- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
To any kid who wants to play serious basketball, summer is a time for expending honest sweat to smooth out the rough edges of his game. The off-season polishing has now reached the point where the best high school players travel a sort of Grand Prix tournament circuit. Last week's stop was the Amateur Athletic Union's Youth National Championship at Boca Raton, Fla., and most of the leading drivers, dipsydoers and dunkers showed up to do battle.
Fourteen state and city teams checked in for the tournament co-sponsored by the City of Delray Beach recreation department and staged in the air-conditioned Boca Raton High School gym. The event was open to players 19 years old and under who had not attended college, and except for a stray junior college whiz looking for an offer from a big-name school, most of the players were just-graduated high school seniors. Starting last Wednesday, they played noon and night, if not morning, weeding out the limp and lame in a round-robin format winding up with Sunday finals.
The much-recruited Albert King of Brooklyn was present, sharpening the classy game that has University of Maryland fans already lining up outside Cole Fieldhouse. So was Earvin Johnson, who is headed for Michigan State. Notre Dame recruit Kelly Tripucka, Marquette's Oliver Lee and Tennessee's James Ratiff all were present, plus at least a dozen other youngsters who can resuscitate college basketball programs.
The tournament was played under international rules with a 30-second clock, a setup that, given the temperament of youth, was like throwing oil on a refinery fire. The winning teams ran up an average score of 119 points per game and on Wednesday night the Wenatchee, Wash. team pumped in 154 while beating New Jersey. It was fitting that when asked to explain his team's offense, Detroit Coach Quinton Watkins said it was "simplified," apparently meaning that after each player was assigned a position, it was simply every man for himself. Sure enough, the official scorers complained that they couldn't keep up with the action, and those 30-second clocks, which retail at $550 a pair, turned out to be expensive pieces of metal sculpture that hardly ever buzzed.
Top teen-age stars are as much at ease making a good play in Boca Raton as they are in Minsk. Since the senior prom, many of them have played in all-star games from coast to coast, as well as in a tournament in Germany where the U.S. team whomped some opponents by margins of more than 50 points. "I've got more uniforms and medals than Idi Amin," says Earvin Johnson.
In the polls for top high school player last season, Albert King was the early leader, but Johnson, as well as Philadelphia's Eugene Banks (bound for Duke), had closed with a rush. " Albert King is definitely one of the best," said Johnson after scoring 48 points in Detroit's 131-127 victory over Washington, D.C. Wednesday afternoon. "But I have not seen it yet where he can dominate a whole game."
Seeing's believing, but King dominated the whole AAU tournament the past few years. This was his third appearance, and his New York Riverside team had won the last two tournaments, with King earning Most Valuable Player honors both times. No wonder a small band of King fans showed up to admire him, including one fellow who drove all the way down to Florida in a Brooklyn taxi-cab. Their enthusiasm was tempered this summer, however, because King is working on his team game, passing off the ball, setting picks and offering his body for sacrifice.
"I just play according to the situation." he says. Consequently, a crowd of 1,800 was disappointed when King scored only 22 points in Riverside's opening 79-68 win over New Orleans. When he got just 14 in a 108-84 defeat of Buffalo on Thursday, the muttering grew louder. As it turned out, King may have been a bit too selfless. Against Florida's Gold Coast club Friday night, he played only seven minutes in the first half, resting a tender left knee, and New York fell behind by 13 before he whooshed back into action and pulled his club into a 51-51 halftime tie.
Riverside trailed 108-98 with a little over three minutes left when King went to town. He scored 14 quick points, including six in seven seconds when he stole two straight inbounds passes, bringing New York to within two points. King's heroics were not enough; Riverside lost 120-116 and was eliminated. Still, all those mutters had turned to cheers. "He can score 80 if he wants," said teammate Larry Washington. "He ain't got to prove nothing. He's already done all the damage he could in high school. He's No. 1."
Part of the appeal of the AAU tournament is that many of its coaches consider it a hobby. Ernie Lorch, Riverside's head coach since 1962, is a corporate attorney with one of those firms that have five last names. Detroit's Watkins is a fireman, and Wenatchee, Wash. Coach Ed Pariseau is an apple packer whose company donated $9,000 to make the Florida trip possible. The excursion was a family affair, because one son, John, played guard, wife Evie provided cheerleading, brother John served as assistant coach, and daughter Marianne served as the team statistician. "A Pariseau loves two things: apples and basketball," says Marianne. (A one-point, last-second loss to North Florida upset the Pariseau applecart.)