Las Vegas tourney showcases nation's best preps

The Las Vegas Big Time Tournament got underway Wednesday and more than 300 high school teams came to show their game. And almost every college basketball coach in America was here in this gambler's Mecca to take a chance on some of this awesome talent.

I spent most of the day watching players the University of Arizona is recruiting and most of them were playing in the Green Valley facility. However, I did attend one game at the Durango Main gym and got to the gym just as the preceding contest coming to a close. This game had drawn what had to be the largest crowd of the day, standing room only, to watch the player many think is the best high school player in the country.

LaBron James, a 6-7 junior-to-be from Akron (St. Vincent-St. Mary's), Ohio, was putting the finishes touches on his 34-point outing and the buzz was that those who attended had just witnessed the day's best performance. Unfortunately, I missed it. I have heard that James might declare for the NBA draft. That is not such a big surprise, considering the number of high school players who have skipped college in recent years. But James is considering the jump after next season, his junior year at St. Vincent-St. Mary's. James can surely do make the jump if the NBA will allow him to do so. But that's another story at another time.

At this point in time, let's just say James is good enough.

Now, on with the rest of the story……I got my first look at Antoine Wright today and when the day ended I had mixed feelings.

Wright played twice today and his performance this morning could be described as a "dream come true." However, his performance this evening was nightmarish.

In the earlier contest, Wright scored 30 points, had three or four rebounds, blocked a shot and helped lead his Inland team to an easy 62-53 win over the Student Athlete Broncos. Wright showed a shooting touch that was nearly perfect. In fact, he hit 4-6 three-pointers and was 12-18 from the field. It almost seemed like he hit every shot. He also played most of the game at the top of the key when running the offense and when he wasn't open he got the rest of his teammates involved. At 6-7, Wright is a great athlete, passes well and handles the ball like a point guard. He can hit the three-pointer or put it on the floor and create a shot. When his game is on, there is very little Wright cannot do.

But when it's not on, as was the case this evening, Wright can be his own worst enemy. In the late game, Wright was 6-21 from the field and hit only 1 of 10 three-pointers. The more he missed the target, the more impatient he became. Wright was jacking up three-pointers at an alarming rate and that was a factor in his team losing the game.

Inland, down 50-35 with under nine minutes left in the game, managed to gain a 67-67 tie and send the game into overtime with a last second leaner from the corner. Wright, Inland's star player, struggled in OT. He hit only two of five field goals (both being dunks) in the overtime period and Inland came out on the losing end of 78-76 decision.

To Wright's credit, he contributed five rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots in the losing effort.

Inland has another impressive player on its team. Antoine McGee, a 6-0 point guard from the Mercerberg (Penn.)Academy. McGee is a lefty with a great stroke from beyond the arc. He is very quick with the ball in his hands and is has shown to be an unselfish point guard. Unfortunately, in tonight's game he was a little too unselfish. McGee should have been taking some of the shots he passed up, instead of feeding the cold Wright.

Not only did I get a chance to see the nation's top junior, but one of the top sophomores is also in attendance.

Sebastian Tealfir, a 6-0 point guard Brooklyn (Lincoln), NY, dazzled the crowd with a big time performance playing for the Juice All-Stars. Tealfir is lightning quick and impossible to guard one-on-one. He has the ball handling skills to blow by the best defender and if his defender plays him loose he'll bury the three. In short, there is no way to stop him. When they use a gimmick defense, he kills his opponent with the pass. In another year Tealfir, like James, will be considering the jump for the big bucks.

I had the opportunity to watch Richard Chaney again today. Chaney, who plays for the Pump N Run, helped his team to very easy 88-64 victory over Team Breakdown. Because of the margin of victory, Chaney saw little action in the contest. So, to say I could make a solid evaluation of his performance would be somewhat of a stretch.

On the other hand, I can make a few observations.

While Chaney is on the floor, he seldom makes a dumb mistake. He's just not going beat himself with stupid play. He's not real aggressive offensively, but he's not too shy either. It's just that you don't always notice some of the little things he's doing. He has extremely long arms, but doesn't really play aggressive defense either. He's such a solid player you know he will be a very good defender when encouraged to do so, ala Richard Jefferson.

Another thing about Chaney, he seems to have a nose for the ball. He moves so effortlessly that you really don't know he's done anything until after it happens. His athleticism and long arms make him a very good rebounder, and in today's contest Chaney pulled down a number of rebounds in the short time he was on the court.

Pump N Run has two very good big men on its team as well.

Martin Iti might be the most intriguing of the two. Iti, who came to this country from Australia, was suppose to play for Villa Park (HS), Calif. last season. However, Iti was declared ineligible and had to sit the season out. I asked Iti what his situation was for the upcoming season and he didn't seem any surer than he did last season.

"I don't know what I'm going to do (this season)," Iti said. "You'll have to ask my uncle about that. I really don't know (where I'll be going to school)."

Iti said Michigan, North Carolina and "a lot of schools" were recruiting him.

The Pump N Run's other big man is Brad Buckman, a 6-8 center/power forward from Austin (Westlake), Tex. In today's game, Buckman got knocked around (maybe "beat up" would be a better description), but continued to play aggressively and was a real force in the paint for his winning team.

Buckman is tough at both ends of the court. He has a nice touch around the basket and is a very strong rebounder. On defense, he doesn't give an inch. When his opponent scores, it's because they really earned it.

Chris Rodgers and Brandon Lincoln are on the same team playing for the Inner City Players. I didn't see a complete game but did see portions of their game today and both played well.

Lincoln was much better today than when I saw him at the Nike Camp. Sometimes when a player is taken out of a team concept, and Nike is almost exclusively a "one-on-one" camp, the player loses his comfort zone and does not perform up to his capabilities. Today Lincoln was back to his old self. He was more aggressive on the offensive end, yet played within the team concept. Lincoln is not a big scorer but he's a solid performer at both ends of the court.

Chris Rodgers is simply the best!!!

Every time I watch Rodgers play, I seem to see something I missed before. Today I noticed how well Rodgers anticipates how a defense is going to play him and how well he can use screens to spin off and out of certain situations. He just a great feel for the game.

I'll see more of Rodgers and Lincoln tomorrow. I'll also watch Brandon Roy and Bryson Krueger for the first time since the Pump Easter Tournament.

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