Watching Basketball at 2 a.m.? Only in Vegas, Baby

Looking to spend two or three early-morning hours, out and about in Las Vegas? There are plenty of options. Friday morning, at least for a few hours, a most viable option was watching some of the best high school basketball players in the country in action in the Tarkanian Basketball Academy at the Pangos Midnight Madness.

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – It was a basketball-viewing day that started like most others.


At least those, that is, which get under way with approximately 12:01 a.m. tip-offs . . .


But with five days on tap of near non-stop action in three tournaments involving seven or eight hundred high school-aged teams and maybe 10 to 12 times that many players – in a city in which the "night life", in reality, is 24/7 – it was probably the appropriate way to tip things off.


The Pangos Midnight Madness was held in the Tarkanian Basketball Academy, located just across the street to the south of the Palace Station Hotel and a couple of 3-pointers to the west of the Interstate 15 Freeway.


Fronted by coaching legend Jerry Tarkanian (and his sons, Danny and George), who led UNLV to a national title in 1990, the facility opens up to four full courts and an almost warehouse-like atmosphere.


Yes – it almost reminded me of a Costco for basketball, minus the shelves and checkout lines.


The only lines present Friday morning were those formed by all of the NCAA coaches (and a smattering of their junior college and high school counterparts and two or three media members with surprising endurance), who lined the courts to watch at least portions of the 16 "mini-games" that didn't wrap up until about 2:30 a.m.


Normally, I'd dig a lot deeper into the details of the "games" and the significance of the presence of those watching them, but the "real" contests in the adidas 64, Main Event and Reebok Big Time tournaments get under way in less than three hours. And I've get into that Vegas heat and be on my way!


It's going to be a long day, folks, so I'll attempt to make this as short (and I hope you find it at least somewhat "sweet") as possible.


One other thing: My back is killing me.


I'm hunched over my laptop trying to convince myself that the lower right portion of my back, which has been throbbing since mid-Wednesday, doesn't really hurt all that much.


 I'm not being very convincing.


I'm fairly certain (my first oxymoron in this Vegas coverage) that I strained a muscle.


OK, want to hear how I did it? I was lifting boxes in my garage, containing 200+ college basketball media guides from the 2003-04 season.


I was tossing them into the trash. I guess they've had their revenge on me.


All right, on to the nearly 2½ hours of on-court action Friday morning:


*The most heavily "attended" of the four contests in the first set of four games was the Friends of Hoop (Seattle) vs. The Playaz (Paterson, N.J.)


Spencer Hawes, very arguably the No. 2 prospect in the national class of 2006 behind Greg Oden, has recently narrowed his college choices to (alphabetically) Connecticut, North Carolina, Stanford, UCLA and Washington.


The later four of those schools' coaching staffs were out in near-full force: UNC with Roy Williams and assistants Steve Robinson and Joe Holiday, Stanford with Trent Johnson and aide Tony Fuller, UCLA with Ben Howland and assistants Kerry Keating and Ernie Ziegler and Washington with Lorenzo Romar and Huskies' staff members Cameron Dollar and Jim Shaw.


Jim Calhoun of Connecticut wasn't sighted (at least by me), nor was any of his staff members. But maybe I just wasn't looking very closely.


Friends of Hoop "won" the game (32-30) but you and me, and almost everyone in the building, could care less about the scores.


Hawes demonstrated every one of those dynamic skills he possesses, at both ends of the floor. Let's put it this way: If the NBA hadn't put in its "you have to be at least 19 years old and one-year removed from high school graduation" to be eligible for a draft, Hawes would be a Top 10 choice in the 2006 draft.


Playaz guard Wayne Ellington also gave his future (UNC) coaching staff, and everyone else in the warehouse, a nice look at his resume of offensive skills. He's the best scorer among guards in the national Class of 2006.


His teammate and future ACC rival, Gerald Henderson (a Duke commit), also had one of the night's best moves: a pump fake along the left baseline, followed by a right to left crossover dribble and dunk. Mike Krzyzewski wasn't around but it would have brought a smile (no matter how stoic) to his face.


*Jerryd Bayless got off to a bit of a wobbly start with his jump shot and passing but was sensational over the final six or seven minutes while leading the Arizona Magic past Team Sam Rines (based in Philadelphia).


Bayless' jump shots, and his passes, starting clicking with the net and his teammates, respectively, down the stretch. But it was his trailing block of a dunk attempt by Tyreke Evans that really shook the grogginess out of lot of viewers – me included – at almost 1 o'clock. I'm looking forward to what I hope will be an eventual matchup of Bayless and the D I Greyhounds' O.J. Mayo in the Big Time Tournament in next few days.


*OK, time to go really rapid fire now . . . Other Friday Early A.M. standouts included: Gani Lawal (Georgia Stars, from Atlanta), Will Walker (Illinois Wolves, based in Romeoville, Ill.), Rakim Sanders (New England Playaz, from Springfield, Mass.), Paul Harris (G.C. Ballers, from Niagara Falls)) and Drew Viney (Villa Park High, from Orange County, Calif.).


Among the other head coaches that I recognized in attendance: Ray Giacoletti (Utah), Jerry Wainwright (DePaul), Ritchie McKay (New Mexico), Reggie Theus (New Mexico State), Randy Bennett (Saint Mary's), Scott Drew (Baylor), Louis Orr (Seton Hall), Mike Davis (Indiana), Lon Kruger (UNLV) and Jay John (Oregon State).


The quality of basketball was of a much higher caliber than you might imagine you'd witness at a time when the more sensible among us would be in Slumbersville.


All in all, I've had more wasteful 2½-hour stretches of my life. But, fortunately, we're not going to be presented with that early morning viewing option over the next five days. So at least some of those on hand Friday morning will be getting to sleep at more reasonable hours the rest of "tournament week".


That is if our backs permit us to, of course . . .


Frank Burlison, elected to the USBWA Hall of Fame in April, is's National Basketball Expert and also covers basketball for the Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at Read more of Burlison's pieces at

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