LAS VEGAS, Nev. – In reality, the only real question about the Open Division of the 2005 Reebok Big Time Tournament concerns how many people can be squeezed into Foothill High's main gymnasium each time Spiece Indy Heat takes the floor.
The division's defending champion played its second and third Big Time games Saturday morning and later that evening.
The results were a couple of packed-to-the-gills crowds and convincing victories for the team from Indianapolis over two of the three clubs most would tell you have the best chance of snatching that championship trophy away from it Tuesday night.
This stuff could get boring if watching Greg Oden & Co. perform wasn't such an enjoyable viewing experience.
It can't be much fun playing against them, though.
The New York Panthers (courtesy a 77-63 mid-morning pasting) and Southern California All-Stars (via a numbingly one-sided 81-57 affair in a 6:20 p.m. contest that was decided before 6:25) can attest to that notion.
That Oden is the most dominant low-post presence in high school basketball since Shaquille O'Neal was a prep (16 years ago) is a given to anyone qualified to put where he is as a player right now into historical perspective.
But his Lawrence North High, as well as future Ohio State teammate, was the player in the Foothill High main gym Saturday who was first and foremost deserving of the most praise.
Is Mike Conley the most complete – no, let's make that the best, period – point guard in the Class of 2006?
After watching him dissect the teams from New York and Southern California Saturday, and seeing his effort in helping his team to the gold medal in the USA Basketball Youth Festival in June, it would be a chore to convince me otherwise.
His numbers – 33 points (including 25 vs. the Panthers), on 11 of 20 shooting, nine rebounds, 13 assists, four steals and only one turnover – Saturday don't even begin to adequately illustrate just how good the slender lefty was.
His decision-making was nearly flawless and his defense was spectacularly sound – even if the later point does sound like a bit of an oxymoron.
Some seven hours after slick Brandon Jennings (Compton, Calif., Dominguez) had startled a crowd, which included a near Who's Who of every high profile coach in the sport, by leading the Southern California All-Stars past O.J. Mayo and the D I Greyhounds of Cincinnati, Conley was in lock-down mode against the best sophomore in the country.
Jennings, who had 24 points, five rebounds, 10 assists and only one turnover Saturday morning, turned the ball over four times straight up vs. Conley in the first six minutes. Game . . . set . . . match.
The dynamic Jennings and his SoCal teammates will live to fight another day – maybe even Tuesday, when they could have a quarterfinal tournament rematch with the Heat.
But Saturday belonged to Conley.
MORE FOOTHILL/BIG TIME Saturday observations:
*Lake Oswego, Ore., High junior center Kevin Love, in his second game with the Southern California All-Stars Saturday following his apparent parting-of-the-ways with the Nike-sponsored Portland Elite Legends, thoroughly demonstrated why he's the second most forceful post presence in high school basketball.
The 6-8, 260-pound Love has the widest bevy of post moves on the prep level and he put a big portion of them on display in scoring 31 points against the D I Greyhounds.
But Saturday night he ran into High School Low Post Force No. 1 – Greg Oden – and even Love's most well designed, back-to-the-basket artistry and sheer strength were thwarted against the future (2007?) No. 1 pick in an NBA draft. Love was held to 12 points.
There's no shame is being the second best center for one season, though.
*O.J. Mayo hit Bill Walker with a pass for the winning lob dunk with a second to go in their team's 69-67 victory over the New York Panthers Saturday night.
But Mayo, the consensus choice as the No. 2 player in all of high school hoops to Oden, continues to struggle with his jumper. He has missed 44 of his 69 shot attempts in three games, including 25 of his 34 pops from behind the 3-point arc.
Mayo is too skilled and has too much savvy to "settle" for so many jump shots.
*He's no longer the subject of all the national hyperbole that began to swell when he was a rising ninth-grader when he attended the Nike All-America Camp three summers ago. The hype machine has sputtering since at least last summer.
But don't go filing Derrick Caracter's name in the "Gee, whatever happened to?" category just quite yet.
Anyone would be hard pressed to come up with a list of more than 10 players in the Class of 2006 that are better prospects than the 6-9 and (I'm guessing here) 270-pound-ish forward.
He's got soft hands, an even softer shooting touch and remains surprisingly nimble despite. He – not Mayo and not Walker – was the most effective player in the Panthers-D I Greyhounds game Saturday night, scoring 22 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking three shots.
*Phil Nelson, a 6-8 forward for the Portland Panthers who attends McNary High, is the best "pure" long-range shooter in the event in the minds of several head coaches who watched him Friday and Saturday.
*Patrick Christopher, a rangy 6-4 off-guard who has transferred to Dominguez (Compton, Calif.) for his senior season, scored 20 points as Los Angeles-based Team Danny Williams (formerly The H-Squad) beat Houston Swoosh 17 Blue, 80-65.
Coaches Tubby Smith (Kentucky), Lorenzo Romar (Kentucky) and Ben Braun (California) were among those watching him.
He announced for Cal last January but has since re-opened his recruiting.
Here are interesting Kentucky and Washington "connections" for Christopher: He lives across the street from the family of former Dominguez and Kentucky player (and current Detroit Piston) Tayshaun Prince. And Washington forward Bobby Jones (another Dominguez alum) is also a Compton neighbor.
HITTING THE OTHER STOPS
*Why were head coaches Roy Williams (North Carolina), Ben Howland (UCLA), Lorenzo Romar (Washington), Jim Calhoun (Connecticut) and Trent Johnson (Stanford) in the Durango High main gymnasium Saturday at lunch time?
Well, the recruiting-attuned among you know what that coaching combination means: Spencer Hawes, the Friends of Hoop (and Seattle Prep High) post with exquisite inside/outside offensive skill set, was in action.
His team lost toAthletes First (more on them in a few moments). But each of those coaches is likely to be on hand Sunday evening in the same facility at 5:20 when Friends of Hoop takes on the DC Blue Devils.
It will be a Nike Camp match-up revisited for Hawes when he hooks up against Kevin Durant in what promises to be one of the highlights of this event. Both are in strong contention for the right to claim, "Hey, I'm the second best senior prospect in the country behind Greg Oden!"
*Oklahoma's recruiting class continues to look more and more like it will be in strong consideration for No. 2 honors behind Ohio State's 2006-07 newcomers.
One of the players committed to Kelvin Sampson's program, Keith Clark, looked like a future All-Big 12 power forward while helping Athletes First (of Oklahoma City) pull out its win over Hawes and Friends of Hoop. He played like a Top 25 player Saturday.
ADIDAS SUPER 64
DESERT PINES HIGH:
Thaddeus Young of the Memphis club was the object of their attention and understandably so: The 6-8 lefty is a fluid and efficient scorer who is definitely more of a "3" instead of a "4" prospect on the college level. I'd like to see how he responds when he's eventually challenged by someone of his size and skill level in the event's tournament, which gets under way Sunday. He could face such a player, Michael Beasley, if Team Memphis and DC Assault advance to the semifinals Monday night.
*Williams then moved into the Desert Pines auxiliary gym to check out the Carolina Miners, led by Future Tar Heel William Graves.
Frank Burlison, elected to the USBWA Hall of Fame in April, is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert and also covers basketball for the Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.frankhoops.com