NEW YORK -- On Friday night, they'll head to the mecca of streetball. But first, they hit the world's most famous arena.
All but one of the players scheduled to play in the fourth annual Boost Mobile Elite 24 at New York's legendary Rucker Park participated in an open run at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. Bishop O'Connell (Arlington, Va.) senior Kendall Marshall was the lone no-show, choosing instead to celebrate his birthday with family back home in Virginia.
Marshall got into town on Thursday, in time for Friday's 7 p.m. ET tipoff (the game will be televised Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU). But he missed a legit, full-court pickup game at the home of the Knicks. Games to 9, straight up, winners stay on. Elite 24 alumni Kevin Love and Brandon Jennings, in town to coach this year's game, also suited up.
We were lucky enough to be in attendance.
Jennings wasted no time getting into the swing of things, going right at Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) senior Doron Lamb and Lake Clifton (Baltimore) guard Josh Selby. Jennings, an Oak Hill grad himself, was determined to show Lamb who the ultimate Warrior was, talking trash after each bucket.
Selby didn't back down, matching Jennings word for word. Jennings may have got the better of Selby on the court, but the youngster's toughness will serve him well in the long run.
Diminutive dynamo Joe Jackson, a senior point guard from White Station (Memphis, Tenn.), also made a good impression. Generously listed at 5-foot-11, Jackson earned the admiration of Love. After several trips down the floor, the Minnesota Timberwolves forward yelled to whomever listened, "I like this kid!"
Winter Park (Fla.) junior guard Austin Rivers got to enjoy some action on the court his father, former Knick Doc Rivers, called home as a player in the 1990s -- not to mention where Doc now coaches the Boston Celtics to frequent wins over the Knicks.
"It was cool," Austin said. "I've never really been there like that. It was interesting just to play on a court where so much has happened. Where great players like Mike and Kobe and LeBron have played."
For New York native DaJuan Coleman of Jamesville-DeWitt (DeWitt, N.Y.), it was his first trip to the Garden. And it was a memorable one.
"It was my first time ever at the Garden and to be playing in it was even more special," said Coleman, one of two sophomores at the game.
Speaking of Coleman, he'll be one of seven players to participate in the dunk contest before Friday's game tips off.
Along with Coleman, Jackson, Selby, junior Myck Kabongo of St. Benedict's Prep (Newark, N.J.), senior Roscoe Smith of Oak Hill Academy, senior Terrence Ross of Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) and senior Will Barton of Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, N.H.) will take part.
As the only true big man in the dunk contest, Coleman knows he has his work cut out for him.
"I don't know what I'm going to do yet," said Coleman, 6-foot-8. "I'm going to have to think about that a lot tonight."
There are a lot of high flyers in this contest, but we predict Selby takes it.
Thursday afternoon's scrimmage was supposed to be a warmup for Friday night's main event, but the intensity felt game-like in Skip to My Lou's 99-98 win over The Goat Squad.
Smith provided the highlight of the game. With Skip to My Lou trailing 98-96, he calmly drained a game-winning 3-pointer with 3.7 seconds left.
"I think it was more intense because for the majority of the kids who got invited it's their first time here," Smith said. "They want to be as ready as possible knowing it's going to be a big crowd. So they want to have their body right and get their mind right. Then when they get on the court, it's like that. It's no thinking."
Judging by how he ended Thursday's scrimmage, Smith certainly looks ready for the big show.