Big Time Impressions From Las Vegas

A trusty member of the DevilsDigest staff attended the biggest Basketball recruiting extravaganza known to man - the Big Time tournament in Las Vegas. While the main purpose of the trip was to follow ASU recruits, our writer couldn't but help notice the sights and sounds of this Hoops spectacle.

Everybody gets excited about a visit to Las Vegas. You make a special trip to the bank for a little more money than you ordinarily carry. Ok, a lot more. You test your little blackjack theories on the home computer; maybe you even fluff yourself up with one of those little hand-held poker games. You can't sleep the night before. If you're driving, there's nothing like coming over that final ridge and seeing her in all her glory. Lady Luck, the ultimate tease, just ahead for the taking.

But even if you're not a gambler you still get psyched about going to Sin City; we all do. You see, whether you gamble or not, you go to Las Vegas to have obscene amounts of fun and just let it all hang loose. You go to the shows, the nightclubs, the gourmet restaurants, the forum shops, and the zillion-gallon pool with all the gorgeous people. You do it all, unless of course you are a college basketball recruiting junkie and it just happens to be that singular week in July when you'll do none of it, and be even happier than if you actually had.

It's the Las Vegas Bigtime 2002 Tournament: 344 teams from 43 states playing basketball on 26 courts at 13 area high schools for 5 days at over 12 hours a day at each location. By the end of the week, the championship teams in each division (open, ‘A', ‘B' and ‘C') will have played as many as 10 games over that 5-day span. There are no multi-millionaire athletes, no thousand-dollar courtside seats, no dancing girls, no laser light shows, no $5 hot dogs, and no instant replay. It's just thousands of teenage basketball players desperately competing in front of hundreds of coaches from around the country in an effort to receive an invitation to get a scholarship to the school of their dreams. In other words, it's Christmas in July, and at 110 degrees the heat is on in more than one way.

You realize that it's Bigtime with a capital ‘B' when on day 1 merely 3 hours into the tournament, as you sit in an Auxiliary high school gymnasium with one row of seating around 3/4 of the court, you notice that Rob Evans, Roy Williams, Matt Doherty, Lute Olson, Bobby Knight, Bob Huggins, Bill Self, Ben Braun, Lorenzo Romar and countless other coaches from around the country are rubbing elbows, (literally) watching the same game as you, and there are 25 other simultaneously taking place all around the city. "Who is at all of those games" is something you might remark out loud to nobody in particular as you shake your head in disbelief.

But if you want to actually delve into the surreal, imagine the next evening, across town at another Auxiliary gym where you find yourself packed in with nearly a thousand people watching the Juice All Stars led by Slam magazine cover boy Sebastian Telfair. As you sit on the floor along the baseline enjoying your $2 pack of Red Vines that you purchased at the concessions counter, Antoine Walker of the Boston Celtics walks in and sits right next to you. You offer Antoine some licorice and tell him that he has the best "dance moves" of anyone in the NBA. As if that's not enough, Lebron James, the #1 high school player in the country and subject of a heated endorsement battle between Nike and Adidas likely to begin at 20 million dollars a season, walks into the gym with a couple members of his entourage while wearing a "Pistol" Pete Maravich Utah Jazz jersey, purple headband and white Nike tennis shoes with a burnt orange swoosh. He sits down along the baseline, just two seats away from you on the other side from Walker. Now, you're sharing a pack of Red Vines with Antoine Walker and Lebron James while watching Telfair make passes that you've only seen on Playstation 2.

As the tournament progresses you become quite accustomed to seeing several things happen with regularity. At every high school gym coaches wander the parking lot aimlessly wondering not only where they left their car, but also which car is theirs in the first place. It's an impossible game involving non-descript mid-sized late model rental vehicles made all the more difficult by the brain meltdown caused by the extreme temperatures, long hours, and numerous daily intra-city trips to high schools that all look alike. And half the time there is a cell phone conversation going on at the same time.

Another thing you see constantly is the jockeying for viewing position. While coaches can't talk with the players, they do everything they can to be seen by them. They'll sit or stand along the baseline for the entire game, just hoping to get an opportunity to retrieve a loose ball and usher it back into play via their favorite player, along with a big ‘choose us' smile. Lute Olson went to the furthest extreme possible, literally standing outside of the gym for a good half hour while Brian Butch's AAU team met nearby for the final time after a disappointing playoff loss. Olson patiently waited about 30 feet from Butch while signing a couple autographs and speaking to people until eventually the only three people remaining outside were Butch, an interviewer speaking with him, and Olson, a bounce pass away, just grinning. As the interview wrapped up, Olson calmly walked inside, secure in the knowledge that he had made the extra effort, while his peers stayed in the gym to watch the next game, or perhaps were already in route to another site.

Some of the coaches would argue over gym assignments. Nobody wanted to be on the far outskirts of town like the new Sierra Vista High School, where there was no place nearby to stop for food, or anything else for that matter. Still other coaches desired to avoid at all costs the multiple daily hour long drives to some of the school on opposite ends of the Valley.

Most games went by without anything earth-shattering happening, but every once in a while you'd see a performance that literally had the crowd buzzing. In the very first game of the week at Green Valley High School in Henderson, the team with the most talent in the tournament, the Atlanta Celtics, put on a display led by junior to be Josh Smith that had those in attendance talking about it for the rest of the week. Smith, 6'8 and only 16 years old, scored 34 points on an array of three point baskets, dribble drives and alley-hoop dunks, and had even University of Georgia head coach Jim Harrick out of his seat, laughing and talking with anybody who'd listen after the game ended. He liked what he saw in the Celtics and so did everyone else. The team has at least 6 high major prospects.

Smith is just one example among dozens of players who have literally overnight improved their standing from good player to a national phenomenon coveted by the best universities in the country. If impressing college coaches was not enough, many games had professional scouts in attendance as well. Watching LeMarcus Aldridge play with the Texas Blue Chips, were at least a half dozen NBA scouts including an Indiana Pacers scout seated two seats away engrossed in a mostly one-sided conversation with University of North Carolina head coach Matt Doherty. Rather than talking about basketball, the two engaged in a lengthy, if trivial, conversation about the temperature of the gyms (always either too hot or too cold).

Doherty wasn't the only person to complain about the gyms' climate however. Several of the "Magnificent 7" ASU supporters who made the trip also braved the sometimes frigid gym temperatures (especially early morning and late at night) in anticipation of seeing future Sun Devils for the first time and with the hope of helping the recruiting cause by being decked out in the traditional ASU gold on a daily basis. Their presence was so impressive that Bigtime staffers even asked several of these loyal fans to move into the proper "coaches" designated seating area. The fans responded by telling the staff that they were simply fans and not members of the Sun Devil basketball staff. There was no doubt that fan support was more visible for ASU than any other school in the country, including the home school, UNLV.

With five scholarships to give in the 2003 class the summer evaluation period was extremely important for ASU, even more so than in most years. Over the next month or so there will be several high profile recruits on campus visiting, and signing a good class in November will be essential in terms of building on the success of the last several classes in which elite players such as Jason Braxton, Curtis Millage, Ike Diogu, Serge Angounou and Jamal Hill selected ASU over a great many other high profile schools. ASU has already landed a verbal commitment from top 75 national recruit Tron Smith and several other elite level recruits are considering ASU among their finalists.

It really seems as though Lady Luck may finally be starting to again smile on the Sun Devils. The level of continuity within the program is at a level not seen in over a decade. And the talent level is finally coming back around to where it needs to be. This year's version of the squad has a realistic shot at finishing in the top half of the conference and making the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight years. That would be Bigtime with a capital ‘B', indeed. For the first time in over a dozen trips to Las Vegas, it was as exciting leaving the city as it was arriving at it, and the reason was simply ASU Basketball.

Sun Devil Source Top Stories