Big Men Dominate on Day One in Vegas

Greg Oden and the Spiece Heat prevailed in a sizzling Big Time Tournament showdown with O.J. Mayo & Co. Friday afternoon at Foothill High in Las Vegas. Earlier that morning, on the other side of town at Desert Pines High, Fresno's EBO showed why it's the favorite to repeat as the adidas Super 64 champion.

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The day actually started at about 6 a.m. Friday, when I slapped together some of the highlights of Pangos Midnight Madness of a few hours before for a frankhoops.com column.

 

By the time I settled into a courtside seat at Desert Pines High, though, it was a little past 10 o'clock when the overwhelming favorite to win the adidas Super 64 Tournament, Fresno, Calif.-based EBO, took on the Bay Area Hoosiers.

 

Brook and Robin Lopez, and their San Joaquin Memorial High buddy, Quincy Pondexter, supported by a cast of what seems to be dozens in the 6-foot-3 to 6-8 range, rang up a 30-point victory at Desert Pines High after springing to a 20-1 lead.

 

Yeah, it was obvious the EBO guys don't mess with decaf. They were wired and rarin' to go.

 

A college coaches' comment that is going to be heard a lot in regards to the Lopez Twins, not only in Las Vegas over the next four days but also in any venue in which they play until the 6-11 lads are no long wreaking havoc on high school competition:

 

"I don't want to have to play Stanford over the next few years".

 

It's obvious but begs to be repeated here: The Cardinal, under Coach Trent Johnson, isn't going to be slipping much, if at all, when probable all-Pac-10 selections Chris Hernandez, Dan Grunfeld and Matt Haryasz depart after next season. Johnson and his staff probably have to fight looking all too giddy in anticipation of the Lopez Brothers signing letters of intent in November.

 

The 6-7 Pondexter probably would have committed to Arizona months ago (his dad, Roscoe, and uncle, Clifton, played for Lute Olson when he was the Long Beach State coach in 1973-74) but the Wildcats are apparently waiting to get a definitive word from another California wing prospect (Chase Budinger) before deciding to offer Pondexter.

 

In the meantime, though, Pondexter is having a stunning July, playing well at the adidas Camp in Suwanee, Ga., and picking up co-MVP honors with Brook Lopez while helping EBO win an adidas tournament in the same Georgia facility the week after.

 

Two of the other head coaches who now seem locked in on Pondexter, a high-energy player at both ends with a much-improved (and much more orthodox looking) jump shot than he displayed even as recently as last season, are Lorenzo Romar of Washington and Jim Calhoun of Connecticut and both watched the game Friday morning. Both programs, it should be noted, are also evaluating another EBO player, guard Derrick Jasper (Paso Robles, Calif., High).

 

I also checked out a half of The Playaz (the New Jersey version, coached by Jimmy Salmon) and, although the team looked a bit sluggish – remember, it had played in the Midnight Madness less than 12 hours before – Gerald Henderson and Wayne Ellington, as is apt to be the case every time they step on a floor in basketball shoes, looked more than solid.

 

Mike Krzyzewski was in the stands to watch one of his future Blue Devils (Henderson). I'll pass on any American Express commercial quips. But then some of you might consider that last line a quip in itself, right?

 

Anyway, it was time to find the rental, coddle my somewhat less-excruciating lower right back muscles (thank you, ibuprofen!) and cruise cross-town – way cross-town – to Foothill High, some 30 minutes worth of Highway 95 away.

 

The Big Time Tournament showdown between Spiece Heat (Greg Oden & Co.) and D I Greyhounds (O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker) was expected to draw a healthy crowd.

 

And that it did – and then some. The main gym supposedly had seating capacity for 2,500. If you want to count all of those who squeezed through the doors and weren't seated . . . well, let's just that 2,500 figure was exceeded well before the teams tipped off.

 

Mayo, after a 4 of 17 start from the field, hit three or four 3's over the final few minutes – including one with a couple of seconds to go – but Spiece Heat prevailed, 69-67.

 

Nothing that transpired – during that game or while watching the New York Panthers beat the Southern California All-Stars, 82-79, in the next high-profiled but not nearly as well-attended game – led me to change my stance that we could likely see a Spiece vs. D I rematch in the championship final Tuesday night.

 

Let's keep the analysis of the players in the Spiece-D I game as concise as possible:

 

*Oden's stats (10 points and 12 points) were modest but his presence was anything but. After an apparent one-year stop at Ohio State, he'll be the No. 1 selection in the 2007 NBA draft.

 

If not for the new NBA collective bargaining agreement, he would have (or, at least, could have) been the top choice next June.

 

And, if not for high school underclassmen having being banned from the draft, he could have (I'm thinking, would have) been the top pick in last month's draft, too.

 

OK, maybe that wasn't concise after all.

 

Walker continues to be one of the most spectacular jumpers I've ever seen (his dunk over the top of Daequan Cook elicited more disbelief than appreciation from the crowd). His jumping ability is always going to overshadow every other aspect of his game.

 

And it might have been the least impressive game I've seen Mayo play in three years. He simply "settled" for way too many long jumpers. Mayo is a quality jump shooter, off the dribble or off the pass. But his value to a team is in making teammates better by creating opportunities for the other four guys on the floor with him. He didn't do that nearly as much as usual and that's why Spiece was actually relatively comfortably in front all of the second half.

 

Lance Thomas (for the Panthers) and Chase Budinger (for the Southern California All-Stars, marking his return from the wrist injury he suffered at the NBA Players Association Camp) were, from start to finish, easily the dominant players in the Panthers' 82-79 victory over SoCal.

 

Thomas attacked the Southern California defense (although the team doesn't play a lot of it, quite frankly) from all angles, from within 12 feet of the rim, with drives, pull-up jumpers and follow shots.

 

Budinger scored at will in transition and off jumpers – mostly from mid range – in a losing cause.

 

UCLA and USC are still listed as the finalists with Arizona for his college services. But I'm confident he'll sign with the Wildcats in November.

 

The other guys I was most impressed with Friday at Foothill:

 

*Alex Legion, the 6-3 junior guard for Detroit's Country Day who is playing for the Michigan Hurricanes: OK, after watching him for the first time extensively Friday night, now I know what all of the hype is about. He's got to be a Top 10 member of the Class of 2007.

 

*Deon Thompson, a 6-8 post player from Torrance High in Southern California and a member of Branch West Team Reebok: His post moves are smooth, polished and efficient. His recruiting options seem to be expanding, both regionally and nationally. Assuming his academics are in order, he could have offers from multiple Top 25 caliber programs.

 

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 frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.frankhoops.com


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