CRAWFORD | Derby Festival Classic is about fun, not fundamentals - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Derby Festival Classic is about fun, not fundamentals

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- I worked a long time in sports journalism to not have to cover AAU basketball, or anything resembling it.

Oh, it was fine while I did it. There are worse jobs. I spent my share of summers chasing high school boys around the country while millionaire coaches dissected them from the bleachers.

There were some good times. I was there when LeBron James and Lenny Cooke did battle in a gym at Fairleigh Dickinson University in the ABCD Camp. I saw Amare Stoudamire show up at the Nike Camp with a publicist. I flew with Rick Pitino to the ABCD Camp in New Jersey when everyone was gaga over Sebastian Telfair and he was trying to figure out what to do with this Rajon Rondo kid who wanted to commit.

But in general, I had to realize my weaknesses. There are things I'm good at, that I feel particularly qualified to do. Holding up a digital recorder and asking a 16-year-old kid, "Who's on your list," isn't one of them.

Other people do a great job. I'm glad they do. I enjoy their work. I'm usually only good for an occasional visit into their world of intermittent defense and not running the court.

The Kentucky Derby Festival Classic is one of those little detours. The main reason I like it is that they play it in Freedom Hall.

If you haven't been in the Hall for a while, you forget how close the fans are -- how close everything is. The suites seem virtually on top of the court. Back when they were in the planning stages for a new arena, they also drew up plans to renovate Freedom Hall. They were pondering a new circle of suites around the top row of the arena. Those suites still would've been closer to the court than the ones in the KFC Yum! Center.

So I'm already in a good mood when I enter the building. I like the history of the game. Moses Malone played in this game. Darrell Griffith, Rex Chapman, Jamal Mashburn, Isiah Thomas, Pervis Ellison, Anfernee Hardaway and Derek Anderson, who watched last night's game from a sideline seat. Marques Maybin played in the game, and came back to judge the slam dunk contest last night, as did former University of Louisville standouts Jerome Harmon and Felton Spencer.

The other element of the Derby Classic game for me now is television. And it's not just the usual talk-on-the-news television, it's live-TV from a ballgame television.

I always wanted to call games live. I used to call the games in my head when I was playing alone on my basketball hoop in Bagdad, Ky., growing up. (My little brother Joe went one better, and actually called them on tape and then interviewed me after the games. He wound up in radio.)

The powers that be at WDRB are wise people. They don't turn me loose with a microphone for long stretches. They try to put me where I can't hurt the ball club. I try to do my part. Last night's game, for instance, was preceded by my usual scouring of the arena for something to stand on so I wouldn't look like Rick Bozich's hobbit friend.

How is it that for me, the camera adds ten pounds, and for Bozich, it adds five inches in height?

Nonetheless, it's all pretty exciting, until the actual watching of the game happens.

I suppose here is where I should share a few thoughts.

-- The White Team beat the Green team 128-104. I wasn't a journalism major, but I know you're supposed to give the score. The White team featured three University of Louisville signees. The Green team was led by a couple of Indiana signees and two from UNLV.

-- Of the U of L guys: Quintin Snider, a point guard from Ballard, had nine assists and zero turnovers, and likely will be banned from all future AAU and All-Star type events for having more assists than shots attempted. Chinanu Onuaku seemed to have an affinity for playing defense, didn't shoot it all that well and struggled from the free-throw line. Jaylen Johnson had some breathtakingly athletic plays and made 7 of 12 shots, not too bad, finishing with 14 points, 12 rebounds and two assists. There's some material there for Rick Pitino to work with. He'll also quickly declare all three to be in insufficient shape to play basketball and inform them that the NCAA's new all-you-can-eat rule likely won't be applying to them anytime soon.

-- IU's two signees, Max Hoetzel and Robert Johnson, can both shoot it. Hoetzel won the three-point shooting contest. He made every shot he took in the game -- but shot only three times -- and finished with 10 points. Johnson had an off night shooting and also finished with 10.

-- Florida had the best collection of players in the game, Devin Robinson, a wiry 6-8 forward being the best of them, but 6-4 guard Brandone Francis also is very good, with 5-10 guard Chris Chiozz right behind them. Physically, Francis is ready right now. Robinson, who had 20 points, has a very high skill level and will only need to add some bulk to be very effective.

-- John Thompson at Georgetown will be happy with 6-8 Isaac Copeland. He won the slam-dunk contest.

-- JaQuan Lyle, a former U of L commit, took some grief from the fans, but still finished with 16 points and 6 assists. He's heading to Oregon.

-- The best player on the court, at least for this one night, was Xavier signee Trevon Bluiett, a 6-5, 185-pound guard who had 22 points and nine rebounds despite having an off night from three-point range. He looked the most ready of everyone in the game, though Goodluck Okonoboh, in addition to having the best name in the game, looked as if he could develop into a Montrezl Harrell-esque player for UNLV.

-- The game was attended by 5,518. That's a little more than half the number who attended last year. I don't know what that means for the future of the event, but until the game can consistently get a player or two from the University of Kentucky, or get away from the same-night scheduling as the Jordan-Brand All-Star game, it's going to be tough sledding.

It's always interesting to do TV games like this. As doing TV is in general, it's an educational experience. Instead of laughing at the idiots on TV, it's a bit of a reality check to become one once in a while.

For the players, the last two minutes of garbage time represented probably the last two minutes of the kind of AAU basketball they've become used to. At least, without consequences, anyway.

It's hard for me to judge much in this game. For instance, I thought Onuaku showed some ability on the defensive end, then I saw him give up a thundering lob slam. He went on to make a couple of nice plays, but had this been a real game, Pitino would've called a quick timeout and granted Onuaku a seat in close proximity to him for the rest of the game.

It's almost midnight as I wrap up this column. The Watterson Expressway on the way home will have more traffic than the free-throw lane in Freedom Hall in the final minutes last night. From now on for these guys, it's real. But for one more night, playing around and having fun was good.

"That's all I was trying to do," said Snider, who was voted his team's MVP. "You want to come out and have fun, try to relax, pass the ball to guys and let them make big plays."

Graduation is dead ahead for these guys, then a few weeks of down time before most report to school for the summer, and life will change.

But once in a while, a little free-form hoops for the fun of it never hurt anybody. Including me.

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