The first recruiting event I ever covered was not an AAU event, but rather an old BCA event in Phoenix. It was the summer before Mike Bibby's senior year and he was already committed to Arizona. He played on a loaded team that included future Oregon State player Brian Green and future New Mexico guard Lamont Long.
Their Arizona Stars team was set to play a team made up solely of Salpointe players. Unfortunately, the game was scheduled at a gym that had a faulty air conditioner. It was the middle of the summer, in Phoenix no less, and there was no AC.
The thing I will remember most, other than being as hot as I have ever been, was the scrappy Salpointe team battling to stay in the game against their more talented counterparts. In the end Bibby and Co. had too much fire power, but the guts displayed in such oppressive conditions were a lasting memory.
It was the 2001 Nike All-American Camp and Amare Stoudemire was all the rage. Everyone knew he was going pro, and that made him the story. It was amazing seeing these elite, big time college basketball prospects, looking at Stoudemire like he was a rock star.
There were also concerns about Stoudemire. He showed up to the camp with a P.R. person and there were stories, many coming from camp workers themselves, that folks from the competing adidas camp had flown a private plane to Indianapolis to try to get Stoudemire to travel back to New Jersey with them. As the story goes, Nike officials had to guard the doors to the hallway of Stoudemire's room.
His play was impressive as well. He was a man among boys, but that actually made him look less athletic than he proved to be. All he had to do was back smaller kids down and dunk on them. He did not need to show off any offensive moves, so when my beloved Phoenix Suns drafted him I was a bit concerned. Obviously, those concerns have subsided.
Rise of the Celtics
It may have been the most talented frontline in the history of AAU ball. Three NBA players, two of whom made the leap right from high school. The 2003 Atlanta Celtics featured a frontline of Dwight Howard, Randolph Morris and Josh Smith. In short they were nearly unstoppable. Not only were they all tall, they were athletic.
In one game they got out to a 71-29 halftime lead against a Los Angeles Paladins team that had some solid players on the roster. Most of their games degenerated into slam dunk fests. It was a sight to see, watching three big men get up and down the court. In fact, it wasn't a rare occurrence to see Morris or Howard leading the break.
The big surprise was not that Howard and Smith made the leap right out of high school, but that it actually took Morris three years to get to the NBA.
Filling it up
One of the best individual performances was that of J.R. Smith. His play in late July catapulted him from a top-tier recruit, to a first round NBA draft pick.
In one game he scored 29 points and dished out at least six assists in a win over a solid Pump N Run Colorado squad. He had four first-half threes and a number of big dunks. He played to the crowd for most of the game, thumping his chest and pointing to the younger members of the Playaz organization sitting in the bleachers.
He did not just dish out assists, but made them look pretty. Add to that his willingness to hit the boards. All in all he put on one heck of a show.
And I won't back down
At that stage in 2005 people on the West Coast knew Brandon Jennings was good, but his match-up with O.J. Mayo and the D-I Greyhounds turned out to be his coming out party. Mayo is one heck of a player, but the young Mr. Jennings had a better game. The Greyhounds tried to get into the young guard's head by playing very physical, but the move backfired. Instead of making Jennings play passive, it fired him up.
In a game full of superstars, Jennings was sensational. He scored 24 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out 10 assists, with just one turnover. He made a series of sensational passes and controlled the game. He was a perfect 2-2 from behind the arc and was a sensational 9-12 overall.
The only knock on him was the fact that he made just 4-of-8 fouls shots in the 87-83 win.
Mayo scored 28, but shot poorly. He was just 8-25 from the field and a horrendous 1-12 from three-point range. Getting to the foul line 13 times aided his nice scoring total.
The Greyhounds bumped him, knocked him around and talked trash to him. None of it worked, and today Jennings is the one getting in younger players' heads.