The King at Fab 48 tournament was not LeBron James on this nightby Javier Morales on Jul. 26, 2010, under Sports
LAS VEGAS — Arguments can be made about who the real king was Sunday night at Bishop Gorman High School.
LeBron James, making an impromptu appearance at the Fab 48 championship game with his five-person entourage, was only part of the king’s court this time.
The real king? It’s debatable between Class of 2011 prospect Nick Johnson and Oakland/Drew Gooden Soldiers teammate Jabari Brown. Johnson was virtually unstoppable in the semifinal and championship games, shooting a combined 14-of-24 from the field against the New Jersey Playaz and Iowa Barnstormers. At least half of those field goals were dunks.
Johnson finished with 32 points, 14 assists and only five turnovers in the two games.
Brown earned the tournament’s most valuable player award, scoring 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field in the Soldiers’ 86-66 win over the Barnstormers in the championship game. The same MVP honor could have been bestowed upon Johnson. A significant reason why the Soldiers emerged victorious is that individual awards are meaningless when a team trophy could be earned.
“All I cared about was winning this tournament,” Johnson said. “I didn’t care if I scored two points or 30 points.”
The attitude was a complete opposite for most Soldiers last week in Atlanta at the Nike Peach Jam. They started 4-0 but were bumped from the tournament after losing consecutive games.
“We came here with a little grudge on our shoulders,” Johnson said. “We played more as a team.”
The appearance of James, a member of the Soldiers program for one summer during his AAU days, fueled their fire. They learned 15 minutes before the game that James would watch them play. Johnson has met James the two previous years at the LeBron James Skills Camp in Akron, Ohio. Class of 2011 backcourt mate Josiah Turner of Sacramento was also at the camp.
It was old hat for them seeing the controversial James, who left his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this month to join Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat.
They also come across NBA players often such as Gooden, who sponsors the team and joined them in the postgame celebration Sunday. Utah Jazz guard Deron Williams watched Johnson play Friday afternoon and mingled with the players after the game.
Furthermore, the Soldiers are accustomed to playing under the watchful eye of high-profile college coaches such as Arizona’s Sean Miller, who sat with assistant and brother Archie Miller just a couple of rows from James in the stands.
“I’ve played in front of him (James) at his camp but never in an AAU game,” said Turner, a 5-star Rivals.com prospect who finished with eight points and four assists in the championship game. “It didn’t affect me. I just concentrated on the game.”
Class of 2012 6-foot-9 forward prospect Brandon Ashley, who lists Arizona as one of his favorites, finished with 15 points on 7 of 9 shooting from the field, eight rebounds, and three blocked shots.
“For me, it was inspiring to have (James) here,” said Ashley, who attends Oakland’s Bishop O’Dowd High School. “He’s an old Soldier representing us in the championship game. You have to like that.
“This what we play for. We like this kind of atmosphere with a packed gym and LeBron James here. This is why we’re here.”
As much as Turner enjoyed the experience, he’s counting the days to finally sleep in his own bed at his Sacramento home next weekend. He will play the last AAU tournament games of his career Tuesday through Friday in Anaheim at the Best of the Summer Tournament. After a couple of days of rest, Turner reports to the first day of class at Sacramento High School on Aug. 2.
“I’m kind of tired, actually,” said Turner, who has not been home for more than three weeks, when he departed to James’ camp. “And then when I get back, I have to start class. That’s cool though. This is what I do.”