Ebanks commits to West Virginia, wins IS8 tournament title
SOUTH JAMAICA, N.Y. -- Decidedly understated in his presentation, Devin Ebanks stepped off the layup line during halftime of the IS8 Spring Classic championship game and was handed the microphone.
"Devin, I believe there's something you have to tell us all," said Hasson Jennings, a tournament organizer.
With his head bowed, Ebanks said, "West Virginia." He then stepped back in line for a left-handed layup.
A day after graduating from St. Thomas More Prep (Oakdale, Conn.) there was no pomp, no circumstance for his announcement. As long and winding as the 6-foot-8, 190-pound swingman's high school career and recruiting process had been, Ebanks -- who attended three high schools in five years -- made his second college announcement simple.
Eleven months earlier, Ebanks wore a red Indiana hat and pulled on a road-red Indiana jersey with his No. 3 on it at the Rumble in the Bronx AAU tourney for a pre-arranged press conference. The Kelvin Sampson phone-gate, a reopened recruitment and three official visits in four weeks later, Ebanks, wearing a black White Sox hat and white undershirt was colorless in contrast this time around. "Right now I thought I would be preparing for summer school in Bloomington, Ind.," said Ebanks, who still talks with Sampson and is currently caught in a game of phone tag with the new Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach.
Back home in Queens, Ebanks chose IS8 -- a seven-week, 50-team tournament played in the Richard S. Grossley Intermediate School gym, as the venue for ending his recruiting venture. Organized by Pete Edwards, the 47-year-old deputy director in the New York City housing department, the tournament draws a concentration of McDonald's All-Americans as well as top Division I talents for separate fall and spring classics. "This is the real world," says Edwards, who has run the tournament, from schedule making to trophy presenting, for 24 years. "And the real world isn't fair so bring your best game."
A joker of all trades, Edwards flips the pages on the manual scoreboard and wields the scorer's table microphone in his self-fashioned manner. Whether it is an air ball ("Oxygen ball" to Edwards) or an ill-conceived play on offense ("Live by the J, die by the J), Edwards is not shy to chide. Coaches are not beyond reproach either. When West Virginia-bound Darryl "Truck" Bryant was taken out by his United Brooklyn coach in the quarterfinal loss, Edwards said: "Looks like we're going to have to start a coaches' clinic here at IS8, too. You do not take your best player out with three minutes left in a close game".
Aside from picking flaws and acknowledging top players, Edwards identifies the All-Americas who enter and the schools they will attend. On Ebanks's team, which may go down as the greatest collection of talent in tournament history, there were two Kansas signees (Tyshawn Taylor and Quintrell Thomas), two Syracuse signees (Mookie Jones and James Southerland) one McDonald's All-American going to Louisville (Samardo Samuels), a Florida signee (Erving Walker) and South Florida signee Dwan McMillan. When Walker, an undersized sharpshooter unafraid to knife his way thru full-court traps, cut to the basket between big men for a tear-drop layup, Edwards, who played point guard at New York Tech in college, called out, "That's Erving and he's going to Florida for free."
"I don't care if they go Division I, II or III as long as they're going for free," Edwards says. "A lot of money is made on their names, but as long as they get the education paid for it's OK."
Though originally an unlimited-age tourney zoned in on local talent, IS8 is now limited to high school players. Powered by local teens that arrive by car, train and foot, some of the top talent flies in for the competition now that the event has a national reputation. In 1997, former UConn and NBA player Khalid El-Amin flew in to play for Gary Charles' New York Panthers team. Seven years later, LeBron James dropped in to play alongside Sebastian Telfair. "If you thought LeBron's mom was something with Paul Pierce, well, we saw that spark when she was getting after people at IS8," says Charles, whose team has won 10 titles.
Last weekend there were rumblings that North Carolina signee and McDonald's All-America Ed Davis -- who had played in the fall tourney -- would fly up from Richmond, Va. to play for the Shooting Stars. No imports arrived this time as Ebanks scored 28 points in the 120-106 win over the New Jersey Playaz. In taking the title for the second time, Ebanks collected his larger-than-life trophy -- which towers over him at 6-10 -- and was awarded a strawberry short cake by Karriem Meminger, the Shooting Stars coach, which read, "Congratulations, Devin Ebanks".
In the stands to watch his future teammate was West Virginia signee Kevin Jones from nearby Mount Vernon. The two met while visiting Indiana while Sampson was still coaching there. Along with Bryant, they represent the mounting success that Bob Huggins is enjoying in New York City. "Coach just said he likes tough kids who have that New York pedigree," Ebanks says.
With his trophy in tow and the microphone back in Edwards' hand, the voice of IS8 said Ebanks handled the microphone with care. "He was short and sweet with it," Edwards said. "But he's better on the court than with the mic."