The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

79° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Arizona basketball recruits showcase their skills in McKale

    “”Um, excuse me,”” a little boy said sheepishly.

    Brendon Lavender stopped and turned around. The boy ran down 14 steps and stopped when he got to Lavender.

    The two had a 10-second conversation, then Lavender extended his hand out, waist high, so that the boy could shake it before running back up the steps to tell his friends what just happened.

    Lavender took a seat. He had 45 minutes until his third game in the second annual Arizona Cactus Classic AAU tournament in McKale Center, held May 18-20. The Arizona commit, who will graduate from Mesa Mountain View High School in 2008, won’t be a Wildcat for more than a year, but he’s already a star.

    “”Before the recruitment, he wasn’t used to all the added attention and exposure,”” said Anthony Ray, Lavender’s AAU head coach for the Arizona Magic. “”But after that, he calmed down. As a person, he hasn’t changed at all, even if he is a star now.””

    But the “”star”” struggled in the tournament, averaging 9.5 points and two rebounds per game with the Magic, who were dropped out of the tournament after going 0-4. His most productive outing (17 points) was against the Houston Hoops in a 69-54 loss.

    In his first game in McKale Center, he scored just three points, shooting 1-for-7 from the floor.

    “”The first game was kind of rough,”” Lavender said. “”It’s pretty cool though; it’s fun. I just wish I played better. I was nervous. I’m not going to lie.

    “”But I’m excited, I can’t wait. I don’t even want to go to high school next year, I just want to come here and play.””

    The 6-foot-4 shooting guard played point guard in the tournament, filling in for the loss of teammate Isaiah Thomas. Chemistry issues drove Thomas to the Play Hard Play Smart team to compete with another player that Arizona is eager to get its hands on in Terrence Jennings, a 6-foot-10 center from Mt. Zion High School in Durham, N.C.

    “”Brendon has shown the greatest ability to play the point on this team because he’s so unselfish,”” Ray said. “”As coaches, we want him to take more shots because he’s such a good player, but he’d rather see his teammates score. Sometimes we’ll get on him for making a pass when we think he should have shot it, but going into the next level, he’s the kind of guy that coaches are looking for.””

    Lavender’s teammates agree that playing with him is enjoyable.

    “”It’s cool,”” said Trent Anderson, a senior from Ironwood Ridge High School. “”That’s the way it’s been playing with the Magic. Last year I played with (Arizona commits) Jerryd (Bayless and Zane Johnson). Playing with those guys makes you a better player yourself. I’ll definitely come see him play here in a couple of years.””

    Brandon Jennings, No. 12. Oak Hills Academy, Los Angeles, Calif.

    Two days after the Cactus Classic commenced, the tournament’s leading scorer, Brandon Jennings – averaging 28.4 points and two assists, along with two double-doubles over eight games – committed to Arizona, after originally saying he would not make his decisoin before July 17.

    The day before he committed, snubbing Connecticut and Kentucky, he had an unofficial visit to the campus where he played pick up games with Arizona forward Chase Budinger, whom he played with on an AAU team, the Southern Cal All-Stars.

    “”I like Arizona,”” said Jennings, who de-committed from USC. “”It feels like home a little bit. It’s a little hot, but I can get used to it. This is somewhere I would enjoy playing (in college).””

    Jennings, rated No. 12 by, wasn’t supposed to be part of the tournament team he played for, but it couldn’t have worked out much better.

    The Oakland Soldiers dropped out of the tournament a day before it began and Jennings joined the Belmont Shore, which lost in the championship game to the New York Gauchos, 102-96.

    Jennings was a huge addition to Belmont Shore, a team that used just six players for most of the tournament.

    “”When it’s crunch time, it’s time for the star player to take over, and that’s what I do,”” Jennings said.

    The point guard awed the spectators throughout the eight games, putting up a dazzling show of dunks with teammate Demar DeRozan, both of whom made the All-Tournament team.

    After one dunk off a fast break in the team’s first game, Jennings ran up court with his hands extended outward and chortled, “”I got hops baby.””

    He had mixed results from 3-point land, as Jennings hit 25 percent (14-of-56) but drained a number of shots from NBA range.

    “”I’ve been working on that a little bit,”” he said of the long 3-pointers. “”I’m getting stronger, so my confidence is improving.””

    Still, he is a self-proclaimed unselfish player.

    “”I’m a pass-first point guard,”” he said. “”I try to get everybody involved.””

    He has transferred to high school basketball powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., for his senior year. Oak Hill has produced NBA stars such as Carmelo Anthony and Jerry Stackhouse.

    “”Hopefully when I leave, people will mention my name with the Carmelo’s and Stackhouse’s,”” Jennings said.

    Larry Drew, No. 85. Taft High School, Woodland Hills, Calif.

    Around the time when the month of April transformed into May, the Arizona basketball coaches took a trip to Southern California. They sat in a conference room with Larry Drew – who will graduate from Taft High School in Woodland Hills, Calif., in 2008 – his mom, and his dad, a 10-year NBA veteran who is now an assistant coach for the Atlanta Hawks.

    “”I talk to (UA assistant) coaches (Josh) Pastner, Miles Simon, and (head) coach (Lute) Olson,”” Drew said. “”They make me feel really comfortable here.””

    Drew, who averaged 14 points and 3.2 assists over five games with the Pump ‘N Run Elite team in the tournament, said that Arizona is in his “”top-two”” choices for college with North Carolina.

    “”I like it in Arizona,”” he said. “”And I’m from California, so the warm weather doesn’t faze me.””

    Drew’s teammate Jrue Holiday – the No. 2-rated point guard in the country – called Drew “”unselfish”” and said that he should shoot more rather than dish it out.

    “”He’s the man,”” Holiday said. “”I told him all the time (during the tournament) to score 30 points, but we got to get him to shoot a little more. He’s a great shooter.””

    The two All-Tournament selections, who played against each other in last year’s Cactus Classic when Pump ‘N Run Elite won the championship, will most likely play against each other in college.

    “”Seeing him play at Arizona would be crazy because I’d be playing against him,”” said Holiday, who will commit to either Washington or UCLA. “”It’ll be fun.””

    Matt Carlino. Phoenix, Arizona, Ingleside Middle School

    The Wildcats continue to keep their eyes peeled for in-state recruits.

    Matt Carlino, a 6-foot-4 eight-grader from Ingleside Middle School in Scottsdale, has been offered a scholarship to Arizona. He helped lead Arizona Premier to a 2-2 record before the Phoenix team was eliminated by Belmont Shore in the first round of the tournament’s playoffs.

    Carlino – the nephew of Brock Brunkhorst, a former Arizona guard – led his team in scoring, averaging 13.8 points to go with 3.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists, while showing why he is Rivals’ No. 1-ranked eighth-grader ranked No. 1.

    “”I don’t think too much about it,”” Carlino told the Tucson Citizen. “”I take pride in being No. 1, but I don’t get too much into the ratings.””

    The lefty, who has been in the AAU circuit since he was 7, said he likes the pressure of being No. 1 because it strengthens his work ethic.

    Next year he will play on the varsity squad at Gilbert Highland High School. He will be coached by his father, Mark, who will work his first year at Highland after serving as an assistant for Phoenix St. Mary’s, where Arizona freshman Jerryd Bayless played.

    “”I’m really excited,”” Mark Carlino said. “”I coached him growing up in the youth club circuit. Basketball has always been his greatest love. He works hard at it.””

    Arizona Premier head coach Russ Pennell said he was hesitant at first about having such a young player on the team made up of high school players, but Carlino’s attitude paved his way for a spot on the team.

    With youth comes ruggedness in his play, but he has plenty of time to polish his play before getting to the college level.

    “”The impressive thing about him has been his maturity,”” Pennell said. “”He’s been a very good teammate, very humble and very accessible to his teammates. He just knows how to play. He’s got a great feel for the basketball game.””

    More to Discover
    Activate Search