LAS VEGAS — For the nation’s top high school basketball players, the July recruiting showcases are about improving skills, collecting scholarship offers and building a reputation.
Those are the guys you see on ESPNU or read about in the online recruiting hype machines, and the ones the Arizona Wildcats and other high-major programs eventually land.
James Molina, a recent graduate of Sahuaro High School, was living in a parallel universe last week in Las Vegas.
Because unsigned seniors are allowed to play a postgraduate summer of travel-ball, he went out for the Arizona Power Black’s Tucson team, trying to scrape up any sort of scholarship offer he could find.
You could find him playing not in the big gyms, not at one of those high schools with parking lots packed full of cars rented by college coaches, but far out beyond the truck stops and industrial areas of North Las Vegas, in an auxiliary gym at Mojave High School.
His team, for Las Vegas Classic scheduling purposes, was officially known as “III1,” having been placed in a three-letter pod because the “I” and “II” pools were already taken, as well as every other pod assigned to a single or double letter in the alphabet.
Yet, after a game last Friday against team “III3” (otherwise known as the NBBA Butler club of California), Molina was upbeat. He expressed optimism about his game and in the Power Black Tucson’s coach, David Thomas, a former Catalina High coach.
“Right now, I’m just trying to get a scholarship,” Molina said. “I have interest from a couple of schools. Playing under Coach David, I’m pretty faithful that it will not only help not me get an offer somewhere but pretty much everyone else on our team. So we’re just playing as hard as we can. That’s what it’s about.”
Molina was the only class-of-2014 player on the Arizona Power Black’s Tucson roster, but maybe its most determined.
“He’s staying true to the journey,” Thomas said. “It would have been easier just packing it up by now but he’s playing with a sense of urgency right now.”
By now, many high-major players who graduated from high school are well beyond the travel-ball grind. Most of them, in fact, are already enrolled in summer school at their college of choice, working out with their new teammates and adjusting to their new lives on and off the court.
Molina thought he’d have someplace to go by now, too. He has generated interest from several Division III, NAIA schools, and junior colleges — such as Lewis and Clark, and Tohono O’odham Community College — but nothing to jump at yet.
Thomas said NAIA Kansas Wesleyan may be the best option, if the school decides to offer Molina a financial aid package.
“They are extremely interested,” Thomas said. “That could be by far the best one yet.”
But for now, patience is still required. An offer could come through any day now but until then, Molina keeps going.
There’s no telling when the journey stops.
“I pretty much figured it would be over” by now, Molina said. “But I talked to David and my dad and they told me to keep pushing and not give up on my dreams.”