By JOHN PAVIA
Special to ZAGSBLOG
NEWARK, N.J. – For Veer Singh, the first battle Friday was not on the court, but with his stomach. Singh, a 6-foot-6 2016 wing prospect, had battled flu-like symptoms for the last 48 hours, but he fought through it and provided a gutty effort to assist his team in a gritty 55-50 victory over Gill St. Bernard’s in the Newark National Invitational.
There was uncertainty if he would even play due to the illness and he did not participate in warm-ups, according to his coach, Todd Decker.
He did play and he struggled in the first half before finding his rhythm late in the game.
Coincidentally, the play of his team was a parallel to his struggles; they were frustrated by Gill St. Bernard’s zone defense and could not get much going on offense. By the end of the third quarter, both Singh and his team got going and turned the game around due in large part to 6-foot-5 2016 forward Najji Hunter and 6-foot 2014 guard Austin White.
White, who was named MVP for St. Peter’s Prep, finished with a game-high 22 points with 14 of them coming in the second half. He wreaked havoc in transition after he and his team forced Gill St. Bernard’s into a lot of late turnovers. White is committed to play basketball at High Point University.
Hunter’s efforts were felt on both ends of the court, specifically towards the end of the third quarter. After he scored at the rim with the clock winding down, Hunter forced an immediate steal and another basket for a quick four-point swing. His length and ball pressure were intimidating and caused a high number of turnovers at crucial points late in the game. He scored eight of his 10 points in the second half and finished with 3 big steals.
“Najja [Hunter] has about eight offers right now,” Decker said. “He’s done a great job in terms of improving. A couple weeks ago, he was sick for about a week. The younger guys, it’s all new for them, so in terms of experience it’s just trying to get them to be consistent. Realize that they’re great athletes and have a lot of potential. They’ve got to focus on all the small things and then the big things will come for them. They can just go out and play hard with energy.”
Decker also spoke about the pitfalls the younger guys like Hunter and Singh need to avoid going forward.
“Sometimes they get caught up in the, ‘Oh, how’s my 3-point shot falling? And how am I doing and am I getting touches?’ When really, there are just some things you just can’t control. You’ve got to go out there, just play hard, compete and impact the game. I’m very happy with what they did today.”
While Singh’s ability was a bit limited by his illness, he was able to overcome a rough first half and make his impact on the game in the fourth quarter. He hit two big 3-pointers to start the quarter and was constantly facilitating on offense to get his teammates open. Singh finished with seven points.
“I think him [Singh] and Najja Hunter changed the game completely,” Decker said. “The two sophomores really changed the game in that third quarter. I said, ‘Can you go?’ and he was very light-headed and dizzy because he was on a lot of the counter-meds.
“I think once he saw the situation we were in, being a part of this, it just shows what type of player he is and how much he just needs to win. He knows in this environment he’s not going to be able to come out and probably play his best. At the same time, he’s a competitor and he wants to win. He cares, so I think that was evident too and I liked the way he responded.”
His ability to draw defenders in and make the extra pass to his open teammates gave his team better quality looks at the rim and was a big reason why points came easier for St. Peter’s Prep in the second half. Decker also heaped praise on his seniors Jordan Whitehead and Matt Ryan for their efforts on the glass and making important free throws down the stretch, as well as Jordan Harris’ defense late in the game also.
Decker spoke about Singh’s limited high school experience so far as being a reason to put his college plans on the back-burner for now, despite the large number of schools interested in him at the moment; Singh was homeschooled last year.
“He hasn’t even been in high school for a year yet so to think about where you’re going to college when you haven’t even had a high school experience, to us, we think is not the right thing to do,” Decker said. “We should really focus on his career right now at the high school level and at the same time, next year we’ll start diving into the college stuff just because it’s all so new for him.”
When asked which schools were coveting Singh, Decker simply said, “a lot.”
“Pretty much everybody in the Big East,” he said. “He’s got some ACC schools, some Big Ten schools and some Pac 12 schools. I’d say there’s at least 20 firm offers on the table.”
He mentioned Oregon State specifically as having done a good job staying in touch and also the local schools like Rutgers and Seton Hall for their efforts on trying to woo Singh as well.