Class of '07 special in more ways than one
NEW YORK -- The 2007 Jordan Brand All-American Game (Sat. 8 p.m., ESPN 2) is the third and final of the elite all-star games played each spring after the high school basketball season.
I attended practice Thursday, and what struck me as I entered the gym is that the Class of '07 is a very special group. Each kid I have gotten to know over the last year, whether it be at the NBA Player's Camp, the NIKE Skills Academy, the AAU circuit or on one of our ESPN high school television games, came up to me with a warm smile and a genuine interest in carrying on a meaningful conversation. They are not only a very talented group of high school players, but many of them are way beyond their years in terms of handling themselves with coaches, media and all the outside elements that go with being an elite player.
This group has traveled all over the country, played numerous AAU games in every venue possible, been evaluated by college coaches since the time they were in ninth grade, been on national television, been interviewed by numerous recruiting services, and with all that, is one of the most unaffected and fun-loving group of high school basketball players I have been around.
Looking over the players as they were practicing today, I couldn't help but notice my reactions were not just related to their incredible basketball talents.
• When I think of Jai Lucas (unsigned), I do not think about his tremendous point guard skills but rather his infectious smile and personality and how much of a winner he is every time he steps on the floor.
• When I see Derrick Rose (Memphis), I not only see an NBA point guard in the making, but I marvel at his unselfishness and his ability to talk in glowing terms about the teammates he won a state championship with this year.
• Eric Gordon (Indiana) has all the characteristics of a NBA two guard. He put on a show on ESPN2 in February, scoring 41 points in a 88-47 North Central (Ind.) win over Loyola Academy (Ill.), and when you talk with him, you realize what a calm demeanor he has and how mature he is for his age.
• Patrick Patterson (unsigned) has a lunch pail work ethic to be admired. Everyone is infatuated with where he will attend college next year, but when you talk with him or watch him practice, he is all business and does not get bothered by all that surrounds him. In NBA terms, he is a pro's pro.
• Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers are excited not only to be playing in the Jordan game, but you can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices how excited they are to be going to Michigan State together to play for Tom Izzo. They were also excited about Delvon Roe's commitment to Michigan State this past Tuesday over North Carolina.
• When you shake hands with Jerryd Bayless and he looks you in the eye, you realize that the Arizona program will be in good hands with him running the show for Lute Olson. He is bright, articulate and will be a strong leader for the Wildcats.
• Talk with Nick Calathes (Florida), and you want your son to grow up to be just like him. You think to yourself no one can be that talented, humble and nice. But he is all that and more.
• Bump into Kyle Singler (Duke), and you are reminded of how talented he is. At 6-foot-8 with all the skills of Larry Bird and Adam Morrison, this kid from South Medford, Ore. is as fresh and untainted as they come.
• Then Donte Greene greets you, and you realize how much this young man has been through in his life and how far he has come. When Greene breaks out into one of his big smiles, you know how much fun he is having playing ball and how lucky Jim Boeheim and the fans in the Carrier Dome will be to have him in their program next year.
The Class of 2007 is that special a class. After watching these kids play for a number of years, I am convinced that there are 8-10 NBA players in this group. When you ask them how their seasons wound up, the response from most is that they won their state championship. Whether it's Rose in Illinois, Singler in Oregon, Calathes in Florida or Patterson in West Virginia, these talented players combine their tremendous skills with an many players do not possess -- the will to win. It is probably not a coincidence these guys are playing in an all-star game with Michael Jordan's name all over it. No one embodied the will to win more than him.
We have many problems in college basketball today -- lack of skill, lack of fundamentals, over-recruitment and overexposure. But the Class of '07, especially the youngsters playing in the Jordan game, defy this norm. They have skill, fundamentals and passion for the game. In addition, this group enjoys each other, respects each other and loves competing against each other.
Saturday's game will bring an end to the high school Class of '07, so enjoy this special group.
John Carroll spent nine years as an NBA coach, including seven with the Boston Celtics. Before joining the NBA, Carroll spent six years as head coach at Duquesne and seven years as an assistant at Seton Hall.