BRONX, N.Y. -- All week long, 24 of the nation's best players were pumped to play at Harlem's famed Rucker Park in the Boost Mobile Elite 24.
The rain was on and off on Friday, but ultimately the basketball gods didn't let the game be played at the world's most famous outdoor court. Instead, organizers scrambled to move the game to the weather-friendly environment of the New York Gauchos Gym in the Bronx.
Launched in 2006, the Boost Mobile Elite 24 is the only high school event that brings together the nation's best basketball players regardless of class or sneaker affiliation. This was the first time the weather forced the game to move, thereby ruining plans to televise the game on Saturday. The weather dampened the players' spirits at first, but a frenzied overflow crowd (police had to turn dozens away once the gym reached capacity well before tip-off) re-energized everyone.
"We got pumped to play there at Rucker -- that's so historical," said Ames (Iowa) guard Harrison Barnes. "We were bummed we didn't play there, but it was still a good experience."
Despite some fatigue, offense came easily in the Skip To My Lou's 133-120 win over The Goat thanks to MVP performances by shooting guard Doron "Smooth Criminal" Lamb and Tobias "Nobody's Smiling" Harris.
Lamb, a 6-foot-4 New York native who plays at Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), led all scorers with 23 points. He added six rebounds and five assists. Harris, a 6-foot-8 power forward from Half Hollow Hills West (Dix Hills, N.Y.), added 20 points and five rebounds.
The Goat jumped out to a quick 10-1 lead, but Skip To My Lou rode the energized crowd to take a 30-28 lead in the second quarter.
One-one battles, a New York playground tradition, kept the excitement going all night. And the game's highlight was an emphatic dunk by Lake Clifton (Baltimore) guard Josh Selby. He took two power dribbles down the right side, elevated over a startled Kendall Marshall of Bishop O'Connell (Arlington, Va.) and threw it down with authority.
"Everybody seemed to want something to happen," said Selby, 6-foot-3. "I thought it was a perfect time to do something like that. I wanted to show everyone here and back home in Baltimore what I can do."
Though the crowd was most interested in the highlight plays, the game went back and forth until the end. Skip To My Lou took a 59-58 halftime lead. A rarity for Elite 24, both teams actually sprinkled in some strong defense along the way. Marshall even blocked three shots (when not getting dunked on).
Named after streetball legend Rafer Alston, who's now with the New Jersey Nets, Skip to My Lou led 94-93 after three quarters before pulling away in the fourth.
Behind a strong transition game by Harris and Baltimore native Roscoe Smith out of Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), Skip To My Lou outscored The Goat 39-27 in the fourth.
Smith, dubbed "Scoe the Show" by streetball impresario Bobbito Garcia, scored 22 on 11-of-19 shooting while adding seven rebounds.
"I think I played well, but it was very difficult because everybody was looking forward to playing at Rucker Park," Smith said. "It boosted our ego when we came out in this gym and everybody was fired up."
Word of God (Raleigh, N.C.) forward C.J. Leslie finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots to earn co-MVP honors for The Goat with Selby, dubbed "Talk of the Town" by Bobbito. Selby's high-flying antics resulted in a team-high 18 points, not to mention six spectacular assists.
Lincoln (Brooklyn, N.Y.) coach Dwayne "Tiny" Morton coached Skip To My Lou with help from Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo and Elite 24 alumn Tyreke Evans (Sacramento Kings).
Influential New York Post NBA writer and Rucker Park veteran Peter "The Viper" Vecsey coached The Goat with help from Elite 24 alumni Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Brandon Jennings (Milwaukee Bucks).
Sure, the game didn't go off as planned. But Barnes, the No.1 player in the ESPNU 100, still felt good after scoring 18 points for Skip To My Lou.
"What sets this game apart is a lot the best players get together to show their talent," he said. "It was a great way to end summer."