SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Even the best players struggle at times and Vernon Carey Jr. was having one of those moments.
He put up 11 points in the first quarter and his team, No. 3-ranked University (Fort Lauderdale), was only down by four to No. 2 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.).
Then, he hit a lull midway in the second quarter and early in the third where he wasn’t getting shot opportunities and the ones he did get didn’t fall. On top of that, he was having difficulty stopping Oak Hill Academy’s Keldon Johnson.
Carey finally broke through, following up one of his own misses with a dunk in the third quarter. From there, the 6-10 junior wing, considered the No. 1 recruit in the 2019 class, was back to normal.
He hit a reverse layup, then went right past Oak Hill center David McCormack for a layup. Then he kept going to the glass. He led the No. 3 Sharks with 29 points and 11 rebounds in an 83-69 loss.
“He’s hard to guard,” Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said. “He gets it down low and I was afraid he would get David (McCormack) out on the perimeter and then blow past him and our 6-6, 6-7 guys would have a hard time with him.”
Added Carey: “Keldon was a problem. He’s a good player. I just tried to focus on my game. If I miss a shot, I try to get the rebound and not just look at it.”
Every elite program is pursuing Carey, who stands out with an atypically good handle for a 6-10 player.
“I just think he needs to continue to progress at the rate he’s progressing,” University coach Adrian Sosa said. “He’s getting better every day, every week, every month, every season. He puts in the work.”
Carey said he hopes to make his college decision by August. He had an unofficial visit to Duke during the John Wall Invitational last month and plans his first official visit Feb. 10-11 to Michigan State.
“Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, Miami and Kansas are probably looking at me the hardest,” he said. “Duke wants me because a lot of their big guys are going to the draft. (Michigan State Coach Tom) Izzo says I could be an impactful guy on their squad. Miami is where my dad played and they have told me I could start a legacy there. Coach (Jim) Larranaga has been recruiting me since the ninth grade.”