LAS VEGAS, Nev. – As far as "statement" performances go, the one turned in by Spencer Hawes and his Seattle Friends of Hoops teammates spoke volumes early Sunday evening in the Durango High gymnasium.
If anyone had forgotten whom the Main Event's defending champions are – even minus some very prominent 2004 personnel – Hawes and his buddies reminded anyone and everyone during their 86-84 overtime victory over the D.C. Blue Devils.
"We're the defending champions,'' the six-foot-11 Hawes said, people slapping him on the back – literally and figuratively – after his 27-point performance and exhilarating play at both ends of play had helped FOH edge a club with at least two guys (Kevin Durant and Tywon Lawson) an almost certainty to join him on the 2006 McDonald's All-America team.
"And we had every intention of coming back here and winning it again."
Minus the likes of Martell Webster (the No. 6 selection in last month's NBA draft), Jon Brockman (University of Washington and also a 2005 McDonald's selection), Micah Downs (Kansas and another AA) and Mitch Johnson (Stanford), this didn't look to be nearly as potent a FOH unit as the one that dismantled most of its Las Vegas competition a year ago, including a Baltimore Cecil Kirk team by about 40 points on the final.
It lost a couple of times (to the same Blue Devils team and the Boo Williams All-Stars of Hampton, Va.) during the Nike Peach Jam Tournament in North Augusta, S.C., a few weeks ago.
And Friends of Hoop was outplayed inside by Athletes First of Oklahoma's corps of strong post players down the stretch in a loss Saturday.
But Sunday, despite seeing the Blue Devils erase a 15-point deficit in the second half before the D.C.-area guys almost won it on an inbounds play at the end of regulation, the team from Seattle showed why it is once again fully capable of leaving the city with championship hardware.
And, in the process, both teams gave the Durango gathering – including the coaches (Roy Williams and Jim Calhoun) whose clubs won the past couple of NCAA championships – as good a show as anything that will be produced by any of the three in-town tournaments in their Tuesday final day of competition.
The 6-foot Lawson, who plans to sign a letter of intent with Williams and North Carolina in November, swished two free throws to tie the score at 84 in OT with 5.2 seconds to go.
That was just six seconds after FOH junior guard Isaiah Thomas had dropped in a left-handed 3-pointer from straight away to give the Seattle lads a two-point advantage.
And that was only about 30 ticks from the moment that Jerome Dyson's steal and lay-in put the Blue Devils up by a point.
After Lawson's cool-as-a-you-know-what freebies, FOH delivered two crisp passes and suddenly Ernest Williams, a nice 6-4 two-guard prospect the Seattle suburb of Federal Way, was being fouled by Dyson with four-tenths of a second on the clock.
A member of the Lefties Club (with Thomas and Lawson), Williams was just as focused as Lawson was at the line moments before and dropped in both tosses. After an inbounds pass and desperation heave by a Blue Devil, all the Friends of Hoopville – including former Seattle Super Sonics and now-Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan, pops of FOH junior point guard Jamelle McMillan – were taking their subdued post-game celebration outside.
Lawson (24 points), Durant (15) and Dyson (18), along with some too-quick shot attempts by FOH's backcourt at times, helped the Blue Devils turn the tide from what was on the verge of becoming a Hawes-paced blowout victory.
But all of the Friends of Hoop players came through, offensively and defensively, in the two-minute overtime.
And Hawes, throughout the 34 minutes (the games are played with 16-minute halves) of near non-stop action of what was as good a summer contest as anyone has a right to hope to watch, provided ample illustration as to why Roy Williams, Calhoun (Connecticut), Trent Johnson (Stanford), Lorenzo Romar (Washington) and Ben Howland (UCLA) – the coaches who are the finalists in the Hawes Letter Of Intent Derby – were more-than-just-curious onlookers.
Neither Hawes nor the 6-10 Durant (who committed to Texas in the spring) guarded one another. But the Seattle Prep senior-to-be clearly came out on top in the figurative "match-up" of two of the most touted prospects in the Class of 2006.
Durant had one of what will go down as one of the most startling of individual plays this week – a catch of a mid-court lob and then resounding slam over the top of Hawes late in the first half.
But while Durant seemed content to play 15 to 18 feet away from the rim offensively, launching jumpers (he nailed at least three extra-deep 3's), off the pass or after one, two or even three dribbles while also scoring on the occasion follow shot, Hawes' performance was a model of versatility, both facing the basket and in the low post.
There was an assortment of turnaround jumpers, over either shoulder and while being heavily contested (usually by 6-8 Cliff Dixon, with plenty of help from teammates). There were transition dunks, drives-and-slams and a jump hook off the glass with his left (off) hand in the second half that still had a half-dozen NBA scouts buzzing hours later on the other side of town in another gymnasium and in another tournament.
Mix in his dominant rebounding performance (he had, by unofficial count, in the neighborhood of 15 grabbed misses), along with some pin-point passing – both out of the post and out on the floor – and Hawes looked every bit the No. 2 overall prospect, to Greg Oden, in the senior class.
But Hawes wasn't thinking "rankings" afterward Sunday. He was just jacked about his team showing the kind of form that could help it win a couple of times Tuesday (in the Main Event title game and then in the showdown against the adidas Super 64 Tournament winner later that night in Cox Arena at UNLV).
And he was elated about having the opportunity to demonstrate his skills against the team with players the likes of Lawson and Durant, guys he's come to know pretty well on the Nike Camp and traveling team circuit the past couple of springs and summers.
Had he been thinking about this "showdown" all of Sunday before getting to the gym?
"I've been thinking about this game since I heard about our schedule (in the event) last week and realized we were going to play them,'' he said.
``I even called Tywon and told him `make sure he (Durant, who, because of summer school commitments, only came to Nike Camp for the final two days and was considered a doubtful participant for this event) comes, too'."
That he did. And he and Hawes, who went head up for a decent portion of a Nike Camp game, are likely to continue their "match-ups" for a long while, if not in Tuesday's title game then in the 2006 McDonald's AA game (in San Diego), in an NCAA tournament and, ultimately, in the NBA.
Those in the Durango High gym Sunday, though, will always have that "remember when?" memory when recalling this particular Summer of 2005 Hoops Moment.
BOUNCING AROUND THE TOURNEYS SUNDAY
adidas Super 64 (El Dorado High):
*Anyone want to question the jump shooting ability of future North Carolina Tar Heel Wayne Ellington? The best two-guard prospect in the Class of 2006 dropped in a multitude (nine, according to those who were keeping track) of 3's during The Playaz Gold's one-sided victory over the Florida Starzz Sunday morning. Roy Williams was there to watch Ellington and Mike Krzyzewski was there to check out Ellington's teammate at the Episcopal Academy and with the Playaz, Duke Blue Devil-to-be Gerald Henderson.
Ellington, Henderson and their teammates will face a much more determined opponent – one which will have a very local support group in attendance – when it takes on the Las Vegas Prospects in a 10:20 playoff Monday morning. The Prospects team is led by point guard Marcus Lawrence (Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas).
*Combination guard Matt Bouldin (Thunder Ridge High) of Colorado Select Pump-N-Run played well in front of a coaches' gathering that included representatives from Gonzaga, North Carolina State and Notre Dame – and Jim Calhoun – among many others. It seems that Connecticut may be getting involved in the pursuit of the 6-4 Bouldin, too
*One of California's most underrated guards, 6-4 Landry Fields (Southern California's Los Alamitos High), saw his tournament come to an end Sunday afternoon when the L.A. Rockfish lost to the Compton Magic.
Fields said that Gonzaga, New Mexico and Stanford – listed alphabetically – are among the schools he's giving strongest consideration to at the moment.
Reebok Big Time (Coronado High)
*Because of several games at Durango that went into overtime (including the FOH-D.C. Blue Devils clash), I arrived at Coronado too late to catch any part of the New York Panthers' 86-85 overtime loss to the R.E.A.C.H. Legends (via Detroit).
The Panthers held a 17-point advantage at intermission and, according to one witness, a six-point lead with about 15 seconds to go in regulation. Ouch. So, in the one-loss-and-you're-toast format of the Big Time tournament playoffs, one of Reebok's high-profile grassroots programs was eliminated after one game.
The Legends' DeShawn Sims (6-7, 230 pounds, Detroit Pershing) supposedly had his way with all of the Panthers inside the lane and his numbers – 28 points, 21 rebounds, two blocked shots and four steals – would tend to validate that claim.
*I did see the next two games, with The Spiece Indy Heat, trailing by as many as six points late in the first half, methodically pulling away from the Philadelphia Crusaders for a 69-56 victory. Gee, does Eric Gordon (the Heat's 6-2 junior guard from Indianapolis North Central High) ever miss on his high-elevation jump shots? He hit four 3's en route to a team-high 20 points Sunday night for Spiece. Greg Oden went for 19 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots.
*The Southern California All-Stars, despite building a 15-point lead early in the second half, saw the Greenline Basketball Club tie the score at 64 with about two minutes to go before prevailing, 73-67.
Greenline is in actuality an entire high school team (De La Salle in Concord, Calif.) with no player taller than six-five. And it was playing without its best college prospect (guard Justin Joyner, who is playing with the Oakland Soldiers in this event).
To say that Southern California, which had been pounded by The Spiece Indy Heat the night before, seemed to be "sluggish and uninspired" is a mid- to mild understatement.
It should count itself fortunate that, unlike the New York Panthers, it hadn't been kicked to the tourney-also-ran curb. Chase Budinger and Kevin Love combined for 42 points and 24 rebounds for Southern California.
But the shooting start of the game was Greenline's 6-3 senior Lincoln Gunn (26 points, including eight of 14 on 3's). Fifteen of the team's buckets came behind the 3-point arc.
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 email@example.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.frankhoops.com