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SoCalHoops Recruiting News

Dream Classic Notes: How Good Is LeBron James? 
Really, Really Good--(Jan. 3, 2003)


What:   9th Annual Dream Classic
When:    January 4, 2002
Where:    UCLA Pauley Pavilion
Who:    Loyola vs. Mayfair
   Centennial vs. Carson
   Mater Dei vs. St. Vincent-St. Mary
   Lincoln vs. Vallejo

How "real" is LeBron James?  Pretty damn real.  We've watched a lot of high school hoops over the years.  A lot.  Too much (which is why we just had to take a few weeks off, but that's a different story altogether....).  And probably the  single-best high school prospect we've seen in the past twenty years who will wind up in the NBA as one of the top first round picks is LeBron James...ok, so Amare Stoudemire continues to shock us by playing like a 10-year NBA veteran this season, but again, that's an entirely different story..... LeBron James is the real deal.  And, unless something radically changes, he's also a done-deal for the NBA this spring.  But can you blame him?  As one of our regular readers on the message board noted during a debate about the merits of young kids passing up college for the life of the NBA, "Think about it....there is more than one way to learn anything...first there is the college route...and then there is the apprentice requires learning in a classroom...the other requires learning from one in the field your interested in..." 

The first time we had an opportunity to see LeBron James was three years ago this spring, when, as a young sophomore playing for the Oakland Soldiers at the Pumps' Spring Premiere Tournament at Dominguez Hills, the Soldliers and a loaded Pump N Run team went into the half all tied up, the score even after what everyone watching at the time said was a spectacular first half of basketball.  Little did anyone know what LeBron James had in store for everyone in the second half:  James basically took over the game, hammering and humbling some future Tennessee, Maryland, Kansas, Santa Clara,  UCLA, Texas, and other signees, almost single-handedly just willing the Soldiers to the victory.   Seriously,  James  just completely took over the game, leading the Soldiers to a 20-point margin of victory, and in the process having one of the most memorable dunks we've ever seen from a high school player at any level, taking off at the free throw line and just throwing it down.  Really.  James was that good then, and he's only gotten better over time.  

We've seen LeBron James several times since then, including a spectacular game two summers ago at ABCD camp where he matched up against Lenny Cooke.  This past summer no one saw him playing because of a broken wrist suffered in a game during the spring.  Since then, of course, James has healed up nicely and everyone his skills on display this season as a senior against Oak Hill in what was the most widely watched event in the nine-year history of ESPN2.   Our friend Clark Francis from the HoopScoop also had some observations about LeBron James and the importance (well, the relative importance in the grand scheme of things) of tomorrow's Dream Classic matchup.  Here's some of what Clark had to say: 

After a busy holiday tournament season, I have gone straight to the West Coast and am anxiously anticipating the Dream Classic, which will be held at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion on January 4, 2003 and promises to be one of the premier single-day basketball events of the entire year. Obviously the big match-up will be between 6'7 LeBron James from Akron (St. Vincent-St. Mary) OH, who is the consensus #1-ranked high school player in the nation, and Santa Ana (Mater Dei) CA, which not only is the top high school team in Southern California, but also was ranked as high as the pre-season #1 team in the nation by Street & Smith Pre-Season Yearbook and was ranked #4 nationally by the USA Today prior to losing to New York (Rice) NY in the semi-finals of the City of Palms Classic in Ft. Myers, FL. However, the three teams - Mouth of Wilson (Oak Hill) VA, Miami (Christian) FL, and Elizabeth (St. Patrick) NJ - that were ranked ahead of Mater Dei in the USA Today's latest poll, which was on Tuesday, December 17th, also got knocked off during the holiday season. And so did everybody ranked below Mater Dei, except for St. Vincent-St. Mary, which already has two very impressive wins this year against two of the best teams in the nation in Mouth of Wilson (Oak Hill) VA and Columbus (Brookhaven) OH.

In other words, the winner of this game should be the #1-ranked team in the nation when the USA Today publishes its next poll next Tuesday. But the real reason why ESPN2 will be broadcasting the game live nationally at 6:30 PM on Saturday night is because Lebron James already is basketball's best drawing card since Michael Jordan. Don't believe it? Well, on Thursday, December 12th, when EPSN2 televised the game between Akron (St. Vincent-St. Mary) and Mouth of Wilson (Oak Hill) VA, the all-sports network drew a 2.0 rating (1.77 million homes), which means that the game attracted the largest audience for a regularly scheduled event in the cable network's nine year history. It also was the highest rated show since February 18, 2001 when RPM Tonight had a 2.15 rating due to the death of Dale Earnhardt. And making the story even more interesting is the fact that James scored 31 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, and dished out six assists, as he led his team to a stunning 20-point victory over the #1-ranked team in the nation in that first ESPN2 game

Obviously anybody interested in basketball will be tuning in this time to see if James can do it again. Our guess is that he will more than live up to the expectations. As a matter of fact, from the time we first saw James play two years ago in Columbus, OH when he got 33 points against Mouth of Wilson (Oak Hill) VA to the adidas ABCD Camp a-year-and-a-half ago when he totally destroyed Leonard Cooke and was the best player in camp to winning two state championships and finishing second in a third to all the games he's played in so far this season before packed houses, James has always risen to the challenge throughout his career. And that's one of the reasons why we think James is up to the task of being the #1 pick in the NBA Draft a year from now and being one of the better players in the NBA from day one. Yes, LeBron James is that good! And that's why this is such a great story! Remember, true greatness in this day-and-age is hard to find. Not only will we get a chance to see if James is up to the task once again on Saturday night, but we also will get to see three other high school games and some great match-ups. The first game, which will tip-off at 3:00 PM, will feature Los Angeles (Loyola) CA versus Lakewood (Mayfair) CA. That's 6'3 Omar Wilkes from Los Angeles (Loyola) CA, who is bound for Kansas, versus 6'6 Justin Hawkins from Lakewood (Mayfair) CA, who is bound for Utah. Then, at 4:45 PM, it will be Compton (Centennial) CA with Maryland-bound 6'8 Ekene Ibekwe versus Carson (H.S.) CA with 6'4 Jr Aaron Afflalo, who, in our opinion, is the best junior in Southern California. Next, will be the big match-up between Akron (St. Vincent-St. Mary) OH and Santa Ana (Mater Dei) CA at 6:30 PM, followed by Brooklyn (Lincoln) NY versus Vallejo (H.S.) CA at 8:15 PM. Yes, that's 5'11 Jr Sebastian Telfair, who is ranked #4 nationally in the junior class by the HOOP SCOOP, versus 6'2 Jr DeMarcus Nelson, who is ranked #7 nationally in the junior class by the HOOP SCOOP and already is verbally committed to Duke. In other words, it looks like tournament director Dinos Trigonis has hit the jackpot with this year's Dream Classic, which is sponsored by Pangos.  Plus, we wouldn't be surprised if Trigonis doesn't have a few other surprises up his sleeve....

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