As the Las Vegas Fab 48 entered its single-elimination championship round play Sunday, there was one team that everyone counted on to stay alive for a while.
Except the defending champion Oakland Soldiers, loaded with UA targets and future NBA players, lost to the relatively unheralded Branch West Elite team of Orange, Calif., 70-54 in the first round.
"We had a little bit of a letdown from the Peach Jam and I think the kids might have taken them a little lightly," Soldiers coach Derrick Artis said. "We weren't playing our best."
The Soldiers, who reached the semifinal of the prestigious Peach Jam earlier this month, feature UA post target Brandon Ashley from the class of 2012 as well as 2013 UA targets Jabari Bird, Tyree Robinson and Aaron Gordon. They edged Belmont Shore in the final round of pool play on Saturday before a packed Bishop Gorman High School gym and were expected to coast until the late championship rounds.
Last July, with now-UA freshmen Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner, the Soldiers won the inaugural Fab 48 tournament.
Fine (car) dining
The 30- to 40-minute drive between the two major Las Vegas basketball events is more than just a commute for Arizona assistant coach Book Richardson.
It's also frequently lunchtime.
Without nearly enough time in his day to hit the lavish buffets or fine restaurants in Las Vegas, Richardson said he normally just eats from drive-thru places on his way back and forth to gymnasiums.
But, in the midst of what is often a 14-hour day, even those meals seem pretty tasty.
"The McNuggets were the best in the world," he said of his Saturday afternoon meal. "The fries tasted like they were just brought in from Idaho."
Arizona coach Sean Miller sat between UA assistant Book Richardson and Kentucky coach John Calipari Saturday while the New England Playaz (and UA target Kaleb Tarczewski) faced Texas' Family First club.
After the game, Miller took off and Calipari started to - until he saw Richardson was sticking around to watch the D.C. Assault (and, presumably, UA target Nate Britt) in the next game.
"I was going to leave until I saw you were staying," Calipari told Richardson, smiling.
No wasted time
While both the Fab 48 and Adidas Super 64 events handed out fat coach/media guides full of rosters and schedule information, Arizona's coaches didn't really need them.
They made their own.
UA assistants were seen carrying around an inch-thick paper guide with a cover that read "Las Vegas 2011" and a block A. It was arranged in typically organized Miller fashion. Last July, UA showed up with laminated individual schedules of games that each coach was expected to watch.
The pressure couldn't possibly have ratcheted up much higher for Las Vegas product Shabazz Muhammed, considered possibly the nation's best player in the class of 2012.
In one game Saturday against the Double Pump Elite, Muhammed not only had UNLV fans chanting for him but also former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, as well as a cluster of high-profile coaches watching him.
Among them: Kansas' Bill Self, Kentucky's Calipari and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. UA's Miller, who was not present, appeared to focus his recruiting energies elsewhere.
Compiled by Bruce Pascoe