Shortly after lunch Saturday, the LA Dream Team suited up at McKale Center to play the California Supreme on Day 2 of the Cactus Classic.
I paid $10 and took a front-row seat.
The Dream Team's lineup included the top-ranked high school player from the Class of 2009, 6-foot-10-inch Renardo Sidney. I have read stories touting Sidney as a cross between Amare Stoudemire and Kevin Garnett.
The $10 fee seemed to be a bargain.
The California Supreme's roster included 6-11 San Diegan Jeremy Tyler, who is the No. 1-ranked player from the high school Class of 2010.
This would be like watching a 2005 AAU game matching Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.
Two bad things happened: Tyler wasn't there, or if he was, he was disguised as a folding chair. Second, Sidney turned out to be an overweight ball-hog who didn't play defense, rarely moved quickly enough to work up a sweat and, when he wasn't pouting or yelling at the refs, scored 16 points against woefully inferior competition.
Over the weekend, Sidney made it known that he is strongly considering enrolling at Arizona State. Good for Herb Sendek, although the Sun Devils may have to build a new dorm just to house Sidney's posse. That group includes his coach/father, Renardo Sr., who recently told Sports Illustrated that he was hired as a consultant for Reebok, moved his son from Mississippi to California and has twice switched AAU teams so that Junior "could call his own shots."
I was thus reminded why I dislike AAU basketball, a traveling flesh market driven by shoe companies and assorted wannabes who have helped to create the One-and-Done mentality that has seized college basketball.
They should rename this me-first mess the O.J. Mayo League.
At last year's Cactus Classic at Bear Down Gym, I took my first gaze at incoming UA point guard Brandon Jennings, but was more impressed with Modesto, Calif., power forward Reeves Nelson. Alas, Nelson, who was listed on the weekend roster of the California-based Pump N Run Elite, was another no-show.
I followed his high school career via the computer this winter, intrigued when he made a mid-January commitment to play for UCLA without first visiting the Westwood campus.
Typical of this AAU culture, Nelson said he did not need to take an official visit to UCLA because he has done enough traveling on the AAU circuit to become familiar with most of the nation's basketball facilities, even Bear Down Gym.
In fact, when Nelson's hometown newspaper, the Modesto Bee, called for a comment on his decision to enroll at UCLA, Nelson said he was in the Cincinnati airport, changing planes while flying to the Nissan Shootout in Lexington, Ky.
The next step for these AAU barnstormers is college basketball, or what is left of it.
Nine first-year college players — rental players, actually — have bolted for the NBA draft this spring, four of them from the Pac-10. That list includes USC's Mayo, who according to an ESPN report is accused of receiving thousands of dollars in cash and other gifts from an event promoter. That breaks so many NCAA extra-benefits rules that, if it's found to be true, it could land the Trojans on probation until the 22nd century.
Mayo and his contemporaries are pampered on This Road to The NBA Draft that includes a one-year stop at some of the nation's finest universities. To play in Tucson last week, the traveling teenagers weren't asked to hold a car wash or something useful to help scrape together entry fees for the tournament.
Rather, they spent an expenses-paid weekend, including airfare, at the Marriott University-Park and the Four Points by Sheraton. It cost about $100,000 to play host to them, shuttle them to and from the airport, feed them and treat them like royalty.
If O.J. Mayo had his hands out, expecting untold riches while playing amateur basketball, we shouldn't be surprised. They almost expect it.
Each time I watch the Cactus Classic I am reminded of former Cal power forward Jamaal Sampson, a one-year non-wonder who spent the 2002-03 season in Berkeley. He then bolted for the NBA draft whereupon he received the unhappy news that he was the NBA's 46th overall selection.
Sampson was so unimpressive at Cal that he scored two total points in the '03 season series against Arizona. Yet the NBA drafted him because he was tall and could quickly shuffle his feet without tripping.
He has played for five NBA teams in four years (starting two games) and spent this season playing in both China and Jordan. He, too, was once an AAU star.
Sampson recently told a Denver newspaper that life in the NBA was wonderful, even as a bench-sitter, because he got $106 per diem when on the road. He calculated that the NBA was paying him about $9,000 a year just to eat while out of town.
So eat up Mr. Sidney. If you are a basketball star, it's usually on the house.