Elite prospect Dwayne Polee Jr. made a statement by skipping shoe company tourneys to study and work on his game
FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD Dwayne Polee Jr., a 6'6" swingman for Westchester High in Los Angeles, is one of the most athletic players in the class of 2010 and already ranked among the top 35 prospects in the nation according to Hoop Scoop. He also has basketball bloodlines: His dad, Dwayne Sr., scored 43 points in the 1981 city championship, played at Pepperdine and was in one NBA game, for the Clippers in 1986--87. And shoe companies have been clamoring about Dwayne Jr. for the past month.
AAU coaches with ties to any one of the three leading shoe firms repeatedly called his parents, trying to persuade them to let Dwayne Jr. play for their respective teams in tournaments next week in Las Vegas—the Reebok Summer Championship, the Adidas Super 64 and The Main Event, which has ties to Nike. So which team and shoe company landed him?
"None of them," Dwayne Sr. said last week. He sat up in his seat at the dining room table in his home in the Baldwin Hills section of L.A., seemingly lifted by the pride he felt over his decision. "AAU coaches think they own your son. They got mad when we didn't go to the [Nike] Peach Jam in Atlanta and when we told them we weren't going to Vegas. [Playing there] wasn't what was best for Dwayne Jr."
Criticism of the AAU circuit is low-hanging fruit. Unscrupulous coaches and shoe company meddling has been the norm for more than 20 years. Yet criticism of the system rarely comes from players and parents, and prospects almost never bypass the important events for fear of falling out of favor with college recruiters and talent evaluators.
"It's refreshing what the Polees are doing," says Sonny Vaccaro, who worked as a grassroots organizer for all three of the shoe companies. "More kids should skip events, but they don't have parents willing to say no when the [AAU] coaches give all the reasons a kid has to go."
Coaches who contacted the Polees made three points, each countered by Dwayne Jr.'s mother, Yolanda, a social worker.
Dwayne Jr. needs to face top competition. He does that already in practice at Westchester (one of the best teams in the nation) and against L.A. powers Compton, Crenshaw and Dorsey.
He needs to be seen by college coaches. He has already accepted a scholarship offer from USC.
Not going to Las Vegas will hurt his rankings by the various scouting services. Since when do rankings determine how good a basketball player you are?
So instead of playing up to four games a day in Vegas and risking injury, Dwayne Jr. is taking a Spanish class at a junior college and working out. "He didn't need to go to summer school and he could have missed a few days to play in Las Vegas, but that's not what we want to stress with Dwayne," says Yolanda.
For other parents the hard sell is tough to reject. When AAU coaches heard that junior-to-be Roberto Nelson, a top 16--ranked shooting guard for Santa Barbara (Calif.) High, was planning to skip the Vegas events, he was inundated with calls. (Nelson used the three days of summer school he could miss to play in The Main Event.)
"They make it seem like if you don't let your kid go, you are hurting his future," says Bruce Nelson, Roberto's father.
The Polees heard that refrain, and they ignored it. "I know [players] who worry that not going [to Las Vegas] will hurt them," Dwayne Jr. says. "But I want to become a better player, and going to Las Vegas isn't going to help me do that."
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Seth Davis's Hoop Thoughts
Based on verbal commitments, these schools have the best '08 recruiting classes lined up.
G Jrue Holiday (right), G Jerime Anderson, G Malcolm Lee, F Drew Gordon
Holiday is one of the top-rated points in the senior class, but all three guards can play both perimeter positions.
2 Wake Forest
F Al-Farouq Aminu, C Ty Walker, C Tony Woods
The Demon Deacons, 8--24 in the ACC over the last two seasons, will have the league's top front line in two years.
F Samardo Samuels, F Melquan Bolding
Samuels is a load on the block; the Cardinals also have a great shot at 6'5" √ºberscorer Tyreke Evans, who plays guard.
LOUIS LOPEZ/CAL SPORT MEDIA (POLEE)
WELL-SCHOOLED Polee has already proved himself against top-level competition.
JIM OWENS/ICON SMI (HOLIDAY)