But then there are days when you know why you do this.
Saturday was one of those days. It had all the elements you crave in this job: a great, competitive game against two titan-like prospects; being able to watch a nice kid who was previously unknown before blowing up and become a nationally-recognized recruit, and watching another kid who has played basketball for just about two years who is a freak of nature and a potential pro, among other revelations.
FOH ultimately won in overtime, with free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining. But the competition that Hawes and Durant created was the real drama. It was obvious that they were jacked to play each other and personally challenged. They were jawing at each other for a good part of the game. One of them would throw down a monster dunk on the other – and then the other would return the favor. Back and forth. Trying to one-up each other, but all within the flow of the game.
The day started off disappointing when Larry Drew Jr., the point guard from Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft, was a no-show for his Pump N Run #2 game, apparently staying home in L.A. to train. What is this kid thinking? (that's a joke, guys).
EBO, which really doesn't feature a UCLA recruit in the junior or senior class, played in the morning. Jeff Withey, the 6-10 sophomore center, got in a for a few minutes, all he's afforded on a talent-loaded team. Many coaches were in attendance to watch Derrick Jasper and Quincy Pondexter. Stanford and Gonzaga were in the house to check out Joe Harden, the 6-5 wing from Stockton (Calif.) St. Mary's. Many schools are waiting to see if Stanford will move on Harden. Washington, USC, and UConn were there for Jasper and Pondexter, probably.
From there, on to the L.A. Paladins' game, featuring 6-10 junior Anthony Randolph. In the Adidas Super 64 book, it lists Randolph as attending Phelan Serrano High School, out by Victorville, where his family is, despite the fact it has been decided what school he could transfer to in California. I hadn't seen Randolph actually play with a team, only in a camp environment, and it proved again what a freak of a prospect he is, playing harder and being more focused in a team environment. He actually has a chance to develop into a NBA wing (I don't think I've ever written that about anyone over 6-9 since I've been doing this job), bringing the ball up the floor with the handle of a guard, taking people off the dribble and, most importantly, guarding a 6-0 point guard at times well. He did all this while also playing above the rim, throwing down huge putbacks and snagging rebounds.
On to watch the Nebraska Bisons, featuring 6-9 center Matt Hill. Hill is garnering a lot of attention, since there just aren't too many legit post players who have skills in the country, and Hill does. He's still very thin, and relatively narrow in his frame, and still lacks the strength to squeeze the ball and hold onto it in traffic. But I watched him in two games Saturday, one at 9:00 p.m., and he was one of the most active centers I've seen this summer, always around the ball, actually blocking out, and going after every shot within ten feet of the basket. He's also quite skilled, being able to score with either hand, with good footwork. Nebraska has offered, but they are getting competition from the likes of Iowa and Purdue, and other schools are in the process of checking out Hill, including UCLA and Gonzaga. It's why there are assistant coaches up until 10:30 at night in a remote Vegas gym, trying to find any center who can play and is a very good student, like Hill is.
UCLA will probably look into Hill and gauge interest. One source said he wouldn't go far from home, while another said he was intrigued with the west coast.
The prospect who is blossoming into a top 50-level national recruit is our own Deon Thompson, the 6-8 center from Torrance High. Thompson has been playing hard and putting on a show, displaying post moves and footwork that you just can't find anywhere in the country. The likes of North Carolina, Connecticut and other heavy hitters are checking out Thompson. Kentucky is showing interest. Arizona State, who has offered him, is sending three assistants to each game. UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland and assistant Kerry Keating were at his evening game, where not only did he score in the post, but showed his superior ability to pass out of the post, hitting cutters under the basket for easy buckets. His team, Branch West Reebok, lost, so he's done in Vegas, but they'll play in Los Angeles later this week, and you can expect Howland to be at many of those games.
Will UCLA offer Thompson? I would suspect. When you see him in the context of so many other players, like in Vegas this week, you really understand how good he is, and UCLA more than likely will come to that conclusion themselves. We spoked with Thompson after his game, and we'll have that interview coming up, but we know that his mom wants him to stay close to home, and his high school coach is pro-UCLA. Also, his AAU coach, Bob Gottlieb, who is one of the best actual coaches in the AAU circuit and partially responsible for Thompson's dramatic development, would definitely want to have one of his kids go to UCLA.
Andy Poling, the 6-10 sophomore center from Portland (Oreg.) Westview, is going to be a big-time player, and Pac-10 coaches know it. Also playing with him on the Portland Panthers is Phil Nelson, the 6-6 senior small forward, who is blowing up, showing uncanny shooting ability, probably being the best shooter in the class of 2006 in the west, and great athleticism. He could very well be the best small forward in the west for 2006. UCLA can't recruit him due to academics, though.
A very interesting note: If the So-Cal All-Stars win today, and Santa Margarita wins, they'll face each other later tonight. The significance? If you remember, the So-Cal All-Stars was the AAU team of UCLA commit James Keefe who opted to play with Santa Margarita in Vegas, and has been playing exceptionally well (obviously, if he's leading his high school team through the playoff brackets).
Hopefully Monday will be another good day like Sunday…