Las Vegas winds down, play heats up

Play heats up at the Las Vegas Big Time Tourney as bracket play continues and teams can smell the championship. Several players put on good performances, including a few Arizona recruits.

I attended only a few games Saturday at the Las Vegas Big Time Tournament before heading to Los Angeles and the Best of Summer Tournament at Loyola Marymount University.

I arrived at the Green Valley gym in time to watch the final half between the Atlanta Celtics and Belmont Shore. The Celtics won the game handily and the 74-57 final score really wasn't as bad as it could have been. The Celtics used the end of the bench for almost the entire second half and still won going away.

The Celtics were led by Sani Ibrahim, a 6-10 center who will attend Winchendon Academy in Massachusetts this fall. Like Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler, Ibramim will likely skip college and jump directly to the NBA. He's strong, physical and very athletic yet still has a lot of room for improvement.

When Ibrahim is sitting on the sidelines, the Celtics bring in Travis Outlaw, a 6-8 forward from Starkville (HS), Miss. Outlaw has great ball handling skills and a quick first step making him difficult to defend on the perimeter. He can also take his game inside and play with his back to the basket. He has a nice touch on his jumper and only needs to get stronger to be a dominating player at the college level. Outlaw is considered a top ten talent in the Class of 2003.

If that isn't enough, the Celtics also have one of the nation's top sophomore point guards coming off the bench. Darius Washington, a 6-0 point from Orlando (Edgewater), Fla. is a lightning quick point who can create and loves to stroke the three-pointer.

After the victory, the Celtics sat on the sidelines to see who their next opponent would be. The next contest featured the Playground Running Rebels from Milwaukee, Wis. against Inland and its star player Antoine Wright. Inland has been playing inconsistently but when they show good patience and work to get good shots they can be unbeatable. The guy Inland depends on most is Wright.

I had to leave the game with about five minutes left and Inland holding onto a 10-point lead. I wanted to see some of the Yes Red/Nebraska Bison game before leaving for LA and I had half hour drive to Durango HS. Wright had 25 points when I left and Inland was playing exactly the way they needed to play to win. The final score was 79-65 and Inland advanced to play the Celtics later that evening in a game the Celtics won 79-58. I missed that game but I'll have the opportunity to see both teams again in Los Angeles.

Nebraska Bison had beaten the Prep Stars, featuring Lenny Cooke, Kennedy Winston and Kalenna Azubuike the previous evening, so I knew Yes Red would have its hands full with the Bisons when the two met.

Nebraska, led by 6-9 center Wes Wilkinson from Grand Island (HS), Neb., along with sharpshooters Tyler Payne and Calvin Kapels, play a disciplined style that gives viewers the feeling this team has played together forever.

They move the ball around the perimeter and try to get open three-pointer. If Payne and Kapels are left free they can hit a big percentage from beyond the arc. If the defense leaves Wilkinson, they find him for the easy lay in.

Brandon Roy, who didn't play in Yes Red's previous game, came with his game face on and ready to play. But it simply wasn't enough. Roy scored 30 points, but Yes Red needed more than a one-man show and Nebraska advanced to the bracket final with a 78-67 victory.

On the other side of that bracket, the New Orleans Jazz advanced to the final by defeating Sean Dockery and the Illinois Fire 77-69. New Orleans then went on to beat Nebraska Bison Red 81-67 in the final.

Just some speculation, but if I were to make a prediction as to which two teams would make it to the Open Championship finals, I'd have to put my money on the Atlanta Celtics and the New Orleans Jazz.

If you'd like to look at the brackets for Sunday's games, here's the link:

Notes from the Nike Summer Showcase in Orlando:

I spoke with a source in Orlando and he told me Team Texas Red beat BABC to win the Summer Showcase Championship. Team Texas Red is led by the guard combination of Bryan Hopkins and Bracey Wright.

Wright, a two-guard from The Colony (HS),Tex., has had a great summer and will certainly be ranked among the nation's top 25 players. Hopkins, a point guard from Dallas (Lincoln), has also played well and added to his stock value. Wright is a whisker away from committing to Indiana and Hopkins might be leaning to Texas.

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