BEVERLY — If you were interested in gauging how good the local high school basketball scene is here on the North Shore, you should have dropped into Endicott College's Post Center the last couple days.
Endicott was the proud host of the National Prep Championship, which featured the top eight ranked prep school boys basketball teams in the country.
The tournament — which was won by New Hampshire's Tilton School, 97-93, over Virginia's Hargrave Military Academy — featured more talent on one court than any regular high school team in the area has ever featured.
Better yet, these teams' benches were probably more talented than any area school, and if you made up all-time teams from our area schools they still would have had a hard time competing against this level of talent.
For further perspective, the North Shore's best player the last couple years — Bishop Fenwick's 6-foot-7 center Mike Clifford — probably would have been the sixth or seventh man for Tilton.
Every game during the MIAA state tournament we watched Bedford, Wilmington and Watertown double and triple team Clifford to try to stop him. Yet Clifford would have had a real hard time putting up points one-on-one against either Hargrave's 6-8 pivot Chris Braswell or Tilton's 6-9 big man Alex Oriakhi.
Of course, it's not completely fair to try to compare these teams against our locals because the prep schools allow post-graduate years and attract talent from all over the country.
Anyone who turned out for the eight-team tournament on Monday or Tuesday got more than their money's worth though.
"Each team has multiple high major (college) prospects," tournament director Adam Finkelstein said. "You're just not going to find a tourney with eight teams with more players who are going to go on to be stars (in college)."
If you're looking for future college stars, then you didn't need to look any further than Tilton.
This tournament's MVP, which two years ago happened to be current Miami Heat player Michael Beasley, was Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, a 6-7 swingman who scored 41 points in a quarterfinal win and added 30 in the title-clincher last night. Coombs-McDaniel is already committed to the University of Connecticut, along with Oriakhi.
Junior Gerard Coleman, a 6-4 guard who's broomstick skinny, was dominant slashing to the basket in the final. He finished with 25 points against Hargrave, and is drawing interest from Alabama, UConn, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Providence and Vanderbilt.
Hargrave, meanwhile, already has committed Division 1 players in Braswell (Charlotte), Freddie Riley (UMass) and Maurice Creek (Indiana). Evan Gordon, Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Gordon's little brother, runs the point for Hargrave.
Hargrave was led by Ledrick Eackles' 20 points last night. Today he's busy narrowing his college choices down from Arkansas-Little Rock, East Carolina, Tulane and UAB.
So how did Endicott land such a high-caliber tournament?
"Obviously you need a college-size court and arena, but other than that, that's really it," Finkelstein said. "You obviously want to find a place that's supportive of prep school basketball. I think the Beverly area has done that by coming out and supporting the tournament."
Endicott's place on the map also helped bring the tourney to a local venue. Bridgton Academy (Maine), Notre Dame Prep (Massachusetts), Brewster Academy (New Hampshire), the Winchendon School (Massachusetts), South Kent School (Connecticut) and Tilton (New Hampshire) are each located in New England.
Hargrave and the Patterson School of North Carolina rounded out the eight team field.
"New England is always the hub for prep basketball," Finkelstein said. "Six of the top eight schools in the country are from the six New England states. It made sense to have it in New England."
Matt Jenkins is a staff writer at the Salem News. He can be reached by phone at 978-338-2648 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.