King James Shooting Stars Classic
The 2006 King James Shooting Stars Classic is in the books, and here's InsideHoops.com's main man in the midwest talking about the key stuff.
KENT, OHIO -- Late Saturday night as the clock neared 11:00 in a small, sweaty gym on the
campus of Kent State, O.J. Mayo stood watching the action with his headphones on. Two
young fans approached Mayo for an autograph, but this was his pre-game - there was no time
Mayo was getting ready for the centerpiece game of the weekend's King James Shooting
Stars Classic, a Round of 16 showdown between his D1 Greyhounds squad and
Philadelphia-based Team Final, featuring wunderkind Tyreke Evans.
It's a matchup the hoops world was waiting for, simply one versus one - the best junior guard
versus the best sophomore. There were rumors that the two players were ducking each other this summer
and this matchup was only possible because the Greyhounds lost their tournament opener
to DC Assault, dropping into the bracket with Team Final.
"It's just a bunch of hoopla," Mayo said later. "He has to go on with his summer
schedule, I have to go on with mine. When we meet up, it's a big game."
As Mayo stood waiting to take the court, the only question was where Evans was. The
6-4 guard reportedly was hurt earlier in the day and didn't even warm up with his
team as tip-off approached.
Team Final sent its five starters to the floor and Evans was nowhere to be found.
Then the maestro made his entrance, not quite like Willis Reed entering the Garden, but
the same nevertheless. He made a beeline for the court - no warming up, nothing - and
the drama was all set to begin.
What followed was one of the purest showdowns in basketball today, one that will never
be forgotten by the 200 or so people crammed inside the gym, including Memphis coach
John Calipari and numerous others from the college ranks.
The two players simply went at it, trying to protect their turf as the top guard in his
respective class. Never mind that the venue was an auxiliary rec gym built in the 1950s
or that there wasn't even a scoreboard to keep time on the clock.
This was epic.
Mayo drilled his first shot - a 3-pointer for a 3-2 lead - and put up 10 quick points
before Evans and Team Final even knew what hit them. The smooth 6-4 guard came out fired up,
aggressively looking for his patented pull-up jumper off the dribble that has been
his calling card.
It was a fiery Mayo, who earlier in the week dealt with reports surfacing that he choked a female
student at his high school. That situation had no effect on the court on Mayo, who let
loose with some trash talk at Team Final's coach after one 3-pointer in the first half.
Just as the matchup tilted in Mayo's favor, Evans found his stroke, answering with 3-pointers
of his own. When the dust settled at halftime, the Greyhounds - who also feature wing
guard Bill Walker, ultra-quick point Josh Miller and workmanlike forward Alex Tyus - had a
Mayo had 16 points at the break and Evans had 14. What was striking was that Evans - so
tough to contain off the dribble - was having trouble getting past the defense of Mayo, who moved
his feet well enough to force his counterpart into jump shots. However, Evans' step-back
jumper is equal to Mayo's pull-up in terms how difficult it is to defend. That was no different
on this night, although Evans was missing more than his share.
The second half began with another Mayo onslaught with 10 more points and some beautiful set-ups
to Tyus and Walker. Evans was slowing down - he had yet to score - as Team Final relied
on players such as 6-6 athletic wing Jeff Robinson to keep things close.
After seemingly an eternity, Evans drilled a 3 for his first bucket of the half. He might have
been outplayed to that point, but there was still time to make a run, more than enough for
a player of his ability to will his team to the 'W.'
Another funny thing happened as the game progressed. Mayo had seemed so eager to rip Evans'
head off at the start, anxious to prove himself as the better player. As Evans stood up
to the challenge, never backing down in the face of spectacular play by Mayo, the respect
between the two as ballplayers grew.
Evans was fouled hard going to the basket on one occasion and Mayo gently tapped him on
the back of his head, as if to say "Keep at it, young fellow, keep at it."
"He's a younger kid," Mayo said. "He's kind of in the same situation. He's coming off
being tagged the number one player in the country in his class. So he has a lot to deal
with. I just try to help him stay focused. They're going to be a lot of things going
around him, good and negative."
Mayo's game was clearly more complete as far his ballhandling, shooting and decision-making,
aspects of Evans' game that will grow as he matures. If Evans had an edge, it was with his
quick first step and strong upper body, although the youngster is still learning
how to use both of those assets to their maximum effectiveness. On most nights, his 80
percent effectiveness in those areas are more than enough.
Down by eight points, Team Final mustered one last rally. Evans hit two 3s in a
7-0 run to pull his team within 55-54 as tim wound down. But he missed a 3-point shot
for the lead with his team down by two points and Mayo came back with a 3 that gave his
team the necessary breathing room to get to the finish line.
Evans finished with 23 points as his magnificent tournament came to an end. A self-described
North Carolina fan, it appears that he will be headed to Chapel Hill in two years - Tywon
Lawson will probably be gone to the pros by that time.
Mayo scored seven of his team's final 10 points and netted 33 points for the game in the 65-62
victory. He went on to win tournament MVp honors after leading his team to three more
wins the next day, including an 86-65 rout of Washington, DC-based Triple Threat in the
televised championship game.
None of those games had the drama of the Saturday showdown, a matchup that will take its place
in recent summer basketball lore with LeBron James vs. Lenny Cooke, Shaun Livingston vs.
Sebastian Telfair, Greg Oden vs. Derrick Caracter and last year's Mayo vs. Lance Stephenson
matchup at ABCD.