By Zach Braziller
Maurice Harkless flew in for a dunk and soon Jakarr Sampson was doing the same, soaring over two defenders and throwing home a slam with his absurdly long arms. He then tipped away a pass and fed Harkless for an open three-pointer from the right corner.
The above sequence repeated itself time and again Sunday afternoon in Real Scout’s scrimmage-like beating of Determined Student Athletes in the prestigious iS8/Nike Spring High School Classic at the Variety Boys & Girls Club in Long Island City. The two highly rated St. John’s recruits — both of them long, athletic and skilled top 50 forwards — completed a head-spinning 4-0 record in pool play that has Red Storm fans imagining the possibilities.
“We’re developing a great bond,” said the 6-foot-7 Harkless, a former star at Forest Hills who is currently at South Kent (Conn.). “We played four games together and it feels like we’ve been playing together forever.”
Their chemistry was evident Sunday, particularly on the defensive end in forcing turnovers or blocking shots. Real Scout Coach Nate Blue, Harkless’ advisor, has been impressed with the duo’s effort on the defensive end; he knew scoring would take care of itself.
“Defense is about helping each other out,” Blue said. “Moe gets beat, Jakarr helps; Jakarr gets beat, Moe helps. Somebody else gets beat, they both help.”
The two are part of St. John’s Coach Steve Lavin’s elite recruiting class, ranked second in the nation by scout.com, which includes seven top 100 prospects. In his first season in Queens, Lavin led a resurgence, leading the Red Storm to the NCAA Tournament after an eight-year absence.
Heightened expectations will greet the many newcomers, though Harkless said that doesn’t worry them. The addition of 6-foot-9 junior college standout God’s Gift Achiuwa out of Erie Community College, Harkless said, was the final piece to the puzzle.
“We got a bright future,” said Harkless, who has bulked up to a robust 203 pounds. “We got so many weapons, so many options coming in next year.”
The idea was hatched during the All-American Championship in Houston, Texas, the weekend of the Final Four, for Sampson, a 6-foot-9 Ohio native now at Brewster Academy (N.H.), to spend weekends in Queens playing for Real Scout. Sir’Dominic Pointer, another St. John’s recruit, was supposed to join Harkless and Sampson, too, but landed with Sean Bell instead.
Real Scout, whose roster also includes Iowa State-bound point guard Tavon Sledge and Wadleigh guard Trivante Bloodman, has hardly missed him. Not only has Blue’s team gone undefeated in pool play, it beat Sports University, a New Jersey-based team featuring Eli Carter (Rutgers), Durand Johnson (Pittsburgh), Mario Moody (Wagner) and Markus Kennedy (Villanova), Saturday by 18 points. Sampson was phenomenal, pouring in 22 points and outplaying Kennedy.
“I don’t know how else to have fun besides win,” Sampson said.
He isn’t the only one having a ball.
“It makes my job a lot easier,” Sledge said of playing with Harkless and Sampson. “A lot of the work I usually have to do in high school, I really don’t have to do playing with these guys.”
Harkless was the star Sunday, dropping 36 points with a flurry of feathery jump shots and eye-opening dunks. His lone failure was a missed slam that drew a big laugh from Sampson.
Together, the two are having a ball, learning each other’s game in their quest for a title in the prestigious tournament that draws nationwide talent.
“I always wanted to win iS8,” Harkless said. “I live right around the corner. This is my last chance to win it and I’m trying to go out with a bang.”