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May 18, 2006The first annual Arizona Cactus Classic proves that size doesn't matter.
The tournament, which begins Friday at the University of Arizona in Tucson, is no bigger than many minor AAU events with 32 17-and-under teams and about 350 players.
But, the quality of the field ranks among the top events on the West Coast and in the nation.
Twenty-five prospects ranked in the Rivals150 for the class of 2007 will be playing along with many of the biggest names from the classes of 2008 and 2009. Rivals.com will be providing in-depth coverage on the event.
"The summer AAU circuit doesn't need any more big tournaments as crowded as it already is," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer said. "But there was a need for a high-quality event on the West Coast like this one.
"The Cactus Classic is definitely going to find a niche on the circuit with such a concentrated strong group of players."
Trio of marquee recruits in the house
Three five-star prospects will be suiting up for three of the most highly-touted teams, Kevin Love (SoCal All-Stars), Arizona-commit Jamelle Horne (Compton Magic) and Gary Johnson (Houston Hoops).
Love, who is ranked the No. 1 center and No. 5 overall prospect in the class of 2007, has led the SoCal All-Stars to tournament titles at the Las Vegas Easter Classic and the prestigious Houston Kingwood Classic, which included a field of more than 600 teams, earlier this year.
A bruising force on the inside, Love also has the skills to step away from the basket and make big plays whether its finding an open teammate under the basket with a timely pass or nailing a 3-pointer.
"Love is one of the more productive players on the circuit and had a very productive April," Meyer said. "He's one of those guys you can always count on for a double-double."
Horne has also long been established as one of the top prospects on the West Coast. Ranked the No. 5 small forward and No. 20 overall, he is the second recruit from San Diego to commit to the Wildcats in the last two years, following in the footsteps of McDonald's All-American Chase Budinger.
Johnson is ranked the No. 6 power forward and No. 24 overall. A ferocious force in the paint, he led Houston Hoops to the title at the Las Vegas Spring Showcase in late April.
Big name in the building, but not suiting up
The prospect who would have been surrounded by the most intrigue is not expected to play.
Arizona-commit Jerryd Bayless, who is nursing a sprained ankle, is planning on taking an unofficial visit to Arizona during the weekend instead. Bayless, a five-star combo guard from Phoenix, committed to the Wildcats in November, but he recently began wavering and has talked about looking at other schools.
Ten commits collide
Nine players who have committed to major programs are playing besides Horne, including the SoCal All-Stars' Taylor King (Duke), the Total Package's Steven Gray (Gonzaga), H-Squad's Quinton Watkins (Southern Cal), Pump N' Run Elite's Austin Daye (Gonzaga), Arizona Magic's Isaiah Thomas (Washington), the Illinois Warriors' Bill Cole (Illinois), the Arizona Stars' Harper Kamp (California), the Pump N' Run's Alex Jacobson (Arizona) and Belmont Shore's Sean Williams (Syracuse).
King is one of the top perimeter shooters in the class and creates an ideal compliment for the physically-imposing Love.
Thomas will get a chance to show he can carry a team offensively with the absence of Bayless.
Jacobson and Williams, who are not ranked in the Rivals150, will get a chance to show they have just as much potential as many other top prospects.
"Those two will be under a lot scrutiny from scouts," Meyer said. "They will be on a stage where they can prove themselves."
Big crowds are sure to follow Brandon Jennings, one of the fastest rising sophomores, around the entire event.
The SoCal All-Stars' dynamic point guard put together dominating performances and several spectacular plays in the spring. He is drawing interest from several elite programs.
"Jennings has been an impressive player since last summer," Meyer said. "He is probably one of the better pure point guards on the circuit. He's a productive player with a huge upside. If he gets stronger and improves his right hand, he has the chance to be a complete, all-around point guard, which is a rarity."
Other class of 2008 prospects who have made a name for themselves in the recruiting world will be making the trip, including the Pump N' Run Elite's Larry Drew, EBO's Jeff Withey, the Total Package's Clarence Trent, P-Miller Ballers' Matt Simpkins, Double Pump Elite's Jrue Holiday and Las Vegas Prospects' Luke Babbitt.
"There are a lot of good 2008 prospects on the West Coast and it's going to very interesting to watch them play on 17-under level against this level of competition," Meyer said.