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Not just LeBron
by Bruce Meyer / March 28, 2003

While all the coaches and scouts in for the McDonald's All American game agree that LeBron James is ready for the pro game, a number of other players in the game still have dreams of skipping college and going right to the NBA. And though several are talented and could make the jump, it's clear that most would be better off spending some time at a major Division I school.

Gary Ernst, coach of Mountain View High School in Mesa, Ariz., who led the West squad in the all-star game, said he didn't see anyone outside of LeBron who unquestionably could make the jump. "Unless there's some sort of a grade issue, not being eligible, I would think all those kids need to be [in college]," Ernst said. "Again, I'm just such a strong believer in kids going to school, getting that good training and growing up a bit. I think it's invaluable."

And as most of the players are at least verbally committed to top college programs, Ernst sees the chance to get seasoning at that level as invaluable to the players' development. "They get into a good program, they're gonna get outstanding teaching, like in the Kansas program, the Arizona program and the Cal program, programs like that," he said. "I think there's still a lot of things some of those kids need to work on, as good as some of those kids are."

Here's a look at some of the top prospects and how they played in the game.

- Charlie Villanueva, 6-10, 220, small forward from Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J.

Outside of LeBron, Villanueva probably made the strongest impression on the court in terms of athleticism and having an NBA-ready body. In 17 minutes, he scored 17 points (many on dunks off feeds from LeBron) and pulled down five rebounds. It's hard to get a good feel for fundamentals in a game like this, but he had one power dunk that brought the crowd to life and sent Villanueva into a shimmy dance.

"Villanueva's really talented," said East Coach Ron Hecklinski of Anderson (Ind.) High School. "He's got a great body. He's long and he runs the floor real well, and I think he's gonna be a great college player."

Villanueva also was pleased with his performance. "I just kept running the floor and LeBron James just kept feeding me the ball," he said. "One thing we tried to emphasize was just playing hard and playing a team game. We weren't trying to go one-on-one or nothing like that. We just played team ball and we got rewarded."

He said he doesn't have a name for his celebration dance after the dunk. "I got excited. Once I got the ball my one intention was to dunk, and I didn't let anything get in my way. I was just happy after the dunk."

Villanueva also said he won't make a decision on whether to declare for the NBA draft until after the upcoming all-star game in Chicago. "If I don't go pro, I'm definitely going to Illinois," he said after the game. "So I'm going to sit down with my family and decide what will be the best decision for me" and will look for any type of feedback he can get from the NBA. "The NBA's always been my dream. I'm not gonna let that down. If they say I'm gonna be a first round pick, I'm definitely gonna go. College is not a bad thing. I'd love to play in college just to experience the whole thing."

- James Lang, 6-10, 305, center, Central Park Christian School in Birmingham, Ala.

Lang had a nice game at the McDonald's, scoring 15 points and pulling down 10 rebounds in just 17 minutes. He's still undecided on college or the pros, but it's obvious to most that he could use some time in college. At more than 300 pounds, he needs more muscle or he could end up like the Cavaliers' DeSagana Diop was as a rookie last season. Some team probably would take him because of a size, but that could end up being a costly mistake.

"Without question, he needs to go to college and get on a physical development program, but for a big guy he's very, very skilled," Hecklinski said. "And he's a great, great kid."

Lang said he and his family will make the decision together after the Chicago game. If he doesn't opt for the NBA, he said he's considering Louisville, Kentucky or the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

- Leon Powe, 6-8, 240, small forward, Oakland (Calif.) Tech High School

He scored 15 points and had 12 rebounds in 23 minutes for the West squad in a losing effort. "It was rough playing against all the All-Americans, everybody's used to getting the ball," he said. "When you want the ball you don't get it. It was fun, though, it was a good experience."

Powe, though, said he's definitely going to California and won't opt for the NBA draft. "I think I need a little seasoning," Powe said.

Ernst agrees that Powe would be well served by time in college. "He probably needs to work more on his perimeter game," the coach said. "He's going to help the Cal program because he's such a strong, strong kid." Ernst also noted that Powe isn't 100 percent on his knee, that he stayed out of the slam dunk contest because of the problem, and that he couldn't show off his full talent in the game as well. "He's an explosive player, a power player," Ernst said.

- Kris Humphries, 6-9, 230, power forward, Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, Minn.

Humphries said he definitely will not declare for the NBA draft and honor his commitment to attend Duke. "I love to learn about basketball and to get a chance to learn from Coach K is a very special thing, and I'm gonna take full advantage of it," Humphries said.

During the game, Humphries clearly showed some of the top skills for the West, scoring 16 points and pulling down five rebounds in 23 minutes, though he did lead both squads with six turnovers. "It's definitely a great experience to get all this talent in one game," he said. "I just went out there and tried to have some fun. Win or lose (I want to win), I'm still gonna take away from it what I can. Some people get mad about it, but it's just a great experience I'll never forget."

Humphries also was a favorite of Coach Ernst. "He's a strong kid, he's a competitor, he's been well-coached." Ernst said. "He knows a lot of things you need to do in terms of help defense. He shoots the ball. He's a strong, aggressive player. I really like him a lot. At Duke, with the character thing, and the ability, I think he'll fit right in."

- Ndubi Ebi, 6-9, 195, power forward, Westbury Christian School in Houston, Texas

He had 11 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 25 minutes at the McDonald's game, showing some nice moves, particularly on a nice drive early in the second half.

But with such a skinny frame, Ebi would be well served by honoring his commitment to attend the University of Arizona, according to Ernst. "Ndubi hasn't really filled out," the coach said. "I think once he gets into the U of A program and they get him on the weight program and he gains some weight, he's gonna be a fabulous kid. He probably didn't play as well as he's practiced this week, but he can run, he can jump, he can shoot, and he's gonna be a good one."

- Kendrick Perkins, 6-10, 285, center, Clifton J. Ozen High School in Beaumont, Texas

Perkins had six points, five rebounds and two blocks in 12 first-half minutes, before his shoulder popped out of place, causing him to miss the second half. He clearly has an NBA body. He's big but in better shape than James Lang. He showed some moves – following his own miss for a dunk – and had good toughness underneath.

Coach Ernst said losing Perkins clearly hurt the West squad, which also was without its other true center, David Padgett, because of injury. "In our scrimmage yesterday, Kendrick really played tough and strong. He's gonna be a big player," Ernst said.

With his arm in a sling after the game, Perkins said the shoulder has popped out of place about four times this year. After they popped it back into place, it was numb and hurting, and he was told to sit out the second half. "It really breaks your heart. It's an important game and everybody wants to participate," Perkins said. "I had just started getting going toward the end of the first half, and I felt like the second half was gonna be my half, and I got hurt."

Kendrick is signed to go to Memphis, but only placed 50-50 odds on going to college. He will wait and make a decision before the deadline on whether to declare for the NBA draft. "If I think I'm ready, I'm going to do it [go into the draft]. Right now, at this point, I really don't know."

- Jackie Butler, 6-10, 255, center, McComb (Miss.) High School

Butler scored no points and picked up 3 boards in 17 minutes, missing all four of his field goal attempts. Committed to go to Mississippi State, he did nothing to distinguish himself in the game.

* Luol Deng did not play because of injury. Coach said he has been hurt for several weeks, possibly with a broken foot.

Bruce Meyer is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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