TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Big Bend Shootout had a somber mood on Saturday as the day started with the news of the passing of Wallace Prather, one of the most well-respected men in AAU basketball. The Atlanta Celtics general manager's passing put a quiet spell on the day's events. As Prather would have wanted, the games went on and some of the top players in the country did what they do best.
Atlanta Celtics, AAU basketball lose father figure
Hulio Smith, the coach of the Atlanta Celtics 17 and under team, knew something had to be wrong when he saw he had 30 missed calls after the Celtics' 8:30 a.m. game on Saturday morning.
The news he received was the news he never wanted to hear. His friend and mentor Wallace Prather died early Saturday morning of a heart attack at his home in Atlanta.
As the godfather of Atlanta basketball, Prather and Celtics president Karl McCray built the adidas-sponsored program into one of the most well-respected and most-recognized AAU teams in the country.
Starting the organization in 1990, the Celtics have sent hundreds of kids to college on basketball scholarships and most recently saw alums Dwight Howard and Josh Smith taken in the NBA lottery in 2004.
Whether his players went to a small junior college in the Midwest, or to some of the nation's elite basketball programs across the country, Prather made sure he attended each player's high school games. The little things go unnoticed and as mourners gather for his funeral, the stories will certainly come out of the woodwork.
News of Prather's passing moved quickly through the basketball community, shocking those that knew him. After the numbness wore off, those that knew him all said the same things.
"If it weren't for Wallace Prather, I wouldn't be coaching." "If it weren't for Coach Prather, I wouldn't have been a college graduate." "If it weren't for Wallace Prather, our AAU program would never exist."
The compliments will always flow for the soft-spoken, laid-back hoops fanatic. They always will. He will be missed.
Rest in peace chief.
The games must go on
Understandably so, the Celtics played with a somber attitude and probably will for some time. The team has been playing good basketball all weekend and have a flawless record going to the championship rounds of the playoffs.
Getting a balanced offense from the eight players on the roster, each contest has a different star. In the morning game, LaShun Watson showed off his athleticism as he skied for eight rebounds and finished with eight points. Watson, also a wide receiver, said his college future will likely be basketball only.
Wesley Matthews, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard from South Cobb High School, took advantage of a small bench and shot the ball very well. He's going to be a good get for a mid-major program.
The lights went out in Tallahassee
With a number of top players from the class of 2007 on hand for the Big Bend Shootout, Gary Clark decided it was time for him to throw his name into the mix for the class's elite players.
Clark literally shot the lights out in the early morning session. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound shooting guard poured in 19 points in the first half against the FlaVa All-Stars en route to his game high 29 points.
The Florida bound class of 2007 prospect exploited the zone defense with his deep range with confident pull up jumpers from deep. His shot cooled down in the second half when the overhead lighting went out.
That's when Marressee Speights took over. The future Florida Gator is a load down low and dominated the offensive glass. At 6-foot-10, 240-pounds, Speights is a match-up problem because he's such a good face up shooter, too. Don't let him throw an outlet pass either. He's got pinpoint precision and does a good job of showing it off.
Speights left the nightcap game early and spent Saturday night at the emergency room for stitches in his lip.
Future Florida State guard Aaron Holmes likes the feel of the Civic Center at Florida State. The looked right at home on Saturday afternoon as he lit up for 22 and 29 points on Saturday. He's a guy that gets to the bucket off the dribble and does his best scoring in the paint and the foul line. Still in need defensive work, Holmes knows how to get it done on one end of the floor.
Chad Gray committed to Bobby Bowden last year and at 6-foot-7, 210-pounds, Gray has the look of a big time football prospect. But he decided to pull out of his commitment to the 'Noles and pledged to South Carolina, his home state. In a twist of irony, Gray is in Tallahassee and looking very good at what he does.
Gray has had the tournament's best dunks, taking off from the blocks for some monster dunkage.
X's and O's
Senario Hillman's first step is amazing. He sees a hole in the defense and he'll get right to it. Athletically, there isn't a better player here than this class of 2007 prospect.
Solomon Tat had little problems getting by Breakdown's Jonathan Hall off the dribble. The 6-foot-5 native of Nigeria muscled though the lane and continually got inside the paint for scores around the rim en route to 18 points against Team Breakdown.
Erick Nsangou may be from Cameroon but he's got a some big city funk to his game. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound has been a pleasant surprise so far at the tournament with the Tallahassee Wildcats. He's an effective set-up man that will be best served at a mid-major program. The well-built rising senior is a good rebounding guard that likes to defend and get his scorers the ball. Not bad for a guy that's been in the United States for four months.
Alvin Mitchell, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound small forward from Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale, had his coming out party on Saturday morning. The class of 2007 prospect erupted for 24 points and showed off his great slashing ability and sheer athleticism. He's one to watch from the Sunshine State over the next two years.
Edwin Rios showed little problems with his bum ankle on his six made three-pointers. The future Miami point guard finished with 18 points
Dwayne Collins has the longest arms and biggest hands here at the Big Bend. His spring off the floor isn't too shabby either. He's a freak of an athlete.
Without sounding too much like a broken record, South Florida got a major steal in Dante Curry. The newly committed Bull has been one of the top players at the Big Bend with his great athleticism and dead-eye shooting. Robert McCullum scooped up this sleeper early before he shined in July during the evaluation period.
John Kreft has mastered the art of the high-percentage shot. The 6-foot-10 center has only scored on two non-dunk field goals in the two games we've seen of him so far. The future Florida State pivot man flushes everything he can with two hands. The real tests await him though as his South Florida Heat team marches through the tournament bracket as the big frontline of D.C. Assault await them in a possible second round match-up.
Zach Peacock won't win any fans for style but he'll certainly rack up respect for his consistency. The Miami Norland product will put in an honest day's work of 12 points and nine rebounds a game but it's efficiency and work ethic inside that is intriguing. Peacock said Florida offered him during the high school season.
What's on tap
All of the big dogs are still playing strong and many will meet up in the final stages of the playoffs. D.C. Assault has been smashing opponents and have some good possible match-ups lining up with South Florida Heat and the Atlanta Celtics. The Tallahassee Wildcats and Team Breakdown could possible square off with each other.
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