Just steps from the numerous kush doctors, raving derelicts and overly aggressive, self-produced rappers that populate the Venice Beach boardwalk, 24 of the nation's best high school basketball players took to the famous Venice Beach basketball courts for a unique streetball game Saturday in the Under Armour Elite 24 which was broadcast live on ESPNU. With the teams combining for more than 300 points, the gameplay may have been much closer to that of an NBA All-Star game than a college game, but it did provide an excellent opportunity to see some of the players who will be starring at the nation's elite programs in a couple of years in a less structured environment.
The West Coast was only lightly represented this year, but there were a few players in action who are likely soon headed to Pac-12 programs who showed off their skills on the blacktop.
The San Jose forward took home well deserved MVP honors and looked like the most polished, competitive and athletic player on the court all day. Gordon looked determined to dominate the game from the get go and regularly took the ball from the top of the key and got to the basket for impressive finishes, an especially incredibly feat, considering that he was also one of the biggest players on the court at 6'8 215. Gordon finished with 25 points and 7 rebounds and all threw down two dunks that would have been perfect tens in an NBA dunk contest.
Arizona and Washington are fighting it out with Kentucky, Kansas and UNLV for Gordon's signature along with Oregon being in the picture to a lesser extent and the (Arizona) Wildcats and Huskies have long been rumored to be the leaders. The addition of Gordon to the frontcourt class that the Wildcats signed in the Class of 2012 could make Arizona insanely fearsome down low for years to come and if he decides to come up to Seattle he would definitely be the explosive big man the Huskies have long been waiting for.
Another Bay Area product, Bird wasn't as impressive as Gordon, but showed off his smooth play that has led to him being on the most coveted players in the nation. Bird seems to float across the court and could get to the basket whenever he wanted to. Defenders had to back off of Bird whenever he had the ball in hopes to keep him from driving, and if he develops a solid outside shot, he could be an unstoppable force with the ball in his hands.
Washington and Cal lead for Bird with Arizona, Oregon and Colorado in the picture, so unless things drastically change, the Richmond, California guard-forward will be headed to the Pac-12. There haven't been any talks of a package deal, but if Lorenzo Romar can reel in Gordon and Bird, along with the soon to be mentioned Nigel Williams-Goss, a Final Four could be in the Huskies future. If Bird decides to stay at home and play for Cal, he will be the biggest local recruit the Bears have signed since Leon Powe and he could easily have just a large of impact as Powe did in Berkeley.
With the loose style of play that was perfect for the ultra-athletic guard-forwards and big men, it was really hard for the point guards to stand out, but Williams-Goss looked like one of the more polished point guards on the court and was able to drop off a good number of assists. His game is probably much more suited for a traditional game, but Williams-Goss looked solid with the ball in his hands and regularly found the aforementioned ultra athletic swing men and big men open for finishes.
The Findlay Prep product out of Henderson, Nevada committed to Washington earlier in the year and looks the part of the steady and unselfish point guard that usually drives Romar's best teams. Husky fans should certainly hope that he spent the better part of the week getting in Gordon and Bird's ears about joining him in Seattle.
The only LA area player taking part in the game, Hamilton plays for St. John Bosco and had a large fan group in attendance and was regularly pressured to show off by the crowd more than other players, especially late in the game. Much like Bird, Hamilton is a long guard-forward with a smooth game that likes to drive to the basket and shoot mid-range jumpers. He is the kind of player that looks to score whenever he has the ball in his hands and regularly pulled up for jumpers throughout the game. While an impressive player, Hamilton is a little smaller than Bird though and looked a little less athletic.
Hamilton has played his recruitment a little closer to the vest than some of of the other guys and is considering UCLA, USC and Washington among a bevy of big time programs including UConn and Florida. His older brother Jordan played for Texas, though it doesn't appear that the Longhorns are in the running and it would seem like the LA schools would likely have the inside track at this point just by default.
Despite being one of the biggest guys in the game, Lee failed to make much of an impact. Like Williams-Goss, I don't know if the pace was perfectly suited for his game as Lee is very raw offensively and really a rebounder and defender at this point. He looks like the kind of big man that can keep opposing teams away from the basket in a slower game, but looked a bit lost in the frenetic Elite 24.
Another Bay Area prospect (Antioch, Calif.) Lee is considering Cal and UCLA along with a number of elite programs including Duke, Kansas and Kentucky. He doesn't look like he has the ability to be an immediate superstar at the next level, but he could easily be an incredibly valuable defender and rebounder for the Bears or Bruins and can hopefully add more to his offensive game.