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July 20, 2007Note: Check back on Friday night for more coverage from Las Vegas, including a report from USA Basketball's Senior National Team Training. That report will be for our premium readers, so if you haven't already now would be a great time to join our team.
Las Vegas, NV -- The GBOA Challenge of Champions basketball tournament kicked off the week-long basketball frenzy taking place in Sin City. Although the play was at times sloppy, the organizers of the GBOA (Grassroots Basketball of America) have bigger goals than just a summer AAU tournament.
"We're looking to clean the AAU and summer time scene up," remarked GBOA President Gary Charles. "We want to foster brotherhood among the three shoe companies. For our first year, I think were doing well, implementing rules that people (AAU teams) are starting to follow. The NCAA wants to and has discussed what's wrong with summer basketball with everybody but us (influential AAU coaches). They are not going to the source and hopefully that will change."
The first action we took in at the new tournament was a match up between the Compton Magic and the D1 Greyhounds. The talented club from the Midwest rolled to a 72-58 win over the team from Southern California as William Buford (Libbey, Toledo, OH) dominated early action with 12 first quarter points. The D1 Greyhounds also got a solid performance from guard Damon Butler (North College Hill, Cincinnati, OH). Butler flashed good quickness and got his teammates involved in the game with some pinpoint passes. He also finished with 11 points.
The Compton Magic played catch up and made one final push late in the game to try and get the deficit under 10 points. The team's late push was sparked by the efforts of Justin Hawkins (Taft, Woodland Hills, CA). He made numerous plays in the defensive backcourt that led to turnovers and buckets. His deep jump shot is still a work in progress, but he continues to show he's one of the better perimeter defenders on the circuit.
The Compton Magic played a second game in the evening against Sporting Chance and after jumping out to an early lead, they led 35-30 at halftime. The Magic's most impressive player in the evening game was combo guard D.J. Seeley, a Cal recruit. The game seems to come really easy for the recent transfer to Modesto Christian (Ca) from Tokay of Lodi. He's a smooth distributor and also can finish shots from a variety of angles. In and up and down affair, the Compton Magic held on to win, 75-70.
One of the highlights of Thursday was the appearance of Rafer Alston. The current NBA point guard was at first shooting around with members of the New York Panthers. The former Fresno State standout isn't just enjoying the festivities this week here in Las Vegas, he's actually coaching the Panthers himself. A former player with the New York (Long Island Panthers) in the early 1990's, Alston is perhaps better known as the greatest playground player of the modern era and the major reason streetball is a worldwide phenomenon.
"I'm doing it to give the kids some pointers and some direction out on the court," remarked Alston, a Cardozo of Queens, New York product. "Some kids listen but the biggest problem they have is some get ready to listen when they want to."
"This is the fourth tournament 'Skip to my Lou' (Alston) has coached in," Charles remarked. "He's really into this. We appreciate and respect him not only giving back money, but also his time."
The Panthers opened up the GBOA Challenge of Champions with a small, but efficient Nevada Rebels club. The most impressive player for the Panthers was fifth-year lead guard Josh Watkins. The former Wadleigh of Manhattan standout is a strong and heady player in the mold of former Grady (Brooklyn) and Seton Hall standout Maurice Brown, who played high school ball in the era of Alston. Watkins can finish in traffic and usually delivers the ball to the correct spot. Possibly headed to Notre Dame Prep, Watkins finished with 14 points.
The Panthers were leading 47-33 with 13 minutes left, but some lackluster moments allowed the Nevada Rebels to creep back in the game. The local club cut the deficit to 65-60 with 2:30 seconds remaining and actually had a chance to tie the game in the waning moments but two ill-advised three-pointers sealed their fate as the Panthers went on to post a 69-63 victory. Inside, the Nevada Rebels were unable to handle Canadian native Osman Olal, a senior-to-be, and fifth-year product Bryant Crowder, who finished with 18 points.
Although the play was up and down in the early Thursday games and the coaches, including Alston, were frustrated with execution, the playground legend/NBA starter/AAU coach kept the game and tournament in perspective.
"What I played for the Panthers, we won a lot of games, but I remember having a lot of fun. Making it to the NBA is the ultimate dream, but growing up these kids have to realize to make the most of it because it goes by fast."
Other News and Notes from the GBOA
One of the standout players on Thursday was forward Olu Ashaolu, who is playing for Canadian Grassroots Elite. Ashaolu dominated the paint area against S.N. Powerhouse ..Led by the inside presence of Jeff Whitley (Horizon, San Diego, CA) and point guard Brandon Jennings (Oak Hill Academy, Mouth of Wilson, VA), Belmont Shore rolled to an easy 99-77 win over Albany City Rock. Belmont Shore has a talented club that can play with just about any AAU team in the country, but it looks like coach Dinos Trigonis may not have the services of 6-foot-6 wing DeMar Derozan in Las Vegas. Belmont Shore was also missing the services of Renaldo Woolridge, a 6-foot-7 wing from Harvard-Westlake in North Hollywood, California who should be in the lineup starting on Saturday .The most intense and well-played game on Thursday involved Team Breakdown and the D.C. Assault while the most impressive player on the floor was 2007 Student Sports National Freshman of the Year Brandon Knight (Pine Crest, Fort Lauderdale, FL). Knight never wastes a possession and is constantly working to improve. He also has a great feel for the game and plays the game one pass ahead of many of his peers. In addition to his smooth passing abilities, Knight has a textbook jump shot that was falling on Thursday night. Led by Knight, Team Breakdown went on to record a 74-60 win by dominating the closing minutes as they held just a five-point lead with three and a half minutes remaining.