Lincoln-Thomas Jefferson boys’ hoops breakdown

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At a glance: PSAL Brooklyn AA League Game

Where: Lincoln HS, 2800 Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn

When: Thursday, 5 p.m.

Thomas Jefferson Orange Wave

Coach: Lawrence Pollard

Record: 6-0, 5-0 in Brooklyn AA

Player to watch: Joe (Air Jamaica) Wright

Lincoln Railsplitters

Coach: Dwayne (Tiny) Morton

Record: 4-1, 4-0 in Brooklyn AA

Player to watch: Lance Stephenson

Outlook: It is the game we’ve been waiting for: Lincoln and Jefferson, No. 1 and No. 2, first place in Brooklyn AA on the line. Obviously, some will disagree – Boys & Girls, Wings Academy and John F. Kennedy to name a few – but these are the two best PSAL teams in the city, and possibly all of the state, based on the season’s first two weeks and the returning talent on each side.

The Orange Wave pushed Lincoln further than anyone last year, leading by 11 after the first quarter of the two teams’ PSAL Class AA semifinal last year, only to fall by 15. But Jefferson returned its whole team.

Wright, the dynamic forward who is a terror in the paint, creates match-up problems for anybody. Leading scorer Keith Spellman remains a threat with the ball in his hands, but has also added defense and leadership qualities to his game, tenets he was previously lacking. Plus, sophomore point guard Davontay Grace dropped several pounds from his bulky frame and has become more versatile, able to run the Orange Wave’s transition game and score in the halfcourt as well as set up others.

Plus, Jefferson can match anyone’s size with 6-foot-8 centers Kyle Francis and Edson Avila, each with limited offensive skills, but both are athletic shot-blockers. Pollard goes 10 deep, using reserves such as Corwin Austin, Bryan Hyman and Marcus Romain.

Lincoln, meanwhile, has the best player in the city and one of the tops in the country in Stephenson, a 6-foot-5 guard who is hoping to become the first player, along with senior guard Darwin (Buddha) Ellis, to win four consecutive PSAL city championships. The Raisplitters began the year ranked second in USA Today’s national rankings, but fell to No. 16 after losing to Duncanville (Texas) HS on national television last week.

When healthy, they are the clear favorite to win a third straight State Federation Class AA state crown. Besides Stephenson and Ellis, Morton returns 6-foot-8 center James Padgett, who is headed to Maryland next fall; St. Patrick’s transfer Shaquille Stokes, a combo guard; 6-foot-6 bulldozing forward Davon Walls; and a bevy of talented reserves.

Prediction: The question Thursday is who will be available. Lincoln narrowly beat Robeson on Tuesday as Ellis (missed practice) and Padgett (injury) sat out. Morton wouldn’t confirm whether either would play. Jefferson is good enough to beat the Coney Island dynamo with those two in the lineup, so either one’s absence would be significant.

But as long as Stephenson is there – and Mr. Born Ready will certainly be excited for this one – Lincoln will find a way. He isn’t losing at home this season. No matter what it takes – whether its scoring points, dominated the glass or distributing the ball to teammates – we expect Stephenson to get it done.

The game should live up to the hype. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Orange Wave build a big early lead, as they did last March. But like everyone else in the state, they have no answer for Stephenson. Spellman is too small and Wright is too slow.

Lincoln 80, Jefferson 75

Updated 3:43 pm, October 19, 2011
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