August 1, 2007

National notes: Vegas ends on a down note

I walked through my front door on July 27, and my wife and daughters welcomed me home as if I went to Mount Everest for an expedition.

When my wife asked me, "How was Vegas?" I had to smile.

Vegas is Vegas.

Blackjack didn't treat me right. Neither did roulette. Poker wasn't any prettier. The worst part about it, a good friend and prominent AAU coach took all of my money instead of a stranger from Middle America.

"I would have taken my grandmother's money, too," he said with a straight face.

Sad thing is, he isn't lying.

The casinos only provided me with air conditioning, bottle after bottle of free water and plenty of small talk with people that have taken advantage of the free adult beverages. Luckily, the basketball games (and there were plenty to choose from), were a little better.

Covering three major tournaments is a logistical nightmare. It's nearly impossible to see everything you want to see, or even plan to see. Finding your way around town without a global position system is as close to magic as it gets. Try doing that Criss Angel.

There was a little bit of magic in the games:

  • Brandon Jennings didn't forget the importance of winning the big one. The Arizona-bound point guard won the Big Time last year with the Southern California All-Stars. This year, he played with Belmont Shore at the Reebok Summer Championship. Chalk up another major victory for the five-star guard. Hard to argue with his results.
  • The Atlanta Celtics won the adidas Super 64 thanks in large part to the size of its front line. Derrick Favors, a class of 2009 prospect, was showing glimpses of what he'll be doing at the professional level 10 years from now. Chris Singleton channeled the spirit of Josh Smith in the tournament. The 6-foot-9 Singleton put his point-guard hat on and was the biggest floor general in Vegas on July 26. He was brilliant in the final two games of the tournament.
  • Delwan Graham, a 6-6 forward, was the catalyst for the Celtics. He's one of the most unique players in the country because of his motor, which never stops. He has also shown he can be effective against the best of the best. Graham was once thought of as a mid-major standout. Toss those thoughts out the door. This kid is a player.
  • The New York Gauchos are the unofficial dynasty of the grassroots circuit this year. The Big Apple boys won the Main Event. And the Peach Jam. And the Cactus Classic. And the Pittsburgh Jam Fest/Steel City Classic… you get the picture.
  • If the grassroots basketball gods were nice, they'd find a way to pair the Gauchos and Pump 'N Run Elite together. The teams were scheduled to play in the GBOA Challenge of Champions in Vegas to start the marathon week, but each squad pulled out of the tournament. The Gauchos can win a track meet with Jordan Theodore as the anchor and Kemba Walker (the team's most complete player), Darryl Bryant and Chris Fouch running the other parts of the relay. The Pumps boast the UCLA connection of Jrue Holiday, the best guard in the 2008 class, and Jerime Anderson, who very well could be earning a paycheck at the highest level. Chances are these kids will all see each other in March down the road.
  • Tyler Zeller of Indiana Elite, Allan Chaney of Connecticut Phenom, Eloy Vargas of Team Breakdown and John Wall of D-One Sports attracted college coaches from across the country.
  • Keep an eye on the following players after their showing in Las Vegas: Deividas Dulkys, Kyle Kuric, Abdul Gaddy, Demetri Goodson, Colton Iverson and Reggie Jackson.
  • College coaches searched for answers on July 26 when news spread that Skip Prosser died earlier in the day. The death of a respected peer in the coaching industry rattled everyone that sat on the sidelines. More coaches are undoubtedly wondering why they spend so much time on the road chasing teenagers.
  • On again, off again

    The trend of players reneging on their college decisions continues. The latest include Travis Roundtree opening up his decision to play at Southern Illinois and Kwamain Mitchell to St. Louis. New Mexico lost a commitment from Chris Babb. Washington State lost Mark McLaughlin.

    In case you missed it

    After being denied admission from San Francisco, California iron man Wendell McKines is headed to New Mexico State. The 6-foot-6 hustler from Oakland told the San Francisco Chronicle that he will sign scholarship papers with New Mexico State and play in the fall. McKines, a three-star prospect, is a major score for the WAC program in 2007.

    McKines isn't alone. He'll have a 7-foot walk-on joining him. Hamidu Rahman will join the Aggies as a non-scholarship player next season. He played at Philadelphia's American Christian for the last two seasons.

    Winthrop added 2008 point guard Reggie Middleton in late July. The Augusta, Ga., native is the first player to commit to the Big South program in 2007. Vanderbilt added a 2007 prospect late in the game when California guard Charles Hinkle of Los Alamitos inked with the SEC school. Making the switch from Rice to Bowling Green is Ohio guard Joe Jakubowski for the 2007 class.

    In case you were wondering, there were no commitments in the class of 2010 and beyond last week.

    Losing a gentleman

    I received the text when I was in Las Vegas chasing down a lead on a player in the class of 2010.

    "Prosser died this morning?"

    I stared at it.

    Prosser? As in Skip Prosser? As in the coach from Wake Forest that I just saw a couple of days ago? The same coach that I've seen on the road a million times before? That Prosser?

    Certainly not. What is he? 50? 55?

    I kept staring.

    Those five minutes felt like an hour. I grabbed my bag, packed up computer, made one final look at the court and rushed off to my car. I knew my next stop was 15 minutes away. I called my best friend in college basketball and asked him if the news was true.

    "That's a horrible thing to say. Why are you telling me this?"

    I agreed with him. I could hear him pounding on the keys on his computer, trying to check the news online. Nothing on ESPN. Nothing on the Winston-Salem paper. Nothing anywhere.

    "There is no way this is true."

    We agreed on that much. We hung up, he kept looking and searching. So did I. Call after call kept ending with the same disbelief. Then, finally, the word was official.

    "It's true."

    Two people, then three, then four. All of them said the same thing. The text messages kept coming. I arrived at the main gym of the adidas Super 64 tournament. I looked at the faces of the coaches in the building. They all looked at me for confirmation.

    "True."

    There was a game going on at the time. I think. Not sure really. Not sure if it matters. No one watched. No one really cared. No one wanted to be there.

    We all thought of Prosser. His family, his players, his staff, his school. Then thoughts of your own family, most likely 1,500 miles or more away from you at the time.

    Word spread fast. In an instant, everyone in Vegas or Orlando and everywhere in between knew what happened in the college basketball world.

    I didn't know coach Prosser. I knew a lot of people that did. All of them paused the minute they got the news. All of them lost a friend. All of them left searching for answers.

    Justin Young is as senior writer for Rivals.com National Basketball Recruiting. He can be reached at jyoung@rivals.com.




     

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