CHICAGO - After watching Final Four favorites like Wake Forest, UConn and Syracuse bow out of the NCAA Tournament during the first weekend, Gulf Shores Academy (Houston) guard Gerald Green has his fingers crossed Oklahoma State isn't the next upset victim.
The 6-foot-9, 200-pound shooting guard, who has signed with the Cowboys, says he's been attentively watching the tournament with an anxious eye as his future teammates work toward a possible return trip to the Final Four.
With a scholarship to Oklahoma State in tow and the NBA possibly beckoning, the fate of his favorite college basketball team is about the only thing Green has to worry about these days. But that wasn't always the case.
Before transferring to Gulf Shores in 2003 and reclassifying as a sophomore, Green was cut twice from the Dobie High basketball program. He has since skyrocketed up the recruiting ranks and earned invitations to both the McDonald's All-American Game and the Roundball Classic, which he'll participate in Tuesday night at the United Center in Chicago.
"It's a dream come true," says Green, who's ranked No. 11 in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com. "I feel that I've been fortunate to make these all-star games."
Joining him at the Roundball Classic is fellow Oklahoma State-bound point guard Byron Eaton of Lincoln (Dallas). Before matching up against each other in a scrimmage Monday morning, the duo teamed up in two-on-two drills at practice Sunday, foreshadowing what Oklahoma State fans have to look forward to with an array of Eaton-to-Green setups for highlight-reel dunks and smooth outside jumpers.
"Me and Byron have a bond together," Green says. "I can't wait to start playing with him."
However, that might never happen. At least not next year.
Although he says he's still adamant about going to college, Green is a projected lottery pick in June's NBA Draft. Many NBA scouts liken him to Tracy McGrady because of his slashing ability, sweet stroke, athleticism and size.
Whispers regarding Green say he will likely never step foot on a college campus. At practice Sunday, however, he disregarded the rumors.
'I've always wanted to win the national tournament," he says. "Going to the NBA is one of my dreams, but why should I skip a dream to achieve another dream? I want to achieve all of my dreams."
He did, however, keep the door open. Green says he's letting his father handle the hype and business aspect of his impending decision. Green himself would rather enjoy his time in Chicago and reap the benefits of his hard work following a tumultuous start to his high school career.
"I'm not worried about it right about now, I still got these all-star games," Green says. "I've still got the rest of the school year. Right now my main focus is on graduating from high school."
After several big names missed Sunday's practice, a fuller lineup was on the floor at Loyal University Monday in the final practice before Tuesday's game.
After sitting out Sunday's practice with food poisoning, South Kent Prep (South Kent, Conn.) center Andray Blatche was back in uniform and active in the low post and perimeter.
"I'm still going through the process of the stomach aches," Blatche says. "It should be a little bit better by tomorrow."
The 6-foot-11, 235-pounder is expected to enter the NBA Draft and had a perfect opportunity to impress scouts Monday with several NBA reps in attendance for the second straight day.
Another 6-11 center, Amir Johnson of Westchester High (Westchester, Calif.) made it to practice Monday after flying in from California Sunday afternoon.
Notre Dame-bound center Luke Zeller of Washington (Washington, Ind.), on the other hand, was absent from both practices and won't play in Tuesday's game. The 6-foot-11, 245-pounder is still busy trying to lead his high school team to an Indiana state title.
Same with 6-foot-9, 225-pound small forward Brandon Costner, who has signed with North Carolina State. Because his Seton Hall Prep (Montclair, N.J.) team is still in the New Jersey state playoffs, Costner was unable to make it to Chicago.
Tuesday's game will have a local flair to it with five Chicago-area players representing the East team, which will be led by local coach Roy Condotti of Homewood-Flossmoor (Flossmoor, Ill.).
Now in its fifth year in Chicago, several of the local kids have attended past Roundball Classics and have been looking forward to their time in the spotlight in their own hometown.
"I'm ecstatic to be here," says Brother Rice (Chicago) point guard Bobby Frasor, who attended last year's game and the 2003 game that featured LeBron James. "Playing in the United Center in front of a home crowd should be a lot of fun."
Frasor says in addition to his family, busloads of classmates are planning on coming to Tuesday's game.
"They said they're trying to get a bunch of people to come down and have a student section for me," he says.
Hales Franciscan (Chicago) guard Nate Minnoy might not have his own student section, but he's expecting at least 50-60 family members and close friends to be at the United Center rooting for him.
"It's a good feeling to know you were recognized for the things you have accomplished," says Minnoy, a Purdue recruit who has been a fan at the past three games. "I've been here, I know how it's going to be, how the crowd is going to be. It's something you look forward to, especially being from Chicago."
Westinghouse (Chicago) power forward DeAndre Thomas, St. Joseph (Bolingbrook, Ill.) guard Tony Freeman and Hillcrest's (Chicago) Jerel McNeal are the other local all-stars.
Future Roundball All-Stars Work Out
During Monday's scrimmage, two of the nation's best underclassmen shot around on an adjacent court before undergoing a full workout following the Roundball practice.
North College Hill (Cincinnati) sophomores O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker drove to Chicago from Cincy to work out during Monday's practice and attend Tuesday's game.
Mayo is the top-rated player in the Class of 2007 and one of the nation's best two or three ballers regardless of class. The 6-foot-5, 198-pound prodigal shooting guard has been playing varsity ball since seventh grade and will more than likely never make it to a college campus.
Walker, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound small forward, is even more physically impressive than Mayo, although not as skilled. He's an athletic swingman who could also mature enough in the next few years to skip college for the NBA.
Working Out But Not Playing
Another player working out Monday but not participating in Tuesday's game was South Side (Fort Wayne, Ind.) senior Kyle Lockett.
Lockett didn't play for Southside this season because of family issues but is a legitimate NBA prospect. He's a 7-foot, 225-pound mobile center with nice touch around the hoop and explosiveness.
He did drills with the all-stars Monday but sat out during the scrimmage.
According to his coach, Eric Vaughn, Lockett has worked out for several NBA GMs. He's a potential second-round pick.