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A classic showcase for high school talent


Sonny Vaccaro's annual Roundball Classic was played Monday night at Northwestern University. The 36th annual high-school all-star game featured some of America's finest talents -- the stars of tomorrow. While they dominated their local scholastic scenes, the youngsters got a chance Monday to measure their skills against the best of the best.

Eddy Curry
Eddy Curry of Thornwood High in Illinois reportedly will take his chances in the NBA draft.

The Roundball Classic is the granddaddy of prep all-star games. The event began in 1965 as the Dapper Dan and was originally played in Pittsburgh, Pa. Over the years it has featured some of the greatest players of all time. A Hall of Famer, Calvin Murphy, dazzled everyone in 1966 and scored 37 points, still the most ever in a Roundball Classic.

A quick look at today's NBA rosters will reveal several who have showcased their skills in the Classic -- Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Chris Webber, Alonzo Mourning, Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Patrick Ewing, Rasheed Wallace and Stephon Marbury. The list of greats goes on and on.

Some big-time talents played in this year's game too. The East squad was led by Eddy Curry, a 6-foot-11, 290-pounder from Thornwood High School in Illinois. Others included Brandon Bender (6-10, of Louisville, Ky.), Julius Hodge (6-6, Bronx, N.Y.), who has committed to N.C. State, Florida recruits James White (6-8, Chatham, Va.) and Kwame Brown (6-11, Brunswick, Ga.), and Billy Edelin (6-1, Silver Spring, Md.), who will take his point-guard skills to Syracuse.

Leading the West was DeSagana Diop (7-2, Senegal), Edelin's teammate at Oak Hill Academy. The word is that Diop will most likely be heading to the NBA. But if he decides against the NBA, there is a chance he will either wear a North Carolina or Virginia uniform.

Also on the West squad was Qusmane Cisse (6-9, Montgomery, Ala.), who is being recruited heavily by Duke and Louisville, where his brother plays. Duke recruit Daniel Ewing (6-4, Sugar Land, Texas) and his high-school teammate, Terrance Ford (6-0, Sugar Land, Texas), a dynamite point guard headed for Texas, joined forces again. They led Willowridge High School to a state championship and a perfect record.

Other West players included Kelvin Torbert (6-4, Flint, Mich.), a Michigan State recruit who is arguably the best wing player in America, Jamal Sampson (6-11, Santa Ana, Calif.), who turned down UCLA to play for Ben Braun and the Cal Golden Bears and Jackie Manuel (6-6, West Palm Beach, Fla.), who will take his considerable ability to North Carolina.

The one thing that keeps me excited at the beginning of each college season is looking at the players who will be instant impact players when they arrive at their college campus with their brilliant all-around ability. According to reports, however, Curry, Diop and Cisse will most likely be entering their names in the NBA draft.

It's disappointing when kids don't realize how important and exciting college life can be. The four years in college help develop people in more ways than just being a hoopster, baby. But to many, the temptation of instant dollars leads athletes to make quick decisions rather than sitting, waiting and allowing themselves to mature.

It's disappointing when kids don't realize how important college life can be. Four years in college help develop people in more ways than just being a hoopster, baby.

One thing I like about the Roundball Classic is that the event has workshops for the athletes on making decisions in life. In a closed meeting, I get an opportunity to address the youngsters and share with them some insights on the basketball world and about the importance of developing as total people.

The biggest problem for the players are the hangers-on, who want to get close to them and often have personal desires involved. At the same time there are so many beautiful people who get unfairly crucified even though they genuinely care and have played vital roles in the success of the athletes. I hope the athletes understand the difference between those who are supportive and those who are looking for personal gain.

Sonny Vaccaro and his wife Pam put their heart and soul into making sure the players have a three-day bash that is absolutely special. Having the Classic in a beautiful city like Chicago really adds to their experience.

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