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SoCalHoops Recruiting News

Pangos Dream Classic: Some Random
Thoughts & Observations--(Jan. 5, 2003)


What:   9th Annual Dream Classic
When:    January 4, 2002
Where:    UCLA Pauley Pavilion
Who:    Loyola vs. Mayfair
   Centennial vs. Carson
   Mater Dei vs. St. Vincent-St. Mary
   Lincoln vs. Vallejo

We've been trying to think about what to write, what to say, how to make sense out of what happened yesterday at Pauley Pavilion.  Something that no one else has thought about writing.   And we've concluded that it's all been said.  Seriously.  Nothing new to say.  So if you want to stop right now, feel free, because you're not going to miss anything by spending the next five or ten minutes of your life reading the drivel that we're about to put out....So, our advice to you is to use the time more wisely.  Read a good book, watch a good tv show, talk to your kids, or your parents, or do something, anything else that is more useful and meaningful in life with the limited time that we all have alloted to us on this earth...

Still there?  We thought so...

Yesterday was like walking through a dream (maybe that's why it's still called the "Dream Classic" even though it's not on MLK, Jr. weekend any longer), like being in a daze, events and people rushing past in a blur..... Oh, it was fun while it lasted, sure, and a great way for everyone involved in basketball in SoCal to see and be seen, for many, but this event was definitely NOT about high school basketball.  It was instead about television ratings, about promoting products and services, about whether a crowd of 12,400 (officially) would show a collective-conscience and not boo a 17-year old high school phenom who wasn't living up to their collective and over-hyped expectations, about a kid who still managed to put in a good day's work in anyone's high school basketball book by scoring 21 points and a "W" for his team over a nationally-ranked opponent which includes three senior D-I signees who will attend defending national champ Maryland, the University of Minnesota, and Princeton.

It was about a team from Ohio which we now learn has its own public relations advance person,  a professional entourage for a 17-year old, said staff coming armed with a "school mission statement" and a book full of statistics about how the team has done so far this year...and by the way, they've done fine.

It was about a kid who has a shoe company making him his own unique version of the T-Mac, and LeBron was the only player on his team wearing these  gold-embossed shoes (the others were all silver):

Nope, for most except the purists who were there simply to watch the games and critically assess whether LeBron James would be able to bring it one more time on a national stage,  this event wasn't about the Loyola vs. Mayfair match up (a great game with the exception of a couple of minutes where Loyola seemingly fell asleep both offensively and defensively), nor was it about the great double-overtime contest between Carson and Compton Centennial which caused ESPN2 to change its schedule and push the broadcast back another half-hour.   It was not really even about whether Mater Dei won or lost, or whether St. Vincent-St. Mary's could lay claim to the mythical high school national championship (which, as we all know doesn't really exist).   And it most assuredly wasn't about NorCal Vallejo's mismatch against New York Brooklyn Lincoln HS and those of its 14 other players on the roster who don't go by the name "Telfair."   Nope, no way.  And this event most assuredly was about as far from a bunch of local kids taking on some other kids from the next high school in the next suburb, about as far from what Eric Sondheimer would have felt comfortable with when it comes to high school athletics.....Nope, if we felt even the slightest bit of unease over all the hype, imagine what someone who isn't as jaded by all of these "showcase" events must have felt like as he or she wandered around Pauley yesterday searching for the cheerleaders, the band, or the student rooting section from any one of the contestant schools....but this event was supposed to be bigger than life, and in a lot of ways, like opera is a caricature of itself sometimes, this was all that and more.

A sell-out, standing-room-only crowd; every face you've come to expect to see at a game like these....High-profile D-I coaches, tons of NBA general managers and scouts, all the big-gun press people from mainstream papers, even a few internet guys...Bill Walton with his extended hyperbole and non-stop narration;   Jay Bilas, a little more circumspect, but still there nevertheless as the color commentator.  In the audience were about 30 NBA scouts.  Shoe-company gurus Sonny (and his better half Pam) Vaccarro from adidas and his counterpart Phil Knight, head of Nike;  Dana Pump (or was it David?);  Chris Rivers; Darren "Mats" Matsubara;  Ollie Goulston; George Raveling; Don Crenshaw; Pat Barrett; Dave "Rockfish" Benezra and Mark Mayemura for ESPN;  Clark Francis of the HoopScoop;  Tracy Pierson and Greg Hicks of PrepWestHoops; Dave Nahabedian of Networkxx; Rick Issacs;  Bob Gottlieb; Etop Udo-Ema; Wayne Slappy; Michael A. Miller (ok, we really only saw him at the Lawry's luncheon).....You name it, the list goes on and on for those who were there.  It also included of course, every sportswriter in town, including some of the "big guns" like Plaschke....Local players were there, more local players than you see at a state championship,  local players who left town to attend school who flew back just for this one (e.g., Marcus Williams from Oak Hill), and the list goes on and on.  Newspapers?  You want newspapers.....USA Today.  The Cleveland Plain-Dealer was there.  The LA Times.  Daily News.  Long Beach Press Telegram.  TV News crews.   Heck, you know an event has reached respectability when the New York Times sends a writer out to cover the event, which that paper did.   The only guy missing (thank goodness) was Dick Vitale.  Ok, well, maybe Digger Phelps too.

So these were supposed to be the best high school players in the country, all assembled for a one-day extravaganza which was topped off by one game televised live on ESPN2, commentated by Bill Walton and Jay Bilas,  and a nightcap with two of the best point guards in the nation.  Plenty of Division I signees, and more than a few names and celebrities in the world of hoops.  Bill Frieder, ex-Michigan and ASU coach, sitting next to his former assistant at Michigan and national champion coach, current SDSU coach Steve Fisher, along with his current assistant Marvin Menzies.  Jim Nielsen from Pepperdine.  Dan Schell from St. Mary's.  And there probably were more college coaches we didn't get to see, and were it not for the fact that both USC and UCLA were up in the great Northwest playing their own games, no doubt Henry Bibby and Steve Lavin would have been there too.

Was it all just hype?  You bet.

But it was also a heck of a lot of fun too, as long as you keep it all in perspective......

Was there really any substance to what happened, or was it really just like another freeway wreck, a gawker's delight, you know, the kind of thing none of us feel really comfortable looking at, but when confronted with it, just can't turn away from?  Probably a good deal of that, no doubt.  And more.  We've all heard and read the litany which support the view that this event was nothing more than the exploitation of high school players for the commercial gain of a few: The money which St. Vincent-St. Mary demanded as a fee for attending, the limousines for players, the high-priced hotels and meals at places like Lawry's.....But what the heck, if some of these kids can keep their heads screwed on straight and keep in perspective that this is NOT about high school basketball, but was instead about the phenomenon of a single player, LeBron James, then no one really should be too scarred for life....At least we hope so.

Seriously, considering what it took to get this event off the ground, Dinos Trigonis and sponsors and crew really did an amazing job yesterday, glitches and all.  Great basketball, a packed house, a circus-like playoff atmosphere, the works.  Maybe the Mater Dei vs. St. V-St. M game wasn't all that everyone had hoped for, but it was still good entertainment.  Dinos has been involved in staging the "Dream Classic" events, first with the help of no one commercially, then with the help (read "takeover") by Nike for a couple of years, and then back to no real commercial sponsorship like last year and then yesterday, he pulled off the biggest and most well-attended high school basketball event ever without any established shoe-company sponsorship...You've got to hand it to him for that....Well, that is unless you know that "Pangos" is itself a new entrant into the ultra-competitive world of the basketball shoe and apparel wars.  Really, check out the Pangos website.   We haven't seen a "Pangos" yet,  and thought it was a snack food, or a restaurant, or a new dance, but we're assured it's a shoe and a line of clothing.  You can't buy one on the street or in stores yet, but perhaps we'll one day see LeBron James as the celebrity spokesperson for the new shoe line.....Who knows, stranger things have happened.

We don't want to get weighty or critical here and we'll leave the valuable social commentary about the importance, or lack thereof, to guys who are actually paid to write about such things, guys like Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times or Kevin Modesti in the LA Daily News, Bob Keisser in the Long Beach Press Telegram,  or others.... They've said it all, much better and many times more often than we could ever hope to.  On the other hand, if you're interested in what some of your fellow fans had to say, just visit our message board.  Some of you had some decent insights, some pithy remarks, and astute observations about the games and the players, but others focused on some of the more outrageous and idiotic stuff we've ever read when it comes to high school sports and basketball in particular.  And just so we don't overlook or fail to offend anyone, we have some general observations about some of those comments we heard last night or which we've read about on the boards:

1.  LeBron James Is Still the Real Deal--  Even though a lot of people were disappointed that he didn't put on more of a show (with only one really dazzling moment early in the first quarter with a spectacular between-the-legs-and-behind-the-back-pass to trailing teammate Romeo Travis for a slam-dunk)  LeBron shot 0-9 from three point range, but still finished with 21 points, 9 rebounds, seven assists and four personal fouls.  He had seven turnovers, so he isn't the perfect player that everyone hyped him to be, not by a long shot, but he also wasn't exactly a man playing against boys either, since Mater Dei isn't a bunch of pushovers.  And despite the loss, it's to Mater Dei's credit that they managed to hold LeBron to his lowest point output this season.  Given the impossible expectations, the young man has been put in a no-win position, particularly when it comes to those who would be critical of these types of events, and yet through it all, he managed to maintain at least some measure of composure, and some small sense of humor about all the fuss being made over him..... He's still going to be a pro, will still probably be the No. 1 draft pick (well, you never know who's going to emerge after the NCAA season is over, but right now, he's likely got the top pick reserved), and will make more money in one day than most of the rest of us mere mortals can even dream about in a lifetime.  Not bad for a 17 year old kid who wears his own special adidas shoes..... 

2.  Mater Dei--A very good high school team, with some terrific players, who executed their plan about as well as could be expected under the pressure without winning.  So they had a bad night...Hey, it happens.   Considering they couldn't buy a basket for some stretches, and considering who they were playing, where they were playing and the mood of the crowd at times, and all of the distractions, they did a very creditable job even if they didn't get the "W."  They have nothing to be ashamed of, especially guys like Mike Gerrity, who moved the ball about as well as any sophomore we've seen this year, Wesley Washington, who finished with a team high 18 points on 5-11 shooting and literally kept Mater Dei in it with his three point shooting, and Marcel Jones, who finished with 14 points on 6-10 shooting from the field.   Harrison Schaen, despite some negative commentary from some observers was a force on defense, but unfortunately for the Princeton-bound forward, fouled out and only finished with 3 points.....He did get some wacks in on LeBron, blocking a shot to the oohs and aahhs of the crowd, but LeBron came right back and swatted one of Harrison's right off the glass too.... Considering that Harrison missed 10 minutes of game time, including the last five in the fourth quarter, and Mater Dei was still within 6 points with under a minute to play, Mater Dei's loss was hardly an embarrassment.....

3.  The "Missed" Press Conference---Some people have made a huge deal about the fact that following the headliner game, St. Vincent-St. Mary's attended the scheduled press conference (which was where Plaschke asked his "what about homework?" question to LeBron,  and he responded "What?" as though it was a foreign phrase), while Mater Dei quickly headed to the locker room (the small one, not the one reserved for UCLA at Pauley, much to the chagrin of the Monarchs, who were also supposed to be the home team, but somehow wound up being the "visitors"), packed their bags and ducked out a side door for the bus without bothering to meet with the media.  Some called it classless, clueless, or worse, and others, like your's truly couldn't have cared less.  This was, after all,  a high school basketball game.  Enough of the feeding frenzy by the media.  So Mater Dei lost.  Big deal.  What could any of them have said that would have made any difference? Not a thing.   The Mater Dei players know how to win, and they know how to lose.  They don't need any post-mortems.  You want one?  Go watch the tape.  From our perspective, Coach McKnight's guys had already been subjected to enough scrutiny by the time the game was over, and it was simply time for them to either just go home, or to hang out and watch the last game with Sebastian Telfair putting on a real show.  The sad part is that they missed the last game, and didn't get a chance to hang around and meet with their friends and supporters.....Remember, it's still high school basketball....At least that's how we feel about it.

4.  Coaches' Wardrobe:  A lot of people were evidently upset that coach McKnight didn't wear a suit.  Er, um, ok.  So what?   We couldn't have cared less about what he wore (well, as long as he was clothed).    It's was a basketball game, not a session of law-and-motion in the Los Angeles Superior Court.  You don't need to wear a suit, and frankly, we credit Pat Riley with the whole silly trend...that and the slicked-back look, and we all know what emulating that has done for Steve Lavin in this town....In fact, the whole trend of basketball coaches wearing suits and ties has always struck us a sorta weird.  If McKnight wanted to wear sweats, that's ok with us.

5.  The Best Game Most People Missed:   Loyola vs. Mayfair.   Ok, so Loyola had some defensive, and, more importantly, some offensive lapses in the second half, and Mayfair played great.  Kudos to Coach Brieg and to Coach Williamson on a great game.  A little sloppier than we would have expected from both teams, but still, a great lead-in game.

6. The Best Matchup That Didn't Pan Out:  Sebastian Telfair vs. DeMarcus Nelson.....It never really got to be a head-to-head thing, since Vallejo was absolutely blown out in the first half, trailing 41-21 at the break.  Telfair had 20 pints in the first half and unlike what we saw from him this summer at ABCD and other events, there was no struggling, no forcing things, just a tremendous demonstration by a player who can pass like a pro, who sees the court and has great ball knowledge and body control.  Telfair shot 7-13 from the field in the first half alone, 4-6 from three point range, and there's probably not another guard like him playing high school ball with his speed and explosiveness.   While DeMarcus Nelson finished with 37 points himself, they were mostly in the fourth quarter, after Telfair had left the game with a slight ankle tweak midway through the third quarter.   Those who stuck around after the Mater Dei vs. St V-St. M game were treated to a real show....

7.  Best players:

Mayfair---Brian McFadden, Dejon Prejean, Justin Hawkins, and Chris Childress:    McFadden played tough and moved the ball well, even if his handle was a bit loose at times, and he continues to impress a lot of people with the way he finds the open man.  Prejean, a 6'-1" Sr. who no one really knew about until December, showed us a lot.  Hawkins had some nice moves around the basket and should be a contributor at Utah, and Chris Childress is starting to look more and more like his older brother every time we see him.  He doesn't shoot it nearly as well, but he's a solid player.

Loyola---Omar Wilkes, Vince Oliver, Davis Cantor, Josh Flynn-Brown, Chris Rucker:  Initially these were the guys who did the most damage for the Cubs and kept them in it.  Omar had some defensive lapses, but he still managed a couple of highlight-reel breakaway dunks and at least one spectacular reverse layup.  Davis Cantor shot the ball well, and he's a solid scorer when open.  Flynn-Brown is tough as nails, and Vince Oliver had some very nice steals and assists.  Rucker, accepted to Harvard University (he still hasn't made up his mind about attending according to our sources), had some nice rebounds and played hard.  We also liked Adam Bonifer and Nick Gonda, two guys who don't get a lot of publicity on this talent-laden team.  And if Jordan Wilkes keeps growing and his skills catch up he will be a big prospect himself in a year.

Compton Centennial--- Michael Gordon, Arron Afflalo, Jervaughn Johnson, Chris Berry, Donte Strong and Ronnie Green--All of these guys played solidly, and while we were very impressed with Afflalo, who scored in bunches, we also liked tiny point guard Gordon, not perhaps as a prospective college player, because we don't really know if he's got that kind of talent, but certainly as one of the best sophomore guards we've seen in a long time (and that includes Gerrity of Mater Dei).   Jervaughn Johnson didn't strike us as the most talented freshman we've ever seen, but he's got a great body and terrific upside.  Berry has height and is a solid rebounder, while Strong and Green have excellent quickness.

Carson---Marquis Washington, Brian Harvey, Ekene Ibekwe, Samuel Hill are the guys who stoold out in our mind.  Washington is a tough compact guard while Johnson had the unenviable task for about half the game with Harvey of trying to stop Afflalo.  Ibekwe showed more in terms of his upside than he did in terms of actual skills at this point in his career, and we would have liked to see him do more in the paint, more posting up rather than launching perimeter shots, but what the heck, he was the player of the game, breaking the tie and making the shots which put Carson over the top in double overtime.  Maryland may not get an instant impact player, but he will help Gary Williams in a year or two.

Mater Dei---Well, considering the Monarchs only played seven guys out of a roster which has 16 players on it, the guys who stood out were fairly obvious:  All of the starters, Gerrity, Strawberry, Washington, Schaen and Marcel Jones played well, just not well enough to pull off the win.  We liked Trevante Nelson's energy and his quickness and when Chris Henry becomes a starter next season and gets the minutes to go along with his frame he'll be a force in the paint.  As it was, Henry scored 6 points on 3-6 shooting and pulled down 5 boards in a little more than 16 minutes.

St. Vincent-St. Mary's---We're not going to talk about James here.  We really liked Corey Jones, an able shooter who scored 12 points, including two three pointers in 21 minutes.  Dru Joyce is a bit undersized, but with he and Romeo Travis playing next year for the University of Akron, they could be a team on the rise.  Joyce finished with 10 poiknts, shooting 2/8 from the field and 2/6 from three, while Travis had 12 points on 3/6 from the field and 8 rebounds.   St. V-St.M didn't go much deeper than Mater Dei, playing only 8 guys, so it's a bit hard to say what the rest of this team other than the starters and three subs are really like or how deep they truly are.  Not as much fun to watch as we'd hoped for, but still entertaining.

Vallejo---Not much to write home about in this one.  DeMarcus Nelson finished with a ton of points, but they were mostly scored when Lincoln had pulled all of their starters and already had a 67-29 lead midway through the third.  Nelson will still be a major asset to Duke, but on this night, the anticipated matchup proved to be a fizzle.  Seriously, we'd like to say some things about some of the other guys who put out the effort for Vallejo, but honestly, we were so focused on watching Telfair that it was hard to say who was doing what for Vallejo...and not much was effective for the Apaches anyway, so we'll have to wait for the State tournament to really see something.

Brooklyn Lincoln--- Telfair, Telfair and Telfair.  Ok, so he was spectacular.  But there were some others, including Dominic Osei, Nyan Boateng, and Akeem Tucker who played well.  But this show was all Sebastian and he was amazing.  We don't want to get caught up in the hype about him, but when he passes the ball and gets others involved, he's got the potential to be a great player.  Someone sitting near us last night commented that he's "Iverson without the bad attitude, more Iverson than even Iverson," and there's certainly a lot to be said for his skills.  Comparing him to a pro at this stage might seem premature, but this is a kid who has been hearing that since he was in the 4th grade, and after watching him last night, it's no exaggeration.

Closing thoughts?

Let's do this year.  Oh, wait....Next week there's this little soiree called the "Nike Extravaganza" at the Pyramid in Long Beach that will feature nine games, including Westminster vs. Servite, St. John Bosco vs. Capo Valley, Verbum Dei vs. Ocean View, Glendora vs. Fountain Valley, Villa Park vs. Las Vegas Durango, Troy vs. Santa Margarita, Crenshaw vs. Brea-Olinda, Long Beach Poly vs. De La Salle, and Mater Dei vs. Miami Christian (which was here this weekend at Lynwood playing against Fairfax).  

Sheesh....Guess we know where we'll be on Saturday....

See you there, next weekend, January 11, 2003 at the Pyramid.

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