Big Time, day 2

LAS VEGAS -- The second day of games at the Adidas Big Time Basketball Camp got underway with, like yesterday, some impressive performances from teams who played to a much higher level against opponents who were, or at least seemed to be more dominant.

The first game we watched this morning took place at Green Valley High School and pitted the Playaz Gold from New Jersey against the Gateway Bball Club from St. Louis, Missouri.

Gateway played a lot of stingy defense throughout the entire game. This enabled them to stay with a Playaz squad that had a greater physical advantage. It was obvious, there are probably 3-5 guys on that team who could play division one college basketball. They're that talented. But Gateway was very disciplined on both sides of the court and defensively their game plan was solid. They didn't take a lot of risks and I think this paid off because when the Playaz dumped the ball inside, Gateway immediately closed in on the defender. This caused some frustration for the New Jersey team and it looked as though this could be a good way to limit their scoring opportunities.

On offense, Gateway moved the ball very well. This team has practiced its fundamentals quite a bit because it did a great job of keeping the opponents on their heels. I give credit to the coaching staff on these two points. They taught these kids how to win this game from an offensive and defensive standpoint. Plus, I really liked how the Gateway players responded to their coaches.

The Playaz Gold were once again led by J.R. Smith. Throughout the game Smith proved why he could be one of the nation's premier two guards. On breakaways he's unstoppable, and a number of times he was able to anticipate passes, knock the ball away, and race up court for an uncontested slam. However, he did take some ill-advised shots and his mental approach to the game needs to be slightly altered. Smith plays with a lot of emotion. This seems to fuel his competitive fire and there's nothing wrong with that. But, he just needs to make sure it stays in check so that he's not too up or down. Make no mistake though, he's incredibly athletic and put up some big numbers yesterday when he scored 29 points against Colorado's Pump and Run team, including 4 three-point baskets. This guy will be an excellent player in college.

Another player, Alex Galindo scored 19 points and like Smith did yesterday, he too tossed in four shots from behind the arc. I really like his game. It's raw and he certainly has a lot to learn, but he is definitely a division one prospect. He's a native of Puerto Rico and came to the United States to play against better competition.

The team too is a fiery bunch and they have a strong desire to win. However they did not exhibit their best stuff during this game. This was seen at different points during the second half when they began to pull away, only to let Gateway climb back in it. As a matter of fact, Gateway should've won this ball game. They committed a number of turnovers, and also missed a breakaway lay up, all with less than a minute to go. Maybe it was too early in the morning for them, who knows. But The Playaz seemed to lack a killer instinct early in the day. However, that changed later that night when they went up against Inland I from San Bernardino, California. However, The Playaz survived and won by a score of 66-60.

The second of the day was a matchup between this same Inland ball club and the Pump N' Run of Colorado.

For the first time this tournament, I think I saw two teams who did not belong on the same court. It was a complete blowout. From beginning to end Inland dominated the action, and ironically the players, coaches and even the fans wanted more.

I don't think Colorado played poorly, it just came down to them being completely overmatched. From the outset, Inland looked to prove a point that they were not a team to be taken lightly. With point guard Ryan Burnett running the show, Inland opened the game on a 12 – 4 run and never looked back. It was tough to find one particular player who stood out during this game, because everyone was involved. Burnett really hustled on offense and defense. He pushed the ball up court a lot and created the up tempo type of game that Inland wanted to run. Sylvester Seay is another player who stood out during the game. Inside he was a beast, dominating the boards and also flashed some offensive skills as well.

Things got a little out of hand during the second half as head coach Elvert Perry, in an effort to keep his team focused had a few objections to the officiating. This in turn got the Inland supporters riled up and phrases such as, "Ref, you better have an escort when you leave this gym!" could be heard during the game. It didn't stop there, as the fans added some jabs directed towards the Colorado players as well. Considering Inland's lead never dropped below 15 points in the second half, these people did go a little overboard. Nevertheless, it was a great performance by Inland.

The Atlanta Celtics were the featured team (at least in my mind) during the third game. The Celtics must have quite a basketball breeding ground in that part of the country because in an age where big men are as easy to find as polar ice caps in Jamaica, they sport a front court of 7'0" Randolph Morris, 6'11" Dwight Howard Li, and 6'10" Joshua Smith. That is impressive. And so too were there dunks. Their game against Squires Richmond was much closer than anyone could have predicted.

Morris, Howard Li, and Smith were very impressive. They were what they have been and will be in the future – great basketball players. Each of them runs the court very well for big men and they are extremely athletic in the low post. But for every monster dunk or swat of a Richmond shot, the Squires seemed to ignore the hype that surrounded these plays. They knew a jumper was worth the same amount as a slam, and they were able to shut down the Celtic guards. This kept them in the game throughout its entirety and they actually had a chance to win the game, but missed free throws and some clutch play by the Celtics helped them come away with a hard-earned victory.

It was a far cry from their previous ball game yesterday when they accumulated leads of over fifty points.

In the night cap, we watched the Long Island Panthers go up against the Charlotte Aces. Up until the 10 minute mark in the second half it was not a pretty game to watch, something that boded well for the Aces.

While the Panthers are not a finesse team, they certainly were not a team that physically could grind things out inside against the Aces. Charlotte's Diego Belizario and Renato Souza made life miserable for Long Island. They just had more mass on the inside. This combined with the fact that a highly-touted prospect from the Panthers, Noah Joakin didn't light things up in the beginning, contributed to a rough start.

The Panthers started slow and couldn't buy a basket in the beginning of the first half. They seemed lethargic and run down by Charlotte's physical play. Joakin's play didn't help either. However, things started clicking and by the middle of the second half the Panthers were trapping, forcing turnovers and scoring points. With ten minutes to go in the game they went on a 16 – 2 run to erase a 14 point deficit and tie the game up at 42. They didn't stop there, and eventually ran away with the victory.

It took them a while, but better late than never. Charlotte seemed to get tired towards the end and just couldn't handle Long Island's aggressive play and trapping defense. I was impressed that they could mount a comeback that large.

Joakin is definitely a talent. He needs to put on a few more pounds so that he can battle inside. He didn't get a lot of touches during the first half, and created a lot of missed opportunities by his teammates into points for himself during their comeback. While his choices of schools are long and distinguished, including Arizona, UCLA, Cal, Maryland, Duke, and a large handful of others, he still won't make a decision in the near future. Whoever does land him though will be very pleased.

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