Any questions about the toughness of Arkansas prep sophomore basketball star Michael Sanchez were probably answered over a week ago in Indiana.
Sanchez, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward ranked as the 43rd-best sophomore in the country by Scout.com, played through an injured shoulder and provided toughness as his 16-and-under Arkansas Hawks garnered second place in the 16-and-under division of the Spice Indy Heat Invitational.
One defining moment for Sanchez -- who played at Springdale High last season and will be at Har-Ber High next year -- came when he couldn't take any more of his teammates getting roughed up under the book and decided to jump in and do a little enforcing of his own.
"It was a typical Cincinnati AAU team with big, physical guys and we were really getting hammered on the boards and roughed up inside," Hawks AAU coach Kevin Kyzer said. "We were trying to play Michael as little as we could because of the shoulder, keeping him out of the pool play games and just playing him some in the fourth, but he came to me in that one and said 'Coach, I've got to go in and put a stop to this.'"
He also served up a facial to one of the Cincy players who had been controlling the paint.
"We were down six at halftime and he came in and just started setting the tone himself and took it right to those big ones," Kyzer said. "He was basically shooting with just one hand and really got a lot of his points from the free throw line by just taking it at them. He was not going to be denied and laid a few shots himself when people came across the line."
The Hawks, who would fall in the finals to the Illinois Wolves despite holding a seven-point lead, have flourished this spring already with top four finishes at all four of their tournaments.
That includes a third-place finish at the Real Deal on the Hill in Fayetteville, the second place finish in Indiana, and fourth-place finishes at the Next Level Tournament in Dallas and an event in Memphis.
Sanchez, who had an offer from Arkansas before his first high school game, has been over 30 points in many of those games and posted several double-doubles.
"There is no doubt he has been carrying us," Kyzer said. "He is a legit 6-8 and 210 now and has really improved in his passing out of double teams, ones that he has been seeing a lot of. He's been hitting some threes, but he really has shown a great all-around game. He is a mismatch for anyone that plays him. He is being so aggressive."
Sanchez has already accepted invitations to the NBA Players Association Top 100 Camp in Richmond, Va., the last week of June and the prestigious Reebok ABCD Camp in Teaneck, N.J. on June 4-9.
The Hawks, whose next event will be the Tournament of Champions in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend, are also getting good performances from several other players on this year's squad.
That includes Siloam Springs' Nate Rakestraw, Marianna guards Anthony Allison and Channin Hardin and Fort Smith Northside's Kodi Burns, who most may know more as a star quarterback.
"Nate is really playing well," Kyzer said of a player who has been invited to the Adidas Superstar Camp. "But the weekend we were in Indiana he really shook off the rust of not playing this last year when he was injured. He really got in a groove."
Burns reminds Kyzer of a former Razorback.
"He's playing great and reminds me a lot of of Corey Beck in how he is 6-2, strong and just locks down his man on defense," Kyzer said. "He is definitely our best defensive player and he's also getting it done on the offensive end and getting to the free throw line a lot."
The Hawks will also participate in the Reebok Big Tournament July 22-26 in Last Vegas, an event where they captured the 15-and-under title last season.
"I really like the way this team is coming together," Kyzer said. "They are really getting after it."
Some 200 of the state's best junior football players will be in Little Rock this Saturday for the annual FCA combine, although some -- including a bevy of Springdale prospects --- are opting to go to the Nike Combine in Oxford, Miss., on Sunday instead.
The FCA event begins at 9 a.m. in War Memorial Stadium.
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