLK Classic, along with newcomer Bull City Prep, based in Durham and in its first season.
Bull City Prep coach Darryl Harris has been in the game for a while. He coached North Carolina freshman Isaiah Hicks at Raleigh’s Body of Christ Christian Academy before that program folded.
Hicks left Body of Christ and played for Oxford’s Webb High School, leading the Warriors to the 3-A title last season.
Bull City Prep features Isaiah Maurice and Iran Bennett, both 6-9, both drawing interest from college recruiters, Harris said. Old Dominion has a commitment from Maurice and Cincinnati wants Bennett, Harris said.
This is Maurice’s first season with Bull City Prep. He transferred from Southern, where he wasn’t a big recruiting target.
“It’s positioning,” Harris explained. “He’s getting more skill development at Bull City Prep.”
Maurice (6-9, 210) played center at Southern because he’s tall compared to most players in public schools, Harris said.
But at Bull City Prep — affiliated with a public-charter school in Carrboro called PACE Academy — Maurice can play both forward spots, his more natural positions, Harris said. That’s because 6-9 guys aren’t so uncommon at those types of schools, places like Mount Zion Christian Academy, which is in the MLK Classic, Harris said.
Bennett, 16, is a 290-pound sophomore center who can play power forward when Harris needs him to.
Cincinnati and George Mason are interested in Bull City Prep junior David Carmichael (6-8, 205), Harris said.
Maurice, a junior, is averaging 17 points a game, and a lot of those points are coming from the perimeter, his newfound home, Harris said.
“That boy can flat-out shoot that basketball,” Harris said.
Hicks got a lot of media attention while playing for Webb coach Leo Brunelli.
But Harris said Body of Christ is where Hicks made a name for himself.
The benefits of schools like Bull City Prep include affording players opportunities to get better by playing against better talent, Harris said. That gets at why UNC’s Kendrick Meeks is further along than Hicks, Harris said.
Meeks actually played at West Charlotte High School, a traditional public school. But Harris said Meeks as a West Charlotte senior profited from a national schedule that included games against DeMatha and Bullis School, both strong Maryland programs.
Bull City Prep also has a team for players like former Hillside guard DeShon Self who have exhausted their high school eligibility but for whatever reasons aren’t playing college basketball.
“DeShon Self is going to be a star,” Harris said.
Self (5-10, 175) scored 26 points against Hargrave Military Academy, Harris said.
“He didn’t hit any 3s that game,” Harris said. “He’s getting to the hole. They’re fouling him.
“He’s the best-kept secret.”
James Kithcart said he wouldn’t criticize any prep school in particular, but said that aside from established programs like Carlisle and Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., it’s hard to tell which ones are legitimate.
“Some of these prep schools you really don’t know if they’re accredited or not,” Kithcart said. “The mom-and-pop (schools).”
That’s why Justice Kithcart is at Hillside, to take advantage of the school’s international baccalaureate program, James Kithcart said. So when graduation time rolls around for Justice, there won’t be any issues about his classes not counting toward college, James Kithcart said.
At Carlisle, Maker makes good grades, Niblett said.
“He’s a 4.0 (GPA) student,” Niblett said.
Last season, Carlisle’s team grade-point average was 3.87, and so far this season it’s 3.82, Niblett said.
Niblett is wary of other high schools that might try to acquire Maker’s services as a transfer.
“That comes with the territory,” Niblett said.
Niblett said relationships are critical and that he has a good one with Maker’s guardians.
James Kithcart said his son generally is better than the point guards that compete against Hillside. But Justice plays Amateur Athletic Union basketball for Virginia-based Team Loaded, which allows him to go against higher-level competition and get the type of exposure afforded to high school players who play national schedules, James Kithcart said.
MLK Black Wall Street High School Basketball Classic
at Riverside High School
3 p.m. — Fayetteville Northwood Temple vs. Fayetteville Freedom Christian
5 p.m. — Northern vs. Rocky Mount
7 p.m. — Voyager vs. Riverside
Noon — North Raleigh Christian vs. Durham School of the Arts
1:45 p.m. — Mount Zion Christian vs. Bull City Prep
3:30 p.m. — Apex vs. Hillside
5:15 p.m. — Cary Panther Creek vs. Northern
7 p.m. — Martinsville (Va.) Carlisle School vs. Northwood Temple