Big Time: News and Notes from Day 4

LAS VEGAS -- It was a rough day Thursday for the five remaining North Carolina targets at the adidas Big Time Tournament.

Seniors Mustafa Shakur of Philadelphia, New York City's Chris Taft and New Jersey's Earl "JR" Smith, along with juniors Seattle's Marvin Williams and Atlanta's Dwight Howard, were all eliminated from the tournament.

The "Fab Five" joined Wisconsin's Brian Butch, Texas' Lamarcus Aldridge and California's Marcus Williams and Ekene Ibekwe as players on teams sent packing.

Because of injuries and inconsistencies, it wasn't a productive week for UNC senior recruits to be evaluated. Shakur played in spurts but his hip pointer gave him trouble. Villanova and Syracuse are positioned well among the Big East schools, and Arizona is tracking him all over the place out West.

* As for Taft, he was the only player available for an interview. Taft's performance this week fittingly ended with a blowout loss to the Mississippi Panthers, 92-66. He showed flashes here and there but rarely cracked 10 points and needed to be more aggressive.

However, his list of colleges is impressive.

"I like North Carolina, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Miami, Maryland, Kansas and Arizona," Taft said. "There are so many colleges that I like that I'll miss a few."

However, for Taft to attend one of those colleges, he's hoping to meet some of his academic goals.

"I need to average an 85-90 percent this year," he pointed out. "I'll need to work really hard."

As for his basketball skills, Taft has a strong body, is quick and a surprisingly good passer.

"I see the court real well like the guards," he said, "But I want to work on my ballhandling, shooting and to get stronger."

* With Smith being the newest UNC hopeful, it's going to take a lot of time and patience before he's academically eligible. He might not be the best NBA prospect of the Tim Thomas Playaz Gold squad, but he is their best player.

He's an athlete deluxe who rarely lets an opportunity slip by. He's not spectacular from 3-point range or with his ballhandling but the 6-foot-4 Smith gets it done.

For instance, when Cal recruit Marquis Kately was guarding him, he had a hard time creating his own shot. But once Kately went to the bench for a rest, he victimized a lessor defender.

However, colleges have put his recruitment on hold, hence he hasn't been offered a scholarship.

What's the holdup? His grades. Smith is looking at a post-graduate year at St. Benedicts (N.J.) after his senior year at Lakewood (N.J) High School. Actually, if it were up to college coaches, he'd attend prep school this year but Smith reportedly wants to have fun his senior year.

As a player and recruit, Smith is a little similar to Seton Hall signee J.R. Morris, who was in the same position as Smith a year ago. But Morris went to prep school and got it done. If Smith goes to prep school the same could happen. Stay tuned.

* For the two juniors, Williams and Howard, both are fantastic athletes for their positions.

Howard could be the best rising junior in the country. He has that kind of potential.

The 6-foot-10 center from Atlanta has the type of bounce and quickness that NBA teams covet. He's not as strong as Aldridge at this point but is impressive. How the Atlanta Celtics, who also have possibly the No. 1 swingman in the junior class in Josh Smith, lost to Indiana's Billy Shepherd sports, is quite a mystery.

Williams is a stud athlete who is more of an undersized four at this point at 6-foot-6, but when going to the basket or in transition, he's an elite player. He's also good at drawing fouls, evidenced in one game where he only hit a 3-pointer but was able to go 9-for-10 at the line to finish with 12 points. Look for the Pac-10, Duke, Kansas and UNC to all track his progress.

Speaking of Aldridge, Florida is in good shape at this point as Billy Donovan has made inroads with Aldridge and has a good relationship with traveling coach Mitch Malone of the Texas Blue Chips I since UF also recruited former Blue Chips Chris Bosh and Daniel Horton in the past.

West coast recruits: Four players who continued improving their national stock were Los Angeles' Trevor Ariza, Las Vegas' Lorenzo Wade, Arizona's Todd Scott and temporary Seattle product Churchill Odia Ehis. Scott and Ehis both drew looks from the North Carolina coaching staff.

* Ariza continues to show vast improvement as he's trying to go from an undersized power forward to a small forward. The son of former Florida forward Kenny McCleary (1984-1988), Ariza said his recruitment is still wide open.

"USC, UCLA, UNLV, Florida, Maryland and Georgia are the colleges that I like," Ariza said. "Florida is a little bit of a leader. I'd like to make a decision before the season starts."

* Wade is an extremely smooth shooting guard who hasn't played in many national events. However, many respected talent scouts on the West Coast believe he's the No. 1 shooting guard. It's easy see why.

Wade's recruitment, like Smith and Taft, will really take off once colleges know he'll have a chance to qualify.

"Tennessee and Marquette are recruiting me the hardest and Oregon, USC and UNLV too," Wade said. "I would like to get at least a 3.5 grade-point average this year. So far, I have a 2.3 gpa and got a 800 on my first attempt on the SAT."

* Ehis, whose name would be arranged Odia Churchill Ehis in his native Nigeria, is the rare rising senior who has zero leaders and is wide open. He also needs a high school, with Virginia's Oak Hill Academy rumored.

"I need to make the right decision with college and I'm going to take my time," Ehis said. "The reason I came here to the United States is to get my education. A lot of players think about going to the NBA."

Ehis will be playing for Nigeria in the Junior Championships in August, held in Egypt. And in September, he returns to the U.S. to figure out which high school he'll attend.

Ehis' cousin used to be a hot recruit from Nigeria several years ago. Olumide Oyedeji was a one-time Rutgers commitment but they couldn't get him into school. The former Seattle Supersonics center recently signed with the Orlando Magic.

* Scott's stock is going up because he's a rare quality these days -- a qualified 6-foot-10 center/power forward. When schools start missing out on the Butch's and David Padgett's of the world, Scott could be next in line for some of the colleges desperate for size.

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