LAS VEGAS -- After four days of watching ball, driving to the base of a mountain and then nearly running out of gas, a number of basketball-related items are more clear.
Marcus is the smart play
They say intangibles are hard to measure and special players have a certain quality that is sometimes difficult to pinpoint. With Marcus Smart (Flower Mound, Texas/Marcus), it's not difficult at all. He exudes winning, is consumed by the end result and only knows how to judge himself by championships. He is cut from the same cloth as Michael Gilchrist, Kemba Walker and Tyler Hansbrough. To me, that is a special intangible and one we should all recognize.
The final point about Smart is loyalty. He's got his own band of brothers with Texas Assault. They aren't the most talented team and didn't seek out free agents to bolster their roster. Surely Smart could have gone to play with another team on bigger stages, but he stayed true to the guys he grew up playing with. He has empowered them to new heights and helped them get better and obtain more college looks.
Smart and his crew won the adidas Super 64 championship; last year they won the U16 division. They were given a poor seed and assigned to remote gyms, and yet they vowed to have the last laugh.
Battle at the top
There is a very good chance we have a changing of the guard, so to speak, at the top of our ESPNU 100 next month, because Shabazz Muhammad (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) has gone out and forced our hand. For most of the spring and summer, Muhammad has been the headliner. He's the only guy who can pack a gym and play to throngs of onlookers. He is a star even amongst stars, and his humility endears him to those he comes in contact with. Plus, he wants to be the No. 1 player in the senior class, and wants it badly. While in his hometown, I made a point to speak with his coaches and peers, and people who work at Bishop Gorman, and they all said Muhammad works tirelessly at his craft. Twice a day for two hours a day was the figure relayed to us when describing his time in the gym. Not only has he played better and at a higher level for longer periods of time than any of his peers, he's managed to improve. Should he ascend to No. 1, it will be a celebration of the work he put in on the front end.
As good as Muhammad is, the most naturally gifted player in this class is 6-foot-10 C Andre Drummond (Middletown, Conn./St. Thomas More) and he was on top of his game in Las Vegas. He's heard the buzz about Muhammad and knows there's plenty still left to prove. At the adidas Super 64, Drummond answered the call. He hasn't always played to the lofty expectations but in Vegas, he was more consistent with his effort and looked exceptional for longer stretches. He's played against the best in the class over time and to my recollection hasn't lost a head-to-head matchup with another highly-rated big yet.
Kentucky is in the mix
Though we aren't much closer to answering the question of who Kentucky is going to sign first, we know Big Blue is flexing its muscle this month. One of my recollections from the trip is Kentucky's ability to get involved and John Calipari's ability to make his presence felt in the gym. The Wildcats put the time in with Muhammad, Drummond and a host of others out west. They also managed to sneak onto Kaleb Tarczewski's (Claremont, N.H./St. Mark's) list despite the big man seemingly locking down his recruiting list before the month began. UK is also involved with a plethora of highly-regarded guys who weren't even in Las Vegas. Something is brewing again in Lexington, and although they may not wind up having the nation's best class, the Wildcats are going to make a run at it by recruiting as many prospects as they can.
Class of 2014 keeping us on our toes
As an industry, we know the least about the younger groups and therefore there's always a certain excitement with up-and-coming classes. Many times, the class can't live up to the early hype, however, the 2014 class seems like it is going to live up to the praise.
Chris McCullough (New York, N.Y./Salisbury School) is a force and led his team to a U16 championship at the Fab 48. DeAngelo Russell (Louisville, Ky./Central) has a chance to be a special player and likely the best the state of Kentucky has produced since Rajon Rondo (who was on hand in Las Vegas). Emmanuel Mudiay (Arlington, Texas/Grace Prep) was also out in Las Vegas, as were a handful of other potential elite guys from this exciting class laced with star power. It's tracking as our best Top 10 in a long time.
These guys are a good bet to see increased attention following their Las Vegas vacation:
Point guard Javan Felix (New Orleans/St. Augustine's) is the consummate college point guard.
Buddy Hield (Bellaire, Kan./Sunrise Christian) dotted the radar after his event with Kansas City Pray and Play.
Colorado has a rock-solid big man headed to Boulder in Josh Scott (Colorado Springs, Col./Monument).
Vegas needs contraction
Too many bad teams, too many tournaments. If college coaches can't go out in April (though that's likely to change), then something has to be done about July. We were in the middle of the desert driving around and sometimes it was 40 minutes between venues. This is getting old. There were entirely too many bad teams and non-players in these events. Las Vegas was once a hub for stars and stud teams. Don't get me wrong, I like the variety of the events and chances to see more new prospects. However, the concept of wandering aimlessly trying to make it in time for a game cross-town is a bit much. The school district in town wants their share and cranked up the cost of gym rental, which seemingly has forced event operators to expand in order to make their money. Somewhere, something has got to give because the ball isn't always worth the travel.
The dream of having a college coach scout a player in an out-of-the-way gym and the player earning a scholarship is nearly over. These coaches don't have the time to go on scavenger hunts anymore, not when they hadn't been on the road watching players since March. There's got to be an easier way to make Las Vegas a success than more expansion and the watering down of the tournaments.
Dave Telep is the senior basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. His college basketball scouting service is used by more than 225 colleges and numerous NBA teams. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.