There are basketball fans.
And then there are the real basketball fans.
If you're going to attempt to navigate the three traveling team tournaments, involving some 850 teams of high school-aged players (and a handful of 20-year-old "prep schoolers") and seemingly as many gymnasiums, which will run from Friday morning until next Tuesday night in and around Las Vegas, I know what category you belong in.
Watching the games on bleacher seating, from 8 a.m. until close to midnight each day, is only a portion of the physical and mental obstacle course you're going to encounter.
Slipping out of air-conditioned cars into 110-degree or so weather and then into air-conditioned (to the hilt, often), high school gymnasiums – and then reversing the process, as many times daily as you've got the endurance for – isn't exactly something that the casual fan would care to put up with, either.
Here's one quick safety hint from someone who has been attending July basketball tournaments in Las Vegas since 1976 (uh, that would be me): Keep a hand towel (or a bath towel, come to think of it) in your car. Because without having a towel draped over the steering wheel once you get back into your car after leaving the gym, you're going to suffer some scorching pain on your palms until your air conditioning kicks in. Take my word for it . . .
Each of the three tournaments – the Reebok-sponsored Big Time Tournament, the adidas-fronted Super 64 and The Main Event (run by Houston Hoops entrepreneur Hal Pastner) – have enough high-octane players and teams to make it worth your while to hit each at least once during the five days of action.
But the Reebok event, thanks to an incredible marketing scheme, figures to draw the bulk of the casual and not-so-casual fans, as well as a hefty portion of the Internet and mainstream media and college coaches, to Big Time headquarters Foothill High in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson.
Sonny Vaccaro & Co. have their eight most high-profile Reebok-sponsored programs, including Spiece Heat of Indianapolis (Greg Oden) and the D I Greyhounds of Cincinnati (O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker), play three games apiece among themselves in the first two days of what makes up "pool play" for the other 300 or so teams in the event.
So instead of Oden and Mayo playing against pool teams with players apt to approach them for autographs and wanting to pose for pictures with them afterward, we'll see most of the elite players in the event hooking up Friday and Saturday at Foothill, including a Spiece Heat vs. D I Greyhounds game at Friday afternoon.
The only folks who are going to be watching games at Durango (the Main Event headquarters) or Desert Pines (the Super 64 main gym) that afternoon will either be the parents of players on those events teams or coaches recruiting players in those games.
The Big Time organizers, in essence, made Foothill the place to be – at least for Day I of competition. Touché, guys.
The Big Time championship game is set for Tuesday (July 26). And I'm thinking there is a heck of a chance that the Oden and Mayo clubs could be hooking up in a rematch of that Friday afternoon clash.
Getting there on time for the opening tip could be tricky for a lot of us.
That is because we'll be racing across town to get there after watching the matchup between the Main Event and adidas 64 tournament champions at Cox Arena on the UNLV Campus. That game is being nationally televised by the Fox Sports Network.
But here's the real litmus test to measure how really into this thing you are:
All of the on-court action begins
at Friday, in the four-court
Teams from each of the three
tournaments will participate. And the hook is, in case you're baffled by the
concept of watching basketball at those in hours in
We can look at it this way: Maybe the Pangos event will keep a lot of coaches and players – and media members – from succumbing to any of the other temptations the city has to offer at those hours.
See you there.
BOUNCING AROUND THE COUNTRY:
*I'll fess up to the fact that, until I read the press release distributed by Kansas last week about the results of the school's internal investigation into alleged NCAA rules violations, I had no idea that athletes who are no longer competing for an institution are not allowed "extra benefits" from boosters or others connected with the program.
And, apparently, that benefits' ban – be it cash, gift, meals or any other favors – extends for that athlete forever.
Now, I can understand the purpose of the rule. It wouldn't exactly be fair, would it, for a coach or booster to lure an athlete to a school with a promise of a huge "backend payoff" after the athlete had graduated, turned pro or otherwise exhausted his (and let's be fair about this in the age of gender equity, "her") eligibility?
But, from what I've been told by coaches, that ban also prohibits boosters, coaches or other "representatives of the university", for example, from picking up the check for a meal with that athlete after he or she is finished competing for the school.
That strikes me as odd and here is a reason why: Aren't athletes often recruited to schools with the idea that "the people you meet and come into contact with at our school will help you in the future", especially when pursuing leads in the non-sports workplace?
In theory, wouldn't it be an NCAA violation for an alumnus or fan of a program to hire a former athlete from that school, or enter into any kind of business/investment dealing with the ex-athlete, for example?
By the way, how peculiar did it seem to see Roy Williams' name with a story concerning NCAA rules violations, no matter how seemingly inconsequential the alleged violations? When the question "which big-time programs bend the rules, subtly or blatantly" is broached in off-the-record discussions with coaches, Williams is never even mentioned jokingly.
*I've no doubt that when – or, more accurately, if – center Randolph Morris is reinstated by the NCAA as an eligible member of the Kentucky program, the Wildcats will be a stronger team because of it.
But I've heard from a few too many folks over the past couple of weeks who want to paint Tubby Smith's team as going from "pretty good" to "national championship-good" if Morris is on the floor for the Wildcats this season.
A few more seasons playing for Kentucky – three, in all likelihood – could make him a much more polished and complete player, one capable of landing on an NBA roster once he leaves Lexington.
But if Morris was good enough to be a driving force behind a team's national title run, or even be a lottery selection, he wouldn't have gone 0-for-60 in the NBA draft on June 28.
Kentucky has an opportunity to be a Top 20-caliber team, with or without Morris.
For the sake of a kid who made a not-so-prudent decision to stay in the draft, let's hope it's the former.
An April inductee into the USBWA
Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert
and is also a columnist for the