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Saturday, August 25, 2012
Updated: August 26, 9:57 PM ET
Nyjah Huston healthy for SLS final

By Joel Rice
ESPN.com

Preview Practice Finals Commentary

Probably the biggest news to emerge from the Prudential Center is that Nyjah Huston -- who lost last month's third Street League Skateboarding stop in Glendale, Ariz., -- appears to be nearly fully recovered from a nagging knee injury. It had been the sprain heard around the skating world and was largely blamed for Huston's midsummer losing streak -- a disappointing bronze at X Games and a fourth-place finish in Copenhagen.

"How's the knee?" ESPN's Brandon Graham asked Huston, who has won more Street League contests and more prize money than any skater in history.

"Way, way better than last stop," Huston replied, looking relatively relaxed, eager.

Street League founder and commissioner Rob Dyrdek told on-air commentators Felix Arguelles and Graham that the 17-year-old Huston had a "chip on his shoulder" about losing last year's championship to Kansas City's native son Sean Malto. Dyrdek offered another telling detail: Huston has made this year's gold championship watch the wallpaper on his cell phone.

"He's so hungry right now," Dyrdek said of the teenage contest juggernaut. "He wants that so bad ... but it's the silent assassins you got to watch out for. & This is the 11th Street League stop. You know Chris Cole wants one."

And though many skaters shirk practice, Paul Rodriguez -- Glendale's gracious winner and a crowd favorite -- appeared to be using Saturday afternoon to diligently perfect his runs. He did several immaculate switchstance frontside blunts in the big section. He kickflipped over the rail. He convivially signed autographs and spoke with fans lining the course.

Children from the Make-a-Wish foundation posed for pictures with their favorite pros.

Sean Malto, a modest Midwesterner, offered his critique of the course itself.

"These things are big. They're scary. You're scaring yourself just like you would on the streets," the defending champion said. "Just smile. Try and have fun and enjoy skateboarding."

The Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., is set up, tested and ready to host Sunday's Street League final.

Competitors try out the course

Media day at Street League can feel like the day before a big wedding or a political convention.

But it's a well-organized atmosphere, even mellow.

The skaters -- the stars on the movie set -- try different tricks, banter back and forth and maybe film a web clip. There's often an air of camaraderie (more so than competition). The immaculately designed skate park is watched by a sea of empty seats. Skate moms check smartphones. Team managers tighten trucks on spare boards. Photographers crouch at the bottom of the stairs. The tech guys test the sound system, turn on the Jumbotron. The camera crew unwinds cords. The Instant Scoring (ISX) team messes with dials as though preparing a shuttle to launch.

Fearing premature injury, the SLS skaters also don't often try their biggest tricks on the course's most formidable obstacles. If you come wanting to see Huston do a kickflip backside noseblunt on the big rail, you're often disappointed. He'll save that for Sunday. He wants to preserve an element of surprise.

There aren't often a lot of outward signs of stress; it's all rather genteel. More Wimbledon than Dogtown. It's not some anarchic underground pool session. Embarcadero or Love Park this is not. You don't see boards being thrown or "focused" (broken in half deliberately) in frustration.

It's all very orderly. A few members of the press will stand on the sideline, issuing interview requests to a young PR professional, who then approaches the skaters to make the request known.

But Saturday was both media day and a day for eight elite professional skaters to prepare for battle -- for some a last stand. The surviving SLS pros had a last chance to practice on the California Skateparks-designed course one final time before championship day Sunday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

At stake is the 2012 SLS title, a $200,000 prize purse, a gold and diamond encrusted watch and matching ring set and even a metallic orange Chevy Sonic. One of these skaters -- Huston, Rodriguez , Malto, Cole, Chaz Ortiz, Luan Oliveira, Bastien Salabanzi or Ryan Sheckler -- will stand on stage with the trophy and the glory and the Monster Energy cheerleaders' Dime Squad under the bright lights in the big city.