LAS VEGAS – The Oakland Soldiers had been all but eliminated from the Las Vegas Classic on Saturday evening when Stanley Johnson picked up a gift.
Johnson, the 2014 UA recruiting target from Mater Dei High School, took a Stars turnover and scored inside to put the Soldiers ahead in the final seconds of what became a 70-67 win over Ray Arvizu’s Phoenix-based club. (I can’t tell you exactly what happened because my view was almost completely blocked inside the packed Durango High School auxiliary gym).
“We did everything we had to do,” said Arvizu, the older brother of former UA walk-on Robert Arvizu. “At the end of the day, I don’t think the Soldiers beat us. I think we beat ourselves."
It was a tough ending for the Stars, whose seniors were playing in their final travel-ball event.
“This group here is a close group,” Arvizu said. “A lot of them have played here since they were 12. … We’re going to go enjoy Vegas tonight and let the guys go have some fun.”
For the Soldiers, it was yet another day of survival under the pressure of being expected to win nearly every game.
“We like it,” Johnson said of the pressure to win. “We lost this summer already so we’re fired up for these games.”
For nearly all incoming seniors, in fact, this weekend in Las Vegas is the end of their travel-ball careers. Recruiting evaluation ends today and players are not eligible for travel ball once they sign a letter-of-intent, so most don't return as seniors or postgraduate players.
“I’m kind of sad it’s coming to an end,” said Soldiers wing Jabari Bird, another UA target. “It’s kind of bittersweet right now. I’m trying to end my AAU career on a high note.”
Three teams with UA prospects -- the Soldiers, Houston Hoops and Miles Simon’s California Supreme -- reached the quarterfinals of the Las Vegas Classic today. The Hoops wound up beating Chicago's Mac Irvin Fire in overtime in the championship game. The full results are here, under the “platinum U17” bracket...