LAS VEGAS - Like hundreds of travel-ball players all over Southern Nevada this weekend, Tucson's Austin Nehls and Chaz Mack are thinking ahead to their pro careers.
Except those careers may have nothing to do with basketball.
The standouts from Catalina Foothills High School are welcoming interest from Ivy League and other academically minded schools entering their senior seasons.
So they're looking at basketball … and after basketball.
"If I can, yeah," Nehls said of taking a potential Ivy League offer. "Because after college you've got the alumni credentials to get a very good job."
The son of former UA standout Joe Nehls, Austin said he's received interest from Yale, Brown and Penn in the Ivy League, along with Colgate, Montana State and Portland. His coach with the Arizona Magic Pump-N-Run, Jeff de Laveaga, said Penn is likely to offer the 6-foot-3-inch guard a scholarship soon.
"He'll be a very good mid-major Division I player," said de Laveaga, who also runs the Phoenix Westwind Prep program. "He's been shooting the ball great. The last two years, he's gotten much better at ballhandling and much better at getting by guys. He has the ability to create shots on his own, and the way he shoots … any coach would want to get him the ball."
A 6-7 forward, Mack is generating similar interest. Although he also does not have a firm scholarship offer yet, Mack said he's heard from Columbia, Brown and Portland.
"I'm interested in getting a good education," Mack said. "That will help me in whatever I do."
Both players were formerly with the Tucson Heat travel-ball program and said they've further helped their scholarship prospects by joining Phoenix-based programs and participating in Las Vegas events this weekend. Nehls is playing in the Super 64 tournament with the Arizona Magic Pump-N-Run, while Mack is with the Arizona Power club in the Las Vegas Classic.
The Power nearly knocked off the California Supreme team loaded with UA targets and coached by former Wildcat and UA assistant Miles Simon, but the Supreme won 71-70 on Friday after UA target Bennie Boatwright hit a late jumper.
"It's a good team I'm on," Mack said. "It helps you defensively, and gets you ready for better competition, and on offense, you get more confidence going against better players."
After averaging 19.7 points on 53 percent shooting last season, Mack said he's been trying to work on creating shots, dribbling and the rest of his perimeter game, while Nehls said he's focused on the other side of the ball.
Nehls is already a skilled offensive player, averaging 19.8 points last season for Catalina Foothills while hitting 40 percent of his three-pointers and 51 percent of his field goals overall.
"It's fun. It's definitely different, but I've gotten used to it," Nehls said of the travel-ball game. "I've been working on getting stronger, and my defense I need to work on the most. I'm trying to work the hardest on defense, and hopefully it will pay off."
Their individual work could translate into team success next season, too. Nehls and Mack lead a strong returning group at Catalina Foothills, which is expected again to challenge for the Division II state title after earning the No. 2 seed last season.
Both players are hoping it ends differently this time, though. Last season, the Falcons were shocked 82-70 by 18th-seeded Avondale Agua Fria, after blowing a 55-48 third-quarter lead.
"That was really tough on all of us," Mack said. "We understood it was our fault but it gets you real good for next year."
Already, Nehls said the Falcons have been working hard in the offseason to prepare for it.
"I think we just can't underestimate our opponent," Nehls said. "That Agua Fria game we thought would be an easy game and we just came out flat. We can't do that this year. We have to take every opponent seriously."
On StarNet: Keep up with the Cats during the offseason with Bruce Pascoe's blog at azstarnet.com/pascoe