The Road's Rules: Stay on 5!

To be honest with you, I didn't want to go on this trip. It's always hard to look forward to driving 13 hours each way from Tucson through the Sonoran and Mojave deserts to Los Angeles and then on up to the Bay Area. And, being honest once again, I didn't know anything about any of the players we were going to see at the Stanford Nike football camp on Saturday afternoon. But the best thing about being relatively young and unattached is that having fun is sometimes only a road trip away.

Cat Tracks' editor Brad Allis and I began the 900-mile trek to Palo Alto Friday morning just after 8:00 a.m. in Doug Carr's Pathfinder. Our first stop was going to be in LA to pick up our resident football recruiting expert "CatEye", a 20-something former Wall Street stock broker who can rattle off the names of all the top prospects in the world of high school football.

Upon arriving at CatEye's luxury high-rise apartment just off of Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, we looked down from his 20th floor balcony to see a pretty bad car wreck in the intersection below. "Happens at least once a month," CatEye said. I hoped it wouldn't be a sign of things to come for the rest of the trip.

Back on the road I realized that living in "The Big Smog" is a punishment thanks to the never ending traffic jams on every single surface street, highway, on-ramp and sidewalk. I now look forward to the miniscule stop-and-go traffic that awaits me in Tucson on Speedway or Grant Road.

When we finally got up to speed on the outskirts of town, the three of us began talking about all-things sports. From Major League Baseball to the prospects of both the football and basketball teams this coming year. We yapped like teenage girls on the phone. Unfortunately, because we were talking and not completely focusing on the road, we somehow branched off from I-5 to Highway 99. This was not a good thing.

Instead of a straight shot up 5 to the 152 crossover towards Watsonville and Gilroy, we wound up going through lovely towns such as Kingsburg, Visalia and Fresno. Kingsburg was hosting its world famous Swedish Festival and immediately my mind turned to thoughts of blondes named Heidi, Inga and Katya frolicking around in knee-highs to the sound of accordions playing in the background. The problem was that Brad was on the phone with his longtime girlfriend and my strong suggestion of stopping in Kingsburg was passed over. Now I won't testify to this in a court of law, but I'm pretty sure CatEye was with me on wanting to stop.

Thanks to the detour on 99, we added almost two hours to our trip. But we did get to eat dinner in beautiful Los Banos, California. As we finished dinner, CatEye asked a local girl where a good club was. Her response was classic: "In Los Banos???"

* * *

The following morning, the three of us drove over to Stanford's practice field (which is better than most schools' actual playing fields) for an afternoon of NFL combine-like drills and one-on-ones between receivers/defensive backs and linemen on both sides of the ball. Upon receiving our credentials, we stood along the outer fence when a man walked over to Brad and CatEye and recognized them by the cattracks.net shirts and hats (which John Mackovick hates)they were wearing. Little did we know that Terry Tucker would be the key to the whole camp experience for us.

After nearly five hours of watching over 700 of America's top prep football prospects and making contacts with all kinds of coaches at both the high school and college levels, we hit the motherlode when Tucker and his son Enrico came back over to us.

Not only were the Tuckers present, but Tucker's best friend happened to be Ron Nelson, father of Arizona's top 2004 point guard prospect DeMarcus Nelson. A complete and separate story will detail the conversations with both Ron and DeMarcus, but for now let's just say that it was extremely productive.

Tucker was wearing a UCLA hat but he said he liked Arizona and visits this website often. He told us about his son, Enrico, a sophomore at San Diego's University High (alma mater of current Wildcat All-American Luke Walton). Enrico is an unbelievable athlete and overall talent as both a football player and a basketball player. Terry told me that he is a great prospect as a wide receiver and that he can do all the same dunks that Jason Richardson did in winning this year's NBA dunk contest.

In all, we met and became close with about two dozen kids and coaches from the Vallejo area, including John Bethel High coach David Salias and Bethel running back super prospect Dallas Bernstein, who rushed for an incredible 555 yards…in one game last year. "Dub Silly", as Bernstein is called by those close to him, actually had a chance to break the national record held by former NAU RB Ronney Jenkins of 617 yards. Unfortunately, Bethel's stat girl told the staff that he already had the record and he was taken out with over seven minutes remaining in the game.

One of the best things about the trip was that CatEye is the kind of guy that gets along with everyone he meets immediately and then becomes best friends with them about 4.2 seconds later. Every time I looked up, he was chatting with someone from the Pac-10 or a major high school or a popular website. By the time the conversations were finished, they were all asking him for his number or letting him know that he could call anytime. Between his friendliness and Brad's knowing everyone, I'd say we got a lot out of our day at Stanford. My contribution? I got BY FAR the best sunburn.

I thought about including what happened later that night at a couple of bars in Los Gatos but decided against it because there was no way to write about the events without incrimination occurring. About the only thing I can say is that if you ever want to meet girls at a bar in that area, just tell them you play minor league baseball for the Fresno Grizzlies.

The drive back was still 13 hours long and it was still driving through some of the ugliest parts of the American West. Yet, because of good company, good music (for me it was Tool, for Brad it was Sonic Death Monkey) and because we met so many great people at Stanford, the trip was more than worth it. In fact, at one bar in Los Gatos (T.B. Hannigan's), Brad actually met a guy who liked him so much that he repeatedly told him to come back every weekend.

"I live in Arizona," Brad said. "It's a full day's drive each way."

The guy, who may or may not have finished the entire keg of Newcastle by himself, simply said, "Then we'll see you next weekend!"

As for the expenses from the weekend, well, it was all on Doug's Visa card. Want the number?


Actually, we better keep that a secret. After all, we've got a lot more driving to do this weekend. Brad's got a new friend to hang out with at Hannigan's, CatEye has a nine o'clock meeting with Stanford's athletic director regarding the public relations position and I've got batting practice in Fresno early Saturday morning.

After the Swedish Festival, of course.

Other thoughts:

*Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA right now and absolutely WILL be better than Michael Jordan. Kobe is 23 years old and has already won two NBA titles and established himself as one of the all-time clutch performers in League history. Kobe is a better shooter, a better rebounder and equally as good as a playmaker. The difference is that Kobe has a huge head start in the race to replace Jordan as the best basketball player of all-time. As long as Kobe and Kevin Garnett continue to dominate the way they have since entering the NBA, there isn't enough of a reason to stop high school kids from skipping college.

*With all that said about Kobe's greatness, I still believe the MVP award this year should have gone to Jason Kidd. No way is there someone more valuable to his team than Kidd is to the Nets. I respect Tim Duncan but he didn't turn his team completely around the way Kidd did for New Jersey, which is three wins away from reaching the NBA Finals.

*Although I once thought differently, the Diamondbacks' future is actually pretty bright. With guys like Erubiel Durazo, Byung-Hyun Kim, Junior Spivey, Danny Bautista and minor league pitching ace Eric Garves on the roster, the defending World Champs have hope for a couple more rings during the Johnson-Schilling era.

*Person of the Week: DeMarcus Nelson. The basketball super prospect might have a chance at being a star two-sport athlete thanks to his rocket right arm as a quarterback. Over two dozen of the nation's best high school quarterbacks were on hand at the Stanford camp this Saturday and it's not a stretch to say that Nelson had the best arm strength of them all. Throw in the fact that he's already 6-3 and 190-pounds with over 40-career touchdown passes as a sophomore, and it's hard to believe that major college football coaches won't try to recruit him as a signal caller. On the court, however, the kid averaged 30 points, 15 rebounds, six assists and five steals per game. No wonder "Point Guard U." wants him running the show in two years.

{TheThrill22 can be reached via e-mail at Bh6677@aol.com}

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