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Wednesday, July 9
 
Howard, Celtics dominate Big Time

By David Benezra and Mark Mayemura
Special to ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- Just when it seemed that the adidas Big Time Tournament couldn't get any bigger, it did. Roughly 400 teams competed this year.

Form played out in the desert this year as the pre-tournament favorite Atlanta Celtics captured the title.

The Celtics formidable frontline of 6-foot-10 Dwight Howard (Southwest Atlanta Christian/Atlanta, Ga.), 7-0 Randolph Morris (Landmark Christian/Fairburn, Ga.), and 6-9 wing forward Josh Smith (Oak Hill Academy/Mouth of Wilson, Va.), figured to be too much for any team to deal with and except for edging the Richmond Squires by just one point, the Celtics were not challenged all that much.

There isn't a high major program that wouldn't take the entire frontline if it could find a way to get it done.

Howard is the horse of the group. Howard is the finest low post prospect in the class and is one of at least three players who could all be considered the best player in the class. Despite his current desire to play college basketball, you can expect to see him on your television set come draft day next June.

Smith can shoot three's and also take it to the rack. Not that he had to, but in a way Smith redeemed himself for some lackluster spring play. He was very active and scored effectively from every spot on the floor during the tourney. There will be NBA rumors about Smith as well, but it is much more likely that Smith will honor his verbal commitment to Indiana.

Morris is not nearly as developed or athletic, but has made big strides in his development since last year. Morris will also go to college but has not yet made a decision.

Howard and Smith were named co-MVP's of the tournament.

In a bit of a surprise, the Michigan Mustangs had a great run and advanced to the final where they lost to the Celtics by 20.

The Cinderella 'Stangs were led by one of the great hustlers and overachievers in the class, 6-0 point guard Drew Neitzel (Wyoming Park, Mich.), who will be attending Michigan State.

Outside of the Celtics, there were no overwhelming squads, just a lot of great players and very good teams. That combination made the tournament even more interesting than usual.

A healthy Shaun Livingston (Peoria, Ill.), his every move watched by Duke, North Carolina, Illinois, Arizona and many players in-between their own games, showed his game and also why many consider the "Maestro" to be the nation's top point guard and maybe the top player in the class.

Although his team, Ft. Sooy, was not as talented as last year's version, Livingston did have some big time help from 6-5 guard Justin Cerasoli (West Senior/Aurora, Ill.). The duo formed the tournament's most dangerous pair of big guards and caused a ton of matchup problems for their opponents. Cerasoli, who had a high game of 35 in the tourney, is also being strongly recruited at the high major level.

Future North Carolina Tar Heel Marvin Williams (Bremerton, Wash.), a 6-8+ wing forward went for 34 against the Celtics in a losing effort. Williams had help but basically carried his Rotary Select team as far as he could. It is not thought that Williams will skip college for the NBA, but he may not be around for more than two years.

DeMarcus Nelson (Sheldon/Sacramento, Calif.) showed off some of his athleticism to Coach "K." He made two incredible plays, running from the weakside of the floor to throw a layup by Darius Washington out of bounds and later two-hand gloving a dunk attempt, but Washington's MA Select team bested Nelson's EBO squad. The 6-2 Nelson will be at Duke in 2004.

Nelson, who is much better off the ball as a scorer, plays taller than his height and is well-built. Washington, a 6-0 combo guard (Edgewater/Orlando, Fla.) headed for Memphis, had a mixed week. Washington scored a ton of points driving through defenses, but that also cost his team at least two games in pool play with poor ball making decisions.

Difficult to see how anyone cannot like future Texas player Dion Dowell (Texas City, Texas). Dowell, a 6-7 Shawn Marion-type, led another surprise team, Houston Westside, into the semifinals. Dowell, while not polished at any one thing, shows the ability to be a very effective multiple-position player and is very athletic.

Notably absent from the Big Time was 6-0 Sebastian Telfair (Lincoln HS/Brooklyn, N.Y.), who played last year with the Juice. It was rumored that Telfair was going to be with the Gauchos on the Nike circuit because he wanted to face all of the top Nike guards. However, it appears that Telfair is in New York working out with some NBA people. Of course, this has fueled rumors that Telfair is going to come out early and skip college.

Robert Swift (Highland HS/Bakersfield, Calif.), one of the nation's top center prospects is rumored to be strongly considering early entry. The 7-0 Swift has committed to Southern California but may be hard-pressed to be a full qualifier.

Jackie Butler (McComb, Miss), who had committed to Mississippi State and would be entering as a freshman this fall, did not qualify. The 6-10 Class of 2003 star will instead be going to Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina for a post-graduate year.

David Benezra and Mark Mayemura of Recruiting USA cover the national college basketball recruiting scene. E-mail at: hoopsusa@mindspring.com or call 818-363-1978.




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