The Nike Global Challenge in Hillsboro, Ore., is the last major all-star tournament of the 2010 summer basketball circuit and features some of the nation's top high school recruits along with several elite international players. RivalsHigh will have daily reports from the event.
HILLSBORO, Ore.- Lebron James hopped aboard his Huffy on Saturday for his annual King for Kids Bikeathon in Akron, Ohio, in a 10-speed attempt to calm the maelstrom surrounding his self-immolating adventures in free agency. But while the airspace over Cleveland is still murky with residual smoke from smoldering James memorabilia, the King had nothing but support from his protégés at the Nike Global Challenge.
"I'm not mad at him," Jakarr Sampson of Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary High (James' alma mater) said with a smile. "I know a lot of people in Akron and Cleveland are mad at him, but I'm not. I've been around him and he's a really cool dude so I can't be mad at him. I'll support him wherever he goes."
Much of the country has treated James' move to the Miami Heat as the moral equivalent of Mean Joe Greene giving that kid in the Coke commercial a vicious forearm shiver instead of his sweaty jersey. But his defection is more tradition than travesty in the realm of elite high school basketball where top-flight prep schools clamor for the nation's top talent.
"Happens all the time," said Sampson, who played for the King James Shooting Stars AAU team sponsored by Lebron. "When you're a superstar at the pro level especially when it's your hometown-they make it a big deal but he's just got a job to do."
Many - if not most - of the US players on hand at the NGC have switched schools at least once, including USA South center Zach Price, a Louisville recruit who transferred from the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood (St. Edward High) to Jeffersontown (Ky.) High to be closer to Cardinal country.
"I'm going to support Lebron no matter what," said Price, another King James AAU alum. "I really don't think it matters whether it's high school, college or professional basketball, you want to play with players that are going to make you better. That's what Lebron did and that's exactly what I'm doing. I'm going somewhere where I can develop and become a better player."
This and that from Day 2
After lighting up All-Asia for 23 points on Friday, Anthony Davis of Chicago (Ill.) Perspectives was on his way to delivering an encore Saturday against Team INSEP (France) with six points in the game's first eight minutes when he landed awkwardly on his right foot and crumpled to the floor. The wiry USA Midwest forward (Rivals150 No. 8) hobbled off the court, wincing in obvious pain, and spent the rest of the game on the bench with his bandaged hoof propped up on a chair. The initial diagnosis was a moderate sprain, making Davis doubtful for today's championship game.
Rakeem Christmas of Bryn Athyn (Pa.) Academy of the New Church spawned a hundred "Syracuse gets an early Christmas" headline puns when he confirmed Friday that he'd given the Orange his verbal. The top-ranked center (and Rivals overall No. 9) for the Class of 2011 joins Michael Carter-Williams of Hamilton (Mass.) St. Andrew's and Trevor Cooney of Wilmington (Del.) Sanford in giving Syracuse bragging rights for having the most recruits at the NGC, a fact the trio hasn't been shy about sharing with their peers. "Yeah, we're teasing them about it," Christmas said with a mischievous grin. North Carolina is the only other school with multiple recruits (James McAdoo of Norfolk (Va.) Norfolk Christian and [db]P.J. Hairston[/db] of Greensboro (N.C.) Hargrave Military Academy). "They got us outnumbered," McAdoo said. "I got my man P.J. though so we're okay."
McAdoo (Rivals No. 7) is averaging 22 points a game in the tournament, mostly due to sheer statistical probability rather than laser-guided accuracy. The future Tar Heel is shooting an Antarctica-in-winter 36 percent from the field (with a tournament-high 53 attempts) and has fared only slightly better (38 percent) from the free-throw line. While he admits fatigue could be playing a factor, McAdoo has managed to stay upbeat in the best shooters-gotta-shoot tradition. "This is a good opportunity to come out here and match up against the best in the country," McAdoo said. "But it's also a little frustrating when you're shot's not falling and my shot's not falling. I'm just working on my game and trying to get to the basket."
UNC recruit - and tournament MVP frontrunner - P.J. Hairston has thus far done Chapel Hill proud, if not by leading the NGC in scoring (55 points) or carrying USA South into today's championship game, then by the fact that he's been making a statement (fashion or otherwise) in rocking a powder-blue Tar Heels T-shirt during pre-game warm-ups.
Roof-dusting 7-foot-4 Canadian center [db]Sim Bhullar of Saltzburg (Penn.) Kiski was one of the more intriguing international prospects heading into the tournament. After two games, Bhullar - whose younger brother Tanveer stands a comparatively diminutive 7-foot-2 - has yet to impress behind his presumed ability to reach the overstock items on the top shelf at the grocery store. (The two were featured in this RivalsHigh story). Granted, he had a better outing (10 points) against USA South on Day 2 than he did against USA East (5 points). He also gobbles up any rebound that comes directly to him - like errant Frisbees caught in a tree - but his mobility, stamina and tenacity are all Gheorghe Muresan-sized question marks. Of course, he could develop into a dominant force with enough work, which is why he's received interest from the likes of Kentucky, West Virginia and Pittsburgh. After all, if you're a top-tier program gambling on a project recruit you might as well roll the dice on someone who can cut down the net without a stepladder.
Christmas - apparently stricken by a 48-hour case of the hacks - has thus far been a no-show in the Battle of the Bigs, barely netting more points (11) than personal fouls (10) after two games. And with Amir Williams of Detroit (Mich.) Country Day and Anthony Davis both felled by injuries on Day 2 - Davis with an ankle sprain and Williams with a mild concussion - USA West center Johnny O'Bryant of Cleveland (Miss.) East Side has emerged as the tournament's most formidable big man.
Johnny O'Bryant - he of the Chris Bosh-meets-KRS-One dreadlocks - has dropped back-to-back double-doubles on France (20 points, 11 rebounds) and All-Asia (17 and 12). After garnering upwards of 20 scholarship offers (including from Kansas, Kentucky, Georgetown and … Harvard), The Notorious J.O.B. (Rivals No. 36) said his list has been narrowed to five, though he declined to elaborate on which schools have made the cut.
All-Asia point guard Bobby Parks Jr. - who will forgo his senior year at Memphis (Tenn.) Melrose to play for the Philippines national team - felt better about his team's effort in a 104-91 loss to USA West a day after being blown out by USA Midwest. Still, there were a couple of smalls things All-Asia was still ironing out, like how to communicate with one another. The team includes four players from mainland China, two from Taiwan, two from Australia and one (Parks) from the Philippines, many of whom had never met prior to attending the Nike All-Asia Camp in Beijing in June. "I'm using sign language and just doing whatever I can to make it work," Parks said. "It's hard but you've just got to be a leader and communicate however you can or else you're going to break down as a team."
USA West guard Nick Johnson of Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep was the main roadblock standing in the way of All-Asia's first win. Johnson shredded All-Asia off the dribble when he wasn't lighting them up from long range (4-for-8) or throwing down a reverse dunk in traffic en route to a tournament-high 32 points. The Phoenix native has unofficial visits to Arizona and Arizona State scheduled later this month along with official trips to Louisville and Kansas slated later in the fall but is keeping his three other official visits flexible for the time being. "I don't want to play my hand yet," Johnson said. "I want to see how these [recruiting visits] go first."
Team INSEP (France) is the most experienced - or at least the oldest team - at the tournament but they didn't have the guns or the legs to keep up with USA Midwest after bouncing USA West in the first round. With big men Williams and Davis out with injuries, the guards (led by point Jahii Carson of Gilbert (Ariz.) Mesa) ran France ragged in a 78-59 win. International diplomacy quickly went out the window in the second half as the frustrated French literally tried to knock USA Midwest off their game with Bradley Beal of St. Louis (Mo.) Chaminade and Carlton Brundidge of Southfield (Mich.) High among those bearing the brunt of French foreign policy. "It got a little chippy," Michael Carter-Williams said. "We just tried to play together as a team and stay focused."
Brazil's performance has been something less than Carnaval beads and coffee beans. Before the tournament, the team was expected to make a strong showing but after losing star point guard Raul Neto - poached by the national team for the FIBA World Championships - prior to arrival, it hasn't managed a break since. After dropping a tough overtime game to USA South, Brazil hung tough against USA East before self-imploding in the second half - resulting in the heated exchange of a few choice Portuguese words with the referees and one another - in a 73-69 loss. "It's a little bit frustrating," Brazil guard Icaro Pirasotto said after scoring a team-high 23 points. "We'll be down by 15 and then we'll close it to three and then, 40 seconds later, [the lead] is back up to ten. We're playing hard but we have to make sure all the details are right."
A day after France and Canada sent USA West and USA East to the consolation round (with USA South narrowly avoided a similar relegation at the hands of Brazil), the Uncle Sam contingent got its act together on Day 2 and restored order to the basketball universe with a clean sweep of Brazil (USA East), Canada (USA South), All-Asia (USA West) and France (USA Midwest). Brazil and All-Asia play today for the seventh-place saving-face game while USA East meets USA West with fifth place on the line, France takes on Canada for third-place honors and USA Midwest battles USA South for NGC supremacy.