September 18, 2018 Currently: 84° | Complete forecast

Everyone is watching: A 10-hour journey with Las Vegas’ top basketball recruits

Image

Steve Marcus

Jaden Hardy, center, and other the Las Vegas Prospects players change clothes to the side of the bleachers after winning a game against the Griffins during the Las Vegas Classic at Spring Valley High School Thursday, July 26, 2018.

A day with the Las Vegas Prospects

Jalen Hill of the Las Vegas Prospects stretches before a game during the Las Vegas Classic at Spring Valley High School Thursday, July 26, 2018. Launch slideshow »

The Las Vegas Prospects are one of the most prominent AAU teams in the country, headlined by a trio of highly-ranked recruits who draw large crowds of college coaches whenever they take the court.

On Thursday, the Prospects played two games at the Bigfoot Hoops Las Vegas Classic, and the Sun was able to follow the team as they navigated a long day of tournament basketball.

10:15 a.m. The Las Vegas Prospects begin entering the gym at Spring Valley High School. While the team usually takes a bus to games, the tournament’s location in their hometown enables the players to arrive separately. They are staying at the Palms for the duration of the event.

10:20 a.m. The players congregate around Court 1 while they await the start of their game, which is set to tip off at 11:15 a.m. on Court 2.

10:25 a.m. Jalen Hill stretches under the bleachers by himself. The springy 6-foot-6 forward is currently rated as the No. 119 player in the Class of 2019, but recruiting recognition was initially hard to come by. The Bigfoot Hoops Classic in Las Vegas is a good opportunity for Hill to cement his status as an elite prospect. “I feel like I’ve been here all along,” he says. “I just got more exposure throughout this summer than the years before … I’m just trying to out-work everybody, out-play everybody and prove who I am.”

10:28 a.m. Julian Strawther sits in the bleachers with his father, Lee Strawther, and they watch the action on Court 1. Julian says immersing himself in the tournament atmosphere helps him get ready to play. “You’ve got to get a feel for it, get locked in,” he says. “I’m watching this game, but I’m really thinking about my game.” Strawther, a 6-foot-6 swingman, is rated as the No. 22 player in the Class of 2020.

10:38 a.m. Strawther says he will try to play in the Prospects’ morning game despite turning his ankle the night before. He wants to test his ankle before making a decision.

10:52 a.m. Jaden Hardy heads to the training table to get stretched out. Hardy, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, is rated as the No. 4 player in the Class of 2021. His older brother, Amauri Hardy, is heading into his sophomore year at UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebels are recruiting the younger Hardy (as well as Hill and Strawther).

10:54 a.m. Hill does jumping jacks under the bleachers with two teammates.

10:57 a.m. Strawther hops on the trainer’s table to get his ankle taped.

11:00 a.m. Strawther pulls on his sneakers and begins stretching in earnest. He thinks he’ll be able to play.

11:05 a.m. Team stretching begins in crowded quarters, tucked in next to the bleachers.

11:07 a.m. Eight college coaches sit along the baseline at Court 2 watching the game that precedes the Prospects. Eastern Washington, UC Santa Barbara and CSU Monterey Bay are represented.

11:11 a.m. Coaches from Oregon State and St. John’s enter the court for the Prospects game.

11:12 a.m. The Prospects walk over to Court 2 and hang in the corner by the players’ entrance, waiting for the early game to end.

11:13 a.m. USC head coach Andy Enfield and an assistant from Gonzaga enter.

11:16 a.m. The early game ends. The Prospects immediately take the court and begin warming up with layup lines. Strawther tests his ankle and seems to be moving well.

11:19 a.m. Coaches from LSU and Utah walk in. It’s tempting for the players to do a roll call, but Hill says he doesn’t peek at the coaches’ section. “I just come out here and play,” he says.

11:21 a.m. The Prospects tip off with Strawther, Hill and Hardy in the starting lineup. Their opponent is the Griffins, a team from Washington that is coached by John Stockton and plays exactly like it.

11:25 a.m. Strawther rises above the rim to block a fast-break layup attempt, raising eyebrows among the college coaches. It also draws a big response from his cheering section, made up of his father and his two sisters (including older sister Paris, who is heading into her senior season with the UNLV Lady Rebels).

11:26 a.m. Lee Strawther receives a text message from a college coach, marveling at the play. (During the July “evaluation period,” NCAA rules prohibit college coaches from speaking directly to recruits or their parents, but phone calls and electronic communications are allowed.)

11:29 a.m. Strawther blocks another shot. Hill gathers the loose ball, pushes it up court and passes to Hardy for a layup. Hardy is fouled on the shot, earning him an and-1 free throw.

11:30 a.m. Hardy runs a fast break and finds Strawther running the wing, and this time it’s Strawther finishing through contact for the basket and the foul.

11:42 a.m. Strawther makes his third block of the game, pinning a layup against the glass, but he lands awkwardly and comes up limping. With just a few minutes left until halftime, he grimaces and stays in the game.

11:52 a.m. After missing a runner in the lane, Strawther checks out with 13 minutes remaining in the second half. He does not return to the game.

12:24 p.m. In a tense, foul-plagued game, the Prospects are nursing a slim lead late in the second half. Hill helps create a turnover, then leaks out ahead of the defense for a breakaway dunk to give the Prospects a 67-64 lead with 1:30 to play.

12:35 p.m. The buzzer sounds on a 75-71 win for the Prospects. “They were a real good team,” Hill says. “I think we just out-worked them at the end.”

12:42 p.m. Strawther heads for the trainer’s table where his tape is removed. A coach asks him how he is feeling; Strawther shakes his head. The trainer wraps an ice pack around the ankle.

12:47 p.m. Hill gets his calf wrapped.

12:49 p.m. In the courtyard outside the school, the coaches deliver their postgame message. They tell the players it was a sloppy performance, but that it’s better to learn a lesson with a win than with a loss. They tell players who are icing to stay off their legs, and remind everyone to eat and stay hydrated between games. The team disperses.

1:30 p.m. Hill and some teammates stop at Wendy’s for lunch, then head to their rooms at the Palms to kill a few hours before the next game. Hill and Hardy take naps. “Getting rest is a key for a tournament like this,” Hardy says.

2:00 p.m. Strawther heads home and begins treating his ankle. With his father supervising, they elevate the leg and alternate hot and cold compresses on the ankle for the next two hours.

4:15 p.m. Strawther leaves home and heads back to Spring Valley.

4:40 p.m. Hill and Hardy enter the gym and watch the preceding game on Court 1.

5:10 p.m. Strawther jumps up onto the trainer’s table to get his ankle taped. He will once again try to play through the injury in the night game.

5:14 p.m. Strawther stretches out on the floor behind the bleachers and pulls on his socks. Working the sock over his heavily taped ankle is a minutes-long process. “I don’t want to let my teammates down,” Strawther says. “I think I’ll be able to play, but it’s not something I want to push if there’s no reason to.”

5:30 p.m. With anticipation building for the evening schedule at the Bigfoot Hoops Classic, a line forms outside. Spectators are being turned away until the crowd already inside begins to thin.

5:35 p.m. UNLV assistant coach Preston Laird is sitting on the baseline, waiting for the Prospects to begin. There are about two dozen coaches seated.

5:36 p.m. The game on Court 2 ends and the Prospects file onto the floor for warmups.

5:38 p.m. Coaches from Michigan and Stanford walk in. There are no open seats remaining in the coaches’ section, so they stand.

5:43 p.m. The Prospects tip off. Strawther is playing.

5:52 p.m. An Arizona assistant coach enters the gym. Strawther admits he does take notice of which coaches are in attendance for his games. “I glance over there,” he says, “but I try not to focus on it. If I just play my game and be myself, those people watching will recognize.”

5:55 p.m. Strawther muscles inside for an offensive rebound and putback. It is immediately clear that unlike the Prospects’ earlier game, this opponent is overmatched.

6:15 p.m. Troy Brown walks in and sits in the bleachers. The Las Vegas Prospects alum was selected by the Washington Wizards in the first round of June’s NBA draft.

6:17 p.m. Led by Hardy’s nine points, the Prospects build a 36-17 lead at halftime.

6:20 p.m. UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies arrives and takes a seat next to Laird.

6:24 p.m. An assistant coach from UNR arrives.

6:25 p.m. San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher and a Fresno State assistant enter the gym. There are now more than 40 coaches watching the game.

6:30 p.m. During a break in the action, Troy Brown gets up to leave. On his way to the exit, he stops to embrace Menzies and the two laugh for a moment before Brown heads out.

6:32 p.m. Just a few minutes into the second half, Strawther heads to the bench. With the Prospects holding a 20-point lead over an inferior opponent there is no need to risk further aggravation of his ankle.

6:34 p.m. Hill joins Strawther on the bench for the remainder of the blowout.

6:54 p.m. Hardy pulls up in transition and hits a smooth mid-range jumper, giving him 21 points for the game. He finishes with a team-high 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting. “I was just letting the game come to me,” Hardy says. “My teammates kept finding me.”

7:00 p.m. The buzzer sounds on a 71-51 win for the Prospects.

7:04 pm. Beside the bleachers, Strawther takes off his sneakers and removes his tape. He slips on a pair of flip-flops and meets up with his sister, Paris.

7:07 p.m. Lee Strawther receives a text from Menzies. The message includes two photos: One of Julian and Hill playing together from their middle-school days, and a more recent photo of the two playing for the Prospects. Menzies says he wants both to stick together at UNLV.

7:13 p.m. The Prospects gather under the bleachers for their post-game huddle. With another game scheduled at Spring Valley in 16 hours, the message is similar: Stay off your feet and get some rest. For Strawther, that means another night of treatment on his ankle, as he insists on playing in the next game.

7:15: p.m. Hardy says he plans to get in bed as soon as he can and sleep as late as his father will let him in the morning. “Usually my dad wakes me up, and he’s strict about that,” he laughs.

7:19 p.m. After a protracted discussion with his sister about where to eat, Strawther is the last Prospect to leave the gym.

The Las Vegas Prospects defeated Indiana Elite Game Time on Friday, 89-66, to improve 3-0 and win their group in round-robin play. They won their first two tournament games on Saturday, defeating Flite Black, 92-55, and then beating the I Can All Stars, 90-85.

The Prospects' run came to an end in the tournament quarterfinals on Sunday when they lost to the Oakland Soldiers, 72-67.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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