In mere seconds after setting foot in Madison East High School on a shivering January Saturday night, the atmosphere reaffirmed my decision to make a trek to the East side. The Purgolders’ cramped gym was packed to the brim with the feel of a neutral court game. Bad and Boujee and Lockjaw rang from the speakers. The buzz surrounding this matchup involving multiple Division I prospects was, as one may say, palpable. After a sloppy and sluggish start that saw 8 combined points scored in the first 8 minutes of play, the main events began to seize the stage. Madison East entered the halftime locker room with 1-point edge on one of the state’s best teams. The pitchers’ duel raged on into the second half, but Sun Prairie and their superior talent pulled away over the final 7 minutes in a 56-48 triumph. However, in spite of not being the most aesthetically-pleasing contest, the stars’ fingerprints were all over the game.
Keshawn Justice of Madison East led all scorers with 22 points on 7-18 shooting (3-7 from 2, 4-11 from 3, 4-4 FT), grabbed 8 rebounds, and dished out 2 assists. Justice and his excellent size for a 2-guard at 6-5, 195 are the nucleus of opponents’ scouting reports each night out. Sun Prairie’s traditional 1-3-1 presently seems to place less emphasis on trapping and turnovers than it did during the Nick Fuller and Nick Noskowiak days. Nonetheless, the Cardinals were extra-cautious of where Justice was on the floor at all times and extended their wing defenders well beyond the 3-point line on him. Justice is a dangerous shooter with deep range, putting his team in a position to win for the majority of the game despite drawing the utmost attention from the Sun Prairie D. His premier quality is his sound shooting mechanics. With great rotation, a quick catch-and-shoot release, and a mature frame, Justice will surely find a niche early in his college career. What was most impressive about the Madison East junior’s performance was his constant and level-headed demeanor. Never expressing an ounce of frustration, Justice buried a deep three at the first half buzzer and made the front end of two critical 1-and-1’s in the second half to keep the Purgolders in the game when it seemed to be getting away from them. The calm, cool, and collected Class of 2018 guard currently holds only mid-major offers from the likes of Northern Iowa and Green Bay, but is also receiving some interest from Marquette and Illinois. Don’t be surprised to see a high-major school swoop in on Justice late, as he will enjoy a nice college career, wherever that takes him.
Justice sits at fourth in the vaunted Big Eight in scoring, immediately behind Sun Prairie’s Marlon Ruffin (Class of 2018). A good chunk of the Cardinals’ offense was predicated on finding isolation opportunities for Ruffin. With a quick first step, the slithery junior slashed through the lane almost at will, getting to the cup with straight-line drives and Giannis-esque spin moves. Although listed at 6-4, Ruffin probably stands closer to 6-2. At the next level, he will have to learn to pick his spots better, as he often compromised himself by overpenetrating and catching himself in the air. Once that is ameliorated and he improves his outside jumper, there is nothing stopping Ruffin from being a reliable mid-major scorer at the college level.
The most prized recruit, not surprisingly, stole the show when it was all said and done. Sun Prairie freshman Jalen Johnson just a week prior returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for 6 weeks. Coming off the bench after being reacquainted to the rotation, Johnson confirmed several of the rumblings that he might wind up being the best prospect the state of Wisconsin has ever seen. The 6-6 freshman projects as a point guard down the road with the expectation that he will tighten his handle. He put his vision on full display in this game. Johnson is an incredibly unselfish player that patiently surveys the floor with every touch. Seeing over the top of the defense at 6-6, Johnson really picked apart the Madison East defense in the second half, finishing with 5 assists. He was able to thread the needle to cutters for layups on multiple occasions. Johnson has plenty of time and plenty of ceiling fulfill the promise he exudes. Already with elite court sense at age 15, the sky is the limit. This goes without mentioning stellar athleticism, as he capstoned the game with a one-handed alley-oop.