ORLANDO, Fla. -- The paint still smelled fresh, the bleachers were not permanent, and the building didn't even have a sign on it yet, but the Jostens Center unofficially opened Sunday to rave reviews from teams participating in the AAU Junior Showcase at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
The Jostens Center, which had its initial plans unveiled in March 2007, is across a small courtyard from the Milk House, the Complex's original field house. Through the doors of the Disney Wide World of Sports Cafe, the Center is tucked away to the left. Players and parents walk through a small gathering area before the center -- with six shiny courts that sprung up nearly overnight -- opens up before them.
"I was shocked," said Ta'Shauna Rodgers, who led the Boo Williams' team with 19 points in its second game, of her initial impression. "I really like this, and the floor has grip to it still."
The addition of the Jostens Center's six courts allowed the AAU to add the showcase, an event held for boys' teams in previous years, but not available for girls due to the space. Teams received individual invitations, did not have to pay an entry fee and were offered hotel rooms, according to coaches.
For some, the teams recruited -- including well-known programs such as Boo Williams Summer League, Tennessee Flight and the Silver Bullets New York Elite -- showed the AAU's determination to compete with the more popular, well-sponsored tournaments.
"I think the Junior Showcase bracket is an excellent tournament," Philadelphia Belles coach Kevin Lynch said. "I actually think the field is second-best in the country other than Nike Nationals."
The AAU's Junior National Championship has 64 teams scheduled to participate in the tournament that begins Thursday, the day after the Showcase wraps.
As for the Jostens Center, players and coaches are excited for its future.
"It's nice," said Alex Bentley, a guard with The Family. "It's fun to play on. With all the courts and everything, the atmosphere is great."
The building, which is scheduled to have its official grand opening at the end of the summer, still has a few finishing touches to be added. The nets between the courts, which currently allow visibility through the entire gym, will be the same style used in the Complex's Milk House building -- where they are not see-through until above the baskets.
Scoreboards, which are currently at the far corners of each court, will be mounted on the walls, above the permanent bleachers when they are installed. For now, temporary bleachers line the far sides of the courts with carpet squares at the bases to keep the floors from being scratched.
One of the final touches will be a display room for highlights from the ring and souvenir company.
But even without everything complete, folks in attendance already like the new digs.
"It's basketball paradise," South Florida Lady Jaguars coach Jason Hively said. "As soon as you walked in [Sunday] morning, you smelled the wax."
Skylar Diggins was absent from her spot in the starting five of Indiana's The Family squad. With her coaches and teammates' blessings, Diggins, who was selected for the USA U-18 women's team roster, is staying home and working out in preparation for the U-18 practices that begin Thursday. … Bria Smith, an impressive 2011 point guard from New York's Christ the King, did not make the trip to Orlando with the Silver Bullets New York Elite squad. Coach Leon Martin said Smith called him July 1, the day the team left for Orlando, to say she wasn't joining them. … Two teams, both scheduled for Pool C, decided not to play in the Junior Showcase at the last minute: Indiana's Finest Black and the Big South Dream Team. The four remaining teams in Pool C get two automatic wins and guaranteed spots in either the gold or silver brackets. … Katie Rutan, the 2009 guard who Belles' coach Lynch touted as "one of the best long-range shooters in the country," hit an off-balance, game-tying three with 1.3 seconds remaining to send the Belles' match with the New York Gauchos into overtime in both teams' first game Sunday. The Gauchos went on to win, 70-61, led by 21 points from Markell Walker and 18 by Charmaine Tay. Maggie Lucas led the Belles with 18 points. … Bojana Kovacevic, with Ontario's Windsor Valiants, scored 43 points in Sunday's two games. She scored 36 of the 43 on 12 shots from behind the arc.
Sunday's Top Performers
Alex Bentley, The Family, 30 points vs. Georgia Metros
Bianca Lutley, Team Breakdown, 26 points vs. Windsor Valiants
DeAundra Young, FBG White, 26 points vs. High Hoops
Briana Brown, New York Gauchos Black, 24 points vs. Tennessee Flight Navy
Karneshia Garrett, Alabama Twisters, 23 points vs. Essence 2009