Having always enjoyed the Les Schwab Invitational but having never attended a Nike Hoop Summit before I didn't know what to expect. Thanks to a Team USA staffer who didn't employ the BCC function in emails to the press, however, I knew going in that a lot of heavy hitters -both media and basketball personnel- would be in attendance. I was not disappointed.
With talk of Steve Kerr and Danny Ainge in the building, I was seated between ESPN's Chad Ford and Bethlehem Shoals of FreeDarko, TheSportingBlog and Slam Magazine fame. If you're not a Shoals reader yet, you should be. Mr. Ford never showed up to media row, however Mr. Shoals was amazingly pleasant (as it seems almost all basketball bloggers are in real life).
As it turned out, Shoals watched the World team practice during the week while I saw the USA team on Thursday; our running game commentary/conversation resembled two train tracks never converging. As he tried his best to dig a Slame Magazine storyline out of the world team's struggles (Team USA won by 20 and the talent disparity was evident from the opening tip), I ran my mouth telling him to expect the worst from DeMar Derozan (who went on to steal the show and the MVP award by bringing the house down with some ridiculous dunks and a banked 3). Turns out, this "analyze a 19 year old's game" thing is a little more difficult than one might expect.
On the court, it's safe to say 8 of the top 10 players were on the USA team (Evans, DeRozan, Monroe, Gordon, Holiday, Aminu, Anderson, Hopson). The effort displayed was somewhere between the McDonald's All-America and the And One tour, but the (young) crowd of 5,000+ seemed to enjoy themselves.
The entire time, USA Basketball really put their best foot forward with the media, holding a press conference with the team's coaches and the night's best performers and arranging one on one interviews with any player we might desire. It was clear there was a concerted effort by the World team's players (and their handlers) to accommodate the press. My guess is many of these guys fall way back off the radar after they return to their home country, so they were doing their best to get noticed both on and off the court.
One surreal scene pitted a reporter asking a question in English, which was translated to Spanish by another reporter, which was translated by a team's translater into Lithuanian (I think it was Lithuanian, is that a language?) and then relayed all the way back to English in the same manner to the reporter.
Remember playing "telephone" as a kid? This was like that except the message literally changed languages with every person.
"Who were your basketball influences when you were growing up?"
I'm exaggerating (only slightly) but the behind-the-scene scene was pretty surreal, with whispers about a man that may or may not have been Worldwide Wes in the flesh. When asked how his week in Portland was, Drew Gordon noted that he enjoyed taking the Nike Campus Tour for the third time. In my opinion, the scene was stolen by DeRozan's family who were rocking bright blue long-sleeve t-shirts with the words "Straight Outta Compton" alongside a picture of DeRozan. Those need to get up on Ebay as soon as possible.
Last but not least, I spoke with Tyreke Evans who seemd bored and hungry but was very nice. Despite a relative no-show performance on Saturday, I stand by my statement that Evans as the top player in the class. He commented that nobody on Team USA gave him any problems in practice, that he was told to be the team's leader by Coach Douglas Mitchell, and that he patterns his game after Gilbert Arenas and Brandon Roy (!). He said he has seen the Blazers play a few times and that Roy, Aldridge and Jack impress him with their energy.
When the topic of next year came up, Evans for some unknown reason decided not to release his commitment choice as a Blazersedge.com exclusive, but did say his list was down to "Villanova, Memphis and..................[long pause as he tried to remember who the third school was]...... Texas." He said, with a smile, that nothing that happened during the tournament changed his mind. He also said he was looking for a guard-heavy offense that would get up and down the court but would feature some pro-style half-court sets so that he can continue his development. His commitment is coming April 16. Sounds like Memphis to me, but you never know.