All-Ohio Red looks to beome top AAU team

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The names just roll off the tongue at summer basketball circuits; mostly they're a roll call of the Buckeye State's elite senior players.

The starting five -- Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft, Kevin Gray, Adreian Payne and Juwan Staten -- synonymous with winning across three summers, are part of All-Ohio Red of Columbus, but in lore they more aptly would be named the Big Red Machine.

"They all have game," All-Ohio Red coach Quentin Rogers said. "But really what makes them so good is defense; everyone plays."

The Big Red Machine has run roughshod over the summer circuit capturing local tournaments and national showcases, and now it'll strut its style Sunday (ESPNU, 7:30 p.m. ET) at the AAU Super Showcase, part of the ESPN RISE Games presented by Target. The Reds will face CP3, a Chris Paul-sponsored team from North Carolina, at the Milk House in Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.

The team's core goes eight deep; all are Division I-caliber athletes. After sweeping through the major stops this summer, the Big Red Machine looks to cap the summer with winning both the Super Showcase U-17 Gold Division and the following week's AAU 17U national tournament here.

"It's a team in which all the players know their roles, but when it comes to crunch they understand where the ball is going," said John Stovall, an analyst for ESPNU's Scouts Inc.

The go-to guy is Ohio State-bound, 6-foot-9 Sullinger of Northland High (Columbus, Ohio), who's ranked No. 4 by ESPNU in the Class of 2010.

"He's one of the nation's most dominant players in crunch time and has established himself as the top rebounder, period," Stovall said.

The game plan has worked with Sullinger, Ohio's Mr. Basketball in 2009 and a viable candidate for national player of the year in 2010, in the post. Playing a supporting role are Payne, a 6-9 power forward (ranked No. 7 at the position) from Jefferson Township (Dayton, Ohio); Oak Hill's (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) Staten, a Dayton commit and the No. 10-rated point guard; 6-6 J.D. Weatherspoon, whose highlight-reel dunks have earned him the nickname "human pogo stick" from Stovall; Craft, a 6-2 point guard from Liberty Benton (Findlay, Ohio) and future Ohio State teammate of Sullinger's; and Jordan Sibert, another Ohio State commit and the No. 14 shooting guard in the country. Sibert deserves special mention after breaking his leg in April at the Boo Williams tournament. The rising 6-3 senior helped Princeton (Cincinnati) reach Ohio's Division I state final in March, where it lost to Sullinger's nationally ranked Northland squad.

That's not all.

The rotation also features Courtney Avery of Lexington (Ohio), a 5-9 lockdown defender on the perimeter who will attend Michigan on a football scholarship and has expressed interest in walking on for basketball. Kevin Gray of Reynoldsburg (Ohio), 5-11, might be an undersized 2-guard but is an unsung hero, said Sullinger, and likely will land at a mid-major, as will 6-4 Anton Hutchins of Lima Senior (Ohio), who is a "big-time scorer," Rogers said.

When the All-Ohio Reds makes their ESPN debut Sunday, it follows three days of pool play and playoffs at the Super Showcase. The made-for-TV game features CP3's Reggie Bullock of Kinston (N.C.), who has committed to North Carolina.

If the All-Ohio Reds advance to the Super Showcase's Division I title game Monday (ESPNU, 7:30 p.m. ET), they have a chance at history: The Reds would become the first team to win their Showcase age group for three consecutive years.

Rogers, a fifth-year coach, sensed this group was special when it first assembled in the spring of 2007.

"I told these guys they could become the greatest AAU team in history," he said.

No one's arguing with a gaudy 55-3 record this summer, including eight event championships, and a 189-8 overall record in three years.

"Everyone contributes," Sullinger said. "We have mutual respect for each other; most of us have played against or with each other since fourth grade."

The familiarity with each other is uncanny, said Rogers.

Though All-Ohio Red has plenty of offensive firepower, defense separates it from other squads. The sticky man defense has helped the Reds win signature tournaments in Ohio and Virginia and most recently at the Nike Peach Jam Invitational in North Augusta, S.C., two weeks ago.

"Winning the Peach Jam is considered the best of the best," Rogers said. "We didn't play there last year but the brackets are most difficult to win, the talent is deeper than any tournament and players come ready to win."

The Big Red Machine knocked off Team Final of Philadelphia 62-63 in the final. Sullinger was clutch in the second half, scoring 15 of his game-high 19 points as All-Ohio rallied from a seven-point deficit. He also cleared 21 rebounds in a game which featured several high-major players.

In the semifinals, All-Ohio topped the Albany (N.Y.) City Rocks and eliminated Each One Teach One of Florida 56-40, outlasting Florida-bound junior Austin Rivers' 21 points. City Rocks and Team Final are also competing here this week.

With history staring them down, Quentin Rogers and his players aren't flinching; they're too savvy.

Winning might put them in the pantheon of great recent summer teams such as the D1 Greyhounds of Cincinnati (led by Bill Walker and O.J. Mayo in 2006); Southern California All Stars (featuring future NBA lottery picks Kevin Love and Brandon Jennings); and the Atlanta Celtics (led by Dwight Howard in 2003).

"We're focused," said Sullinger, who will participate in his second Boost Mobile Elite 24 Game later this summer in New York City. "We can make history if we play defense and play selfless."

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball, and boys' and girls' basketball. He also worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, for which he ran the Gatorade national Player of the Year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.