LAS VEGAS – Wrapping up five days' worth of watching high school basketball after seemingly navigating my way to every gymnasium in this city and enduring weather of which it most kindly can be said: "At least it's a dry heat".
Dry or not, though – hot is hot:
*The bummer about Wednesday, the final day of action in the Reebok Big Time, adidas Super 64 and Main Event tournaments, is that it wasn't a physical possibility to be in both the Foothill High gymnasium (in Henderson, 18 miles southeast of downtown Las Vegas) and Cox Pavilion (where the adidas and Main Event finals, along with the Las Vegas Prep Showcase pitting the champs of both events, were played) simultaneously.
I opted for what I considered the sensible approach, watching the first two games in Cox Pavilion (victories by Pump-N-Run Elite over D.C. Assault for the adidas championship, followed by Houston Hoops' 18-point win over two-time defending champion Seattle Friends of Hoop in the Main Event final), and then busting it to Foothill via the 215 and 95 Freeways.
That's where I watched the Southern California All-Stars rally to beat the Chicago-based Mean Streets Express for the Big Time Open Division title, 69-63.
*I had to rely on the cellular phone report of Victoria Sun of the Cincinnati Post to relay the news that Pump-N-Run had toyed with Houston Hoops, 103-86, in the Showcase game later Wednesday night in Cox.
Was it ever close? "It was a ‘beat down'," she said, meaning it wasn't nearly as hotly contested as the game I'd just watched at Foothill.
*After watching him play for a day and a half at the adidas Superstar Camp in Suwanee, Ga., earlier this month and then four times at Foothill, I think Eric Gordon (Mean Streets Express/Indianapolis North Central High) is every bit as worthy of the No. 1 ranking in the Class of 2007 as any other candidate that could be suggested, most notably Kevin Love, O.J. Mayo and Kyle Singler.
After hitting his first four shots (all behind the arc) and scoring 18 points in the first half Wednesday night, it appeared as if he might light up the Southern California All-Stars for something approaching 40 points and help his team knock off the most gifted traveling team in the spring and summer of 2006.
But props to whichever coach (Joedy Gardner or Kelly Williams) suggested switching defensive assignments and putting Brandon Jennings onto Gordon, because the junior point guard – who played easily his best game during the five in which I watched the Southern California team in the event – helped hold Gordon in check as the high-flying and sweet-shooting Gordon scored just seven points after intermission.
*The Southern California-based Pump-N-Run team, which held a huge coaching advantage in each of its games because of the presence of Jim Harrick (the former Pepperdine, UCLA, Rhode Island and Georgia head coach) on its bench calling the shots, picked up its third tournament championship of the spring/summer Wednesday.
The Southern California All-Stars picked up five titles in that time but never crossed paths with its adidas-sponsored counterpart.
They were clearly the two best teams in the city over the five-day stretch (with Mean Streets Express a relatively close third).
And, led by 6-5 James Harden (Lakewood, CA, Artesia) – who dropped 34 points on D.C. Assault and then 33 more on Houston Hoops later Wednesday – the PNR club would present a variety of problems for the Southern California All-Stars.
Ultimately, though, PNR – like every other team that faced the Southern California All-Stars this spring or summer – would have no way of coping with 6-9 Kevin Love, who is from that "Southern California" community of Lake Oswego, Ore.
But its poor defense, in half-court settings and especially in transition, was the biggest reason it couldn't never mount a serious run on the PNR team in the second half of the adidas final.
*Seeing the 16-under division of the Las Vegas Prep Showcase while working on my Top 25 performers' list (you've got to love that Cox Pavilion high-speed wireless Internet access!) late Wednesday afternoon was a nice bonus.
The Indiana Elite (from the adidas tournament) knocked off the Bethesda, Md., Magic (from The Main Event), 72-60, behind the play of junior forward Muhammed Conteh.
Bethesda's best looking prospects were 6-7 Terrence Vinson and 6-8 Isaiah Armwood, both sophomores and the next exceptional players to be developed at Montrose Christian in Rockville, Md.
*OK, that's enough for now because I have to pack, check out of my hotel and head to McCarran International Airport and return to some sense of normalcy in Southern California later Thursday.
So, without further ado (didn't I hear that a few times during a press conference at Foothill High Tuesday?) . . .
The Top 25 performers in Las Vegas over five days
(It's not based strictly on college potential but on how they performed while I watched them and what they did to get their teams as deep into their tournaments as possible)
*-Reebok Big Time
**-Adidas Super 64
***-The Main Event
1. *Eric Gordon 6-3 Sr. Mean Streets Express
Frank Says: If you're looking for a one-word description of his play, "wow" is more than suitable.
2. *Kevin Love 6-9 Southern California All-Stars
Frank Says: The fact that he couldn't be guarded, 1-on-1 (and, just as rarely, 2-on-1), is why his team and not the Mean Streets Express cut down the nets in the Foothill High gymnasium Wednesday night. Committed to UCLA
3. **James Harden 6-5 Sr. Pump-N-Run Elite
Frank Says: If his play here is any indication, he'll be the third McDonald's All-America to come out of Artesia High in Lakewood, Calif., joining Ed O'Bannon (1990) and Jason Kapono (1999).
4. *O.J.Mayo 6-4 Sr. D-1 Greyhounds
Frank Says: His team was bounced from the Reebok tournament in the Round of 32. Yeah, who would have predicted that?
5. **Austin Freeman 6-4 Sr. D.C. Assault
Frank Says: He can score as frequently and in as many fashions as anyone in the country. But his defense (which James Harden exploited Wednesday) needs a lot of fine-tuning.
6. *Derrick Rose 6-3 Mean Streets Express
Frank Says: The next "showdown" with Mayo will probably take place in the 2007 Roundball Classic in Chicago.
7. **Mike Beasley 6-8 Sr. D.C. Assault
Frank Says: The best low-post scoring performance in town over the five days was turned in by this guy in the first half against Pump-N-Run Elite.
8. **Jrue Holiday 6-3 Jr. Double Pump Elite
Frank Says: There is a reasonable chance he could be on the same level of two-guard prospect a year from now that is now currently occupied by Eric Gordon, James Harden and Austin Freeman. UCLA Recruit
9. ***Greg Monroe 6-9 Jr. New Orleans Panthers
Frank Says: It would have been cool to see "The Next Lamar Odom" playing in Cox Pavilion Wednesday.
10. ***Gary Johnson 6-6 Sr. Houston Hoops
Frank Says: It's time to bust out the "he's a blue collar, undersized power forward" description.
11. **Larry Drew 5-11 Jr. Pump-N-Run Elite
Frank Says: Based on his play over five days and the increasing number of high-profile programs that are jumping on his recruiting bandwagon, it's reasonable to assume that he's at least the equal of any point guard in the Class of 2008. UCLA Recruit
12. ***Kosta Koufos 6-11 Sr. King James Shooting Stars
Frank Says: All things considered, he gets the nod as the second best center I saw in Las Vegas. The best one's initials are K and L.
13. *Taylor King 6-7 Sr. Southern California All-Stars
Frank Says: His shooting slumped on the final day but he still made more than enough big plays throughout the Big Time Tournament to merit a Top 25 position.
14. **Johnny Flynn 5-11 Sr. GC Ballers
Frank Says: One thing was clear after the first viewing: He'd start at Syracuse in the coming season if he didn't have another year of high school to attend first.
15. ***Jai Lucas 5-11 Sr. Houston Hoops
Frank Says: He demonstrated a delicate balance between being a "true point guard" and "scoring point guard".
16. *Brandon Jennings 6-1 Jr. Southern California All-Stars
Frank Says: Along with Daniel Hackett, he made the majority of the critical plays that enabled the team to overtake and finally hold off Mean Streets Express Wednesday night.
17. *Darquavis Tucker 6-5 Sr. Michigan Hurricanes
Frank Says: From 15-feet and in, no one his size was any better in the three tournaments.
18. **Morgan Grim 6-7 Sr. Utah Pump-N-Run
Frank Says: While helping his team to a surprising semifinal finish in the adidas event, he demonstrated why he's he most underrated senior prospect in the West.
19. *Drew Gordon 6-9 Jr. Oakland Soldiers
Frank Says: Only Kevin Love looked like a better rebounder on the night I watched the sleek forward who turned 16 barely two weeks ago. UCLA Recruit
20. *Daniel Hackett 6-4 Southern California All-Stars
Frank Says: What kind of impact did he have on the Reebok title game? Oh, if he hadn't been in uniform, Mean Streets Express would have won by a double-figure margin.
21. *Blake Hoffarber 6-4 Sr. Minnesota Magic Elite 17U
Frank Says: He gets my "I'd never heard of the guy before I saw him in Las Vegas but he's pretty darn good" award.
22. **Muhammed Conteh 6-7 Jr. Indiana Elite
Frank Says: After the first glance on Wednesday, I'd say anyone in need of a power forward in the Class of 2008 is going to recruit this fellow.
23. **Austin Daye 6-9 Pump-N-Run Elite
Frank Says: If he keeps sprouting he might be the first "true" 7-foot guard.
24. ***Isaiah Thomas 5-6 Sr. Seattle Friends of Hoop
Frank Says: He didn't play particularly well in the Main Event title game vs. Houston Hoops Wednesday but he's on the list for the things he did to get his team to that point
25. *Clint Chapman 6-10 Sr. Portland Panthers
Frank Says: After three days in Las Vegas (his team was eliminated from the Big Time Tournament Monday night) his college options changed considerably. UCLA Recruit
Inducted into the USBWA Hall of
Fame in April, 2005, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is
also a columnist for the