Vegas Big Time, Day One

LAS VEGAS – It was a long, exciting day of basketball. Events started at 9:00 a.m. and we did not get home until 11:00. Even with a few noticeable absentees there was a ton of talent on display. The Cats are in on a lot of these players and we were courtside to watch.

Things were interesting right off the bat as the Arizona Magic squared off against Shaun Livingston's Ft. Sooy/No Limits squad. No Limits prevailed 86-67 despite a great performance by the youngsters from Phoenix. In the end it was too much Livingston and not enough rebounding that doomed the up-and-coming Magic, a team that has just one healthy senior on the roster.

Livingston has lived up to the hype. He showed why he is one of the top point guard recruits in the nation. He was just too athletic and long for the smaller Magic guards to handle. He also played inside when his club went into the zone. Arizona coaches were front and center, but so was Roy Williams who wants to get involved.

Lawrence Hill thrived with fellow forward Ty Morrison out with an injury. When we last saw Hill he played tentative, often deferring to the older Morrison. This time out Hill was aggressive and impressive. He worked hard and was clearly one of the best players on the court. He hit the boards and was a scoring threat. Expect his stock to rise. Schools involved early include Stanford and Oregon State.

Magic point guard Darren Jordan went up against Livingston and did not back down. He is very strong and uses his strength to get into the lane and score. He may not be as tall as you'd like but expect Jordan to be one of the top point guards on the West Coast next year.

We heard great things about Christian Polk at the Pangos Camp, but the youngster was not much of a factor today. He played sparingly and just could not get in the flow of the game. Polk has a ton of ability and will certainly be one of the top players in 2006, but in 2003 he was just an athletic player on the bench.

Next we caught the end of the Baltimore Select/Southeast Pump N Run game. It was 65-62 with just over four minutes to play when we entered the gym. We thought we might see a great finish, but because of a late injury to Baltimore's Cheyenne Moore, the Pump team went on a 13-4 run to close out the game and come away with the 78-66 win.

Southeast's Jackie Butler looked a little out of shape, but there is no denying he's a player. Junior Tyler Smith, a 6-6 junior from Pulaski (Giles County), Tenn., was very impressive and could be a player to watch out for in '05.

Moore is a very talented wing who has some interest in the Wildcats. The 6-6 slasher is legit, but the Cats could have trouble getting him out of the East. Moore pulled a groin muscle late in the second half and was not a factor down the stretch.

We came out to see the Michigan Hurricanes, but it was the Portland Inner City Players who impressed us. Lute Olson has long said that Portland AAU teams stress fundamentals more than most and against the bigger Hurricanes it proved that fundamentally sound players could compete with bigger teams.

The Players jumped out to a lead before Michigan's Jason Horton led the Hurricanes back. The stud point guard was missing at the start of the game but showed up and was able to shoot and pass his team to the win.

We wanted to see the Playaz Gold team to see Wildcat recruit Alex Galindo, but instead were treated to the J.R. Smith show. Smith was unstoppable, leading the Playaz past a well-coached Pump N Run Colorado squad. Smith canned four first-half three-pointers and then added rim-shaking dunks and highlight-reel passes en route to a 29-point performance. We got to see Galindo for the first time and came away impressed. He has all the tools, but foul trouble and Smith's spectacular game limited him. Galindo has great size and length, and his frame looks like it can hold more muscle. He's got a nice looking shot, though most did not fall, and is very active on the glass. His defense is suspect and he picked up a number of silly fouls. However, he scored an "unspectacular" 14 points for his team.

It didn't take long to see why UCLA was so quick to grab Aaron Afflao. The shooting guard is a pure scorer who can do it inside and out. He was the top option for his SoCal All Star team and the thought of teaming him and point guard Jordan Farmar in the same backcourt has Bruin fans drooling.

This won't come as a surprise to anyone, but Marvin Williams is good. His combination of size and skill make him a top prospect. He looks like a power forward but has the speed and quickness to play out on the perimeter. He was one of the main reasons that his Rotary Select team came back to beat the New York Ravens. Williams hit four free throws in the final minutes to tie the game and then take the lead.

Though Williams is the marquee player, Rotary Select is a loaded squad. Point guard Lyndale Burlison is a good one and forward Josh Heytvelt will be a strong addition for Gonzaga. C.J. Giles is an '05 player the Cats like, but the big man favors Kansas and USC at this time over Arizona, Washington and Miami.

We saw the Magic again and they were outstanding in the day's second game. They ran the Beach Ball Select off the court, using the release of perimeter defenders down court to create easy scoring opportunities.

Hill continued to impress. In addition to scoring he was an active shot-blocker, making things tough for Select shooters. He picked a good time to shine as Stanford's Mike Montgomery, Oregon State's Jay John and Arizona's Jim Rosborough were among the coaches observing the talented junior.

Livingston's second game was not quite as impressive as his morning debut. Early in the second half he tried to showboat on a breakaway dunk. The lanky guard tried to flip the ball to himself while in the air, but he lost the handle before he could finish the slam-dunk. Not only did he fail to convert on the dunk, but he was charged with a turnover as well.

Things got worse late. Livingston had the ball in his hands in the final seconds of a tie game. With less than 10 seconds to go, he was stripped of the ball and the Donyell Marshall Foundation team prevailed with a pair of foul shots with less than a second to go.

At the same time Livingston was playing, the Atlanta Celtics were serving notice that they are likely the team to beat. They jumped out to a 71-29 halftime lead and cruised to an easy victory over a decent Los Angeles Paladins team. Dwight Howard did little to disprove that he isn't the top player in the class and Randolph Morris and Josh Smith showed that they were not too far off. Morris is a legit seven-footer and has expressed some interest in the Wildcats.

Lost in the rout was the Paladins' Dorell Wright. Another athletic '05 big man, the 6-8 Californian is helping add to the growing reputation of the junior class.

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