James finishes with a flourish to win EA ClassicPosted: Monday March 31, 2003 11:24 PM
Updated: Tuesday April 01, 2003 12:13 AM
CHICAGO (AP) -- LeBron James chatted with a pair of Chicago Bulls, then showed again why he's expected to join them in the NBA soon.
James, the anticipated No. 1 pick in this summer's draft, hit the winning shot and finished with 28 points, six rebounds and five assists to lead the West team to a 120-119 victory over the East in the EA Sports Roundball Classic on Monday night.
"The first three quarters you have fun," James said. "In the fourth quarter, it's time to put away the smile and get down to business."
James did just that, scoring five of the West's final nine points and assisting on another basket to lead his team back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit.
The West pulled to 119-118 when James rebounded a missed free throw and took the ball the length of the court, banking in a shot in the lane with 24 seconds left.
The East couldn't get off a final attempt, and James was honored as the game's most valuable player.
"Once I put it in gear, my teammates see that I'm going to play harder, so they are going to play harder," James said. "I needed to take over and lead our team to a victory."
James, who helped St. Vincent-St. Mary of Akron win its third Ohio state title in four years, struggled early but finished strong after a halftime talk with the Bulls' Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford.
Charlie Villanueva, who's headed for Illinois, had 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting for the West. Aaron Brooks, who will play for Oregon, also had 18.
"It was great playing with him. One thing you know: If you run the floor, he's going to feed you the ball," Villanueva said. "He's a great passer, and he's going to be a great pro."
From start to finish, this game was all about James. The announced attendance was 19,678, an average Bulls crowd. James, who wore No. 32 in the McDonald's All-American game, had on his familiar No. 23 again -- in the arena Michael Jordan made famous, no less.
However, he looked like a nervous teenager early on.
James grabbed the first rebound of the game, took the ball up the court himself, then promptly missed the layup. On his team's next possession, James had the ball stolen at midcourt by Travis Outlaw, who took it the length of the court for a dunk.
James appeared frustrated with his teammates early on when they failed to get the break started fast enough, shouting "outlet, outlet" after a rebound, then shaking his head as he ran down the court.
Soon enough, they got the message.
With the West down 15-12, James intercepted a pass under the basket and saved it before falling out of bounds. He then raced downcourt, caught a lob pass from Trevor Ariza and dunked it in traffic with two hands for his first points of the night.
James finished the first quarter with 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting, but he had three turnovers and didn't hit a shot from outside 6 feet. He also shot an airball on a 3-point attempt, drawing a handful of jeers from the crowd.
"My jumper has just been off lately," James said. "My critics are going back to saying I can't shoot. They said that earlier in the year and I hit 11 3-pointers. I've just got to be more consistent about it."
James opened the third quarter with a nifty one-handed bounce pass to Dameon Mason, who made the layup. James later hit a long jumper at the top of the key -- his only outside shot of the game -- and had a ferocious dunk to pull the East within three late.
Sammy Mejia, who signed with DePaul, and Brandon Bass had 16 points apiece for the East team.