Warning: whether it works or not, this column is intended to be informative and definitely on the lighter side. It's amazing what a month of $1 breakfast muffins in Vegas, $5 burgers at Disney and red-eye flights can do to a person. Without further adieu, here's my best shot:
Player of the Summer:
Most Improved: Tough category but we'll take center Andre Blatche over Robert Swift and Cedric Simmons. There's no question yours truly was a big fan prior to the summer but his selection to the ABCD All-Star game caught all by surprise. Meanwhile, "Swifty" just keeps taking his stock to new heights and "Big Ced" gets a little better every time out.
Biggest Riser: Joakim Noah's genetics are superb. His father was a champion tennis star, mom is an artist and when dad got bored with tennis he turned to pop music and is currently France's version of Enrique Iglesias. Joakim went from borderline high-major prospect to must-have Top 100 target in the span of about three days in early July. Honorable mention to Rudy Gay whose Nike performance solidified his status as an all-american.
Best Player You Never Heard About: Power forward Andrew Brackman of Ohio
Best Shooter: There's plenty to choose from in this category and A.J. Price is certainly tempting but the pick here is Bryce Taylor. Now, the future Duck owes half of this award to his setup man Farmar, but he still had to knock them down. If you need a guy to take the big one, Taylor's the man.
Best Rebounder: Everyone knows Al Jefferson and Dwight Howard can board. But, did you know who the best rebounder pound for pound in July was? Try Maarty Leunen. To this day, the skinny 6-8, 200 pounder's penchant for getting rebounds remains inexplicable. He's not built for it and doesn't wow you but he was a solid double-digit guy every time out this summer. "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis might be the sports book of the summer, and its main character, Billy Beane, would absolutely kill for this guy.
Best Position Transition: Raise your hand if you thought A.J. Price was a shooting guard? I know I did and it's time to stand corrected. Fast with the ball, Price improved his decision making, got himself focused on making plays, didn't lose the effectiveness of his 3-point stroke and simply went from great two guard prospect to elite point man.
Top Single Game Performance: Where to begin?
Junior of the Summer: Tasmin Mitchell was Co-MVP of the ABCD underclassman all-star game but that still wasn't his shining moment. His best work of the month came at the AAU Nationals where alongside "Big Baby" – if you don't know who "Big Baby" is by now, this column might not be for you – he unofficially snatched 20 boards in a game.
Sophomore of the Summer: Easy pick. In fact, it's quite conceivable that this is the best prospect in all of high school basketball. Greg Oden, at 6-11 and 235 pounds is a freak. There's no telling how good he's going to be but the smart play is watch him as much as you can for the next three years before it starts costing money to attend his games.
Top Trio: With apologies to Robinson, Sundiatta Gaines and Ronald Ramon who combined to win the most tournaments, we're going with the Atlanta Celtics in this category. In an informal poll conducted at 11 p.m. one night in Vegas, a group of hoopoligists with plenty of years experience collectively decided that Howard, Smith and Randolph Morris formed the greatest frontline in the history of AAU basketball. Not often a statement like that can get made.
Best Duo: Maybe the toughest category of the bunch. Obviously, Howard and Smith have the most combined talent. Livingston and Cerasoli had Ft. Sooy rolling for a while and high school teammates Malik Hairston and Joe Crawford make magic happen for The Family. For a week in Orlando, Shawne Williams and Corey Brewer ruled the AAU's with Memphis YOMCA and Glen Davis and Mitchell weren't bad with Sports Academy. But, since the nominees won't actually play two-on-two for the title the final answer is: Farmar and Taylor. Not since Maverick and Goose has such chemistry existed and America loves underdogs.
Best Defender: Not even close. Corey Brewer is the Deion Sanders of high school basketball. The guy takes pride in defense. How many guys can guard three players at once in an AAU game? It's rare to see a defensive player impact summer games the way Brewer always makes his presence felt.
Dunk of the Summer: Under normal conditions, Daniel Gibson's dunk on top of Mohamed Tangara at Nike Camp would runaway with the title but this is not a normal year for sky walkers. Tough guy Bombale Osby was dunked on multiple times by nominee Dwight Howard and winner Josh Smith. It's important to mention Osby is a tough dude who, at 6-5, did his best to guard the duo but came up on the wrong end of a camera flash more than once in a game in Vegas. The winning dunk was a snapshot by Smith that began just inside the free throw line and when it finished he wasn't, well, he wasn't exactly on the way down.
Best Accommodations: Forget the strip in Vegas. When its 110 degrees and the games don't end until midnight, who wants to deal with traffic? The best place to stay in Vegas is the Green Valley Marriott. The eats for breakfast are good, rooms are clean, access is there to the main roads and you can wake up 15 minutes prior the start of a game and still be at Green Valley High five minutes early.
Top Eats: If there's a better buffet in Vegas than the one at the Mandalay Bay Resort then I'll stand corrected. Overrated: Disney's great but the All-Star Sports Café on campus goes downhill in a hurry when you venture off the sandwich side of the menu. Overpriced: Sticking with Disney, the Mouse has the guts to charge $2.50 for a diet Coke.
Biggest Upset: Plenty to pick from here. For starters, one could successfully argue the Pump ‘n Run victory over the Atlanta Celtics at the Best of Summer but the Pumpers defeated ATL earlier in the spring. The smart money goes on the Illinois Wolves 16s. This group of rising juniors and a sophomore jumped a talented Tallahassee Wildcats team who probably couldn't have named a single guy on their roster and had no idea that the young Wolves boasted a 44-5 record in the last four months.
What's a best of summer list without Assistant Coach Awards? Don't think no one noticed the quality gear that was sported all month long. For example, Dayton's Billy Schmidt wins the "Outwear Division" for his red, block lettered Dayton V-neck pullover.
In the "Hip-Hop" category, Cincinnati's Andy Kennedy can't be beat. From the new kicks to the Jordan wear, Kennedy is truly cutting edge and a repeat winner.
July usually means shorts, polos and sneaks. Not for Vanderbilt's Jeff Jackson. The Commodore went for the "Corporate Casual" look all summer long and made it work.
Dwayne Stephens of Michigan State wins in the "Jersey Division" for his comfortable, yet stylish green Spartans baseball jersey and Texas' Frank Haith was the summer's "Most Versatile" assistant as he went from sunglasses and shorts to polos and pants faster than Clark Kent can change in a phonebooth.
And last, but not least, is the ever-popular "T-Shirt" division. Past winners have sported high school t-shirts to recruit's games but that didn't happen this year. Instead, Arizona's Josh Pastner kept his wardrobe simple. Pastner merely rotated between white, blue and red t-shirts with the word "Arizona" plainly stamped across the front of the shirt.
UCLA's Kerry Keating is the "Most High Tech" assistant in America. He's got so many gadgets that at one point it actually seemed possible that he could tap into the wiring of the scoreboard with his palm pilot and change the outcome of some summer league games.
The best "AAU Uniforms" award goes to Louisiana Dream team. Obviously someone spent a little extra on those duds. Thought I didn't get to see them play, I would have loved to see the unis that the AAU team "None of the Above" sported in Orlando. None of the Above? What's the incentive to go see players off that team play? Maybe next year?