The country’s best high school basketball players came to play in Las Vegas last month, and more are coming this weekend.
College basketball coaches could not come to watch them, though, and can’t for the foreseeable future.
Las Vegas had been a hub for July basketball for more than 30 years with a bevy of tournaments and venues hosting grassroots teams — and college coaches — from across the country. But the NCAA revised its basketball recruiting calendar last year and reduced the number of weekends college coaches can watch and recruit during the club season, which typically runs from April through July.
Late July wasn’t a live recruiting period this year, and the landscape of spring and summer basketball was significantly different from that of years past.
“It was the least enjoyable, least exciting July I’ve ever had,” said longtime event operator Dinos Trigonis, who is co-operating a new tournament, the Fantastic 40, with former NBA guard Earl Watson at the Tarkanian Basketball Academy this weekend. “It was a dud. It was like it was already dead.”
Trigonis’ new event still is expected to feature some of the country’s top club teams, much like last week’s Big Time tournament at Bishop Gorman, which had hosted the annual Fab 48.
Highlights from the Big Time tournament went viral on social media, and five-star guards Jalen Green and Josh Christopher of California played for local club Vegas Elite with Gaels standouts Noah Taitz, Mwani Wilkinson and Zaon Collins and won the 17-and-under tournament title.
Vegas Elite assistant director and coach Rich Thornton said the tournament had a similar feel to those in previous years when college coaches could attend. The presence of Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and his 14-year-old son, Bronny, certainly helped.
“It might have been the livest tournament we played in all year,” Thornton said. “I’m talking about energy at the tournament. A lot of star power.”
Las Vegas Knicks program director Lamar Bigby also said the event had a Las Vegas vibe even without college coaches. But he added that it was challenging for his team to work in conjunction with the new calendar and hopes it’s adjusted.
“Vegas has always been a destination spot for club programs,” said Bigby, whose team is playing in the Fantastic 40. “A lot of kids had secured scholarships and earned their spots playing at the end of July in Las Vegas. I think it’s criminal that they robbed kids of an opportunity this last weekend.”
The Fantastic 40
What: Club basketball
When: Thursday to Sunday
Where: Tarkanian Basketball Academy (Four courts)
Admission: $12 per day, $40 tournament pass
Notable programs: Compton Magic (Adidas Gauntlet), Seattle Rotary (Nike EYBL), Mac Irvin Fire (Nike EYBL), D1 Minnesota (Adidas Gauntlet), Expressions Elite (Nike EYBL), E1T1 (Nike EYBL), Las Vegas Knicks (Adidas Gauntlet), Las Vegas Simply Fundamental (Independent)