(FEBRUARY 10, 2001) TRENTON, N.J. – The NBA All-Star Game down the road in Philadelphia was the perfect backdrop for a tussle between Oak Hill and LeBron James' St. Vincent-St. Mary squad. James and Oak Hill's Carmelo Anthony put on a tremendous show as casual fans and NBA types mingled at the Sovereign Bank Arena.
James, Anthony Answer The Call
There's one common denominator present in everyone who goes to see junior LeBron James play basketball: no one ever leaves doubting how good he really is.
On Sunday, James and St. Vincent-St. Mary fell 72-66 in a spirited contest to one of the nation's most powerful teams, Oak Hill Academy. While the Irish weren't victorious on the hardwood, it's now clear that James is high school basketball's Golden Boy.
He's a unifying figure in high school basketball. He's the only guy in the country who is powerful enough to draw executives from both Nike and adidas to the same building at the same time. In case you didn't know, this "sneaker war" should dwarf other recent epic battles. Right now, adidas leads for his services with the swoosh trailing and while each company has aces up its sleeves, it's unlikely anyone has played their trump cards yet.
Ah, back to the hoops.
Carmelo Anthony, the best senior wing player and James, well, the best player in the country period, got after it. "Melo" scored 34 points on 14-for-25 shooting. James scored 36 points on 12-for-27 from the field. Statistically, it was about even. But, as good as Carmelo Anthony is, and he's pretty darn good, James is simply on another level and it's not just about scoring.
Caught at the free throw line with nowhere to go off a drive, James weighs his options. Does he force a fadeaway jumper? Maybe lean in and try to draw a foul? How about none of the above? With John Stockton-like vision and Magic Johnson-like precision, he's finds a cutting teammate for a layup. Now James just didn't hit him with a good pass on the move he throws a bullet bounce pass behind his back to his comrade for the deuce.
James finished with 5 assists, 5 steals and 10 rebounds. He played defense, guarded Anthony at times, disrupted the passing lanes, soared for rebounds and directed traffic at the point. He did all of this while playing against an entire team of Division I prospects. His value to SVSM was summarized in one stretch of just over a minute and a half when James asked for a breather. In the brief time he spent on the bench, Oak Hill went on a 7-0 run. He didn't sit the rest of the game.
LeBron James did everything on Sunday, everything but win. That distinction belonged to Carmelo Anthony.
The Syracuse-bound swingman matched James' 11 fourth-quarter points. It was Anthony who came up with the big rebounds and key buckets down the stretch when Oak Hill needed them. Oak Hill had six field goals in the final quarter and Anthony had 5 of them; Sani Ibrahim had the other.
Just the other night, we said that Anthony is a different player when he's rebounding the basketball. Against SVSM he corralled 14 rebounds, 5 offensive. He was able to get in the lane and be a factor on the blocks. Once, he took James down and posted him up for a bucket. His 34 points included just one 3-point field goal.
Like James, Anthony will play in the NBA. Clearly, he's got that kind of talent and is that good. He's good enough to help Syracuse make a run in the NCAA's next season. He's as gifted an offensive player the Big East has seen in a long time. As good as Carmelo was on Sunday, he wasn't the best player on the floor and that's a little scary.
The NBA guys can't find enough superlatives to heap on LeBron. Most just thought it was silly that he's a high school player and will be for another year.
The big boys were in Philly where you probably couldn't find a seat for under $200 bucks. Most people watched James and Anthony for $10. One day, that too will change.
James' adidas are of the patriotic variety (these were his actual game shoes)