CHICAGO –Even though he was hundreds of miles away, Lanier (Jackson, Miss.) guard Monta Ellis managed to become the biggest story Sunday at the first day of practice for the Reebok Roundball Classic.
Rated the nation's No. 9 player in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com, Ellis was a late scratch from Tuesday's all-star game and didn't make the trip to Chicago. Although he has signed with Mississippi State, his absence from the Roundball Classic is a sure sign Ellis plans on skipping college altogether and entering the 2005 NBA Draft, according to Reebok associate Sonny Vaccaro.
"His agent advised against [coming here]," says Vaccaro, the founding chairman of the Roundball Classic. "It's very, very odd."
Long rumored to be contemplating skipping college for the NBA, Ellis appears to have made up his mind. Once a draft-eligible player signs an agent, he is no longer eligible for college.
At 6-foot-4, 175-pounds, Ellis is a high-scoring — albeit undersized — shooting guard in the mode of Allen Iverson. He averaged more than 40 points per game as a senior this year while leading Lanier to a 35-2 record, the Class 4A state championship and the top spot in SchoolSports.com's National Top 25.
Ellis is still expected to play in the March 30 McDonald's All-American game in South Bend, Ind.
While Ellis apparently decided to skip college, another player long-rumored to be NBA bound said Sunday that he has decided to take another route.
Supremely athletic Mount Zion (Durham, N.C.) small forward Brandon Rush, the brother of Charlotte Bobcats guard Kareem Rush, said Sunday he has decided to go to college.
"I can see I'm physically not ready for the NBA," said Rush, who is rated the nation's No. 6 recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com. "My body isn't big enough yet."
Rush, who averaged 21 points, six rebounds, four blocks and five assists per game this year, says he'll chose between Oklahoma, Illinois, Texas and Arkansas. He has an official visit scheduled for Oklahoma later this month.
Ellis wasn't the only no-show Sunday.
Several of the nation's top recruits expected to compete in Tuesday's all-star game either sat out of Sunday's practice for various reasons, hadn't made it to Chicago yet or recanted their commitments.
The biggest name missing Sunday other than Ellis was South Kent Prep (South Kent, Conn.) center Andray Blatche, who sat out with a stomach ache.
Blatche, who averaged 24 points and 18 rebounds this year, is expected to be back on the court for Monday's practice.
Rated the nation's No. 10 overall recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com, Blatche is expected to enter the 2005 NBA Draft. He missed a great opportunity to impress scouts Sunday, however, as several NBA reps were in attendance, including Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, Denver Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe and Indiana Pacers GM Larry Bird.
Louisville-bound center Amir Johnson of Westchester High (Westchester, Calif.) was en route to Chicago Sunday but didn't make it in time for the early practice at Loyola University. He's expected to be on the floor Monday.
Originally slated to participate in Tuesday's game, local star Julian Wright of Homewood-Flossmoor (Flossmoor, Ill.) recanted his commitment several weeks ago. The Kansas-bound forward will participate in the McDonald's All-American Game. His high school coach, Roy Condotti, is the East team's coach and will be on the floor Tuesday night.
Turn on the bright lights
When he steps on the United Center floor Tuesday in front of at least 15,000 fans, Manchester High (Manchester, Ga.) forward Korvotney Barber will be playing in front of the largest crowd of his blossoming career.
In fact, he'll be playing in front of a crowd larger than his entire hometown. Threefold.
"I'm really excited to play," said a wide-eyed Barber. "I can't think of anything but this game."
Hailing from Manchester, a tiny Georgia town with a population of roughly 4,000, Barber exploded on the national scene thanks to his imposing inside play. At 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, Barber is a powerful power forward who plays near the hoop and averaged 17 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks per game as a senior. He's rated the nation's No. 35 player in the senior class and has signed with Auburn.