or the first time in over 25 years, there won't be a Boston Shootout basketball tournament on the area spring sports calendar.
The annual event that raised money for the Boston Boys and Girls Clubs was canceled this year due to insufficient sponsorship.
In its place however the Boston Amateur Basketball Club is hosting an AAU tournament. The new event dubbed the BABC Summer Shootout will consist of eight AAU teams from the Northeast Saturday and Sunday at Boston College.
The Boston Shootout regularly featured some of the nation's top high school players representing their home cities in a three-day, eight-team event. It often allowed University of Massachusetts fans an opportunity to get a sneak peak at players who were headed to UMass in the fall.
Donta Bright took part in the 1992 event, while Marcus Camby and Carmelo Travieso (1993), Andre Burks (1994); Charlton Clarke (1995); Mike Babul, Ajmal Basit, Monty Mack, Shannon Crooks and Winston Smith (1996); Crooks and Jonathan DePina (1997) have all participated in the past. Mack was the tournament's MVP in 1996.
The BABC Shootout's teams will feature mostly underclassmen talent as some of the region's top juniors will be on display. The participating teams are: BABC, Connecticut Select, Brooklyn USA, D.C. Stars, Maine Hoops, Albany City Rocks, Sam Rhines (Penn.), and the Tim Thomas Playaz (N.J.).
College coaches aren't allowed to attend the event during an NCAA-mandated period when they are not allowed in-person contact with recruits. But UMass is interested in several of the prospective players.
Mack, DePina and Crooks are BABC alumni and the Minutemen hope to add more. At the top of that list is 6-foot-6 Raheim Lamb, an athletic forward with impressive offensive skills. The BABC squad has a trio of Division 1 prospects at point guard. Junior Mike Whitehead is from South Boston High School, which produced Mack and DePina. Jermaine Watson is a sophomore floor general at Tabor Academy, Travieso's alma mater, while Marshal Strickland just completed his freshman year at Winchendon, where he plays for UMass alum Mike Byrnes.
Modibo Diarra, a 6-foot-9 power forward/center, is considered one of the top shot-blockers in the country and anchors the middle for BABC.
The Tim Thomas Playaz, a team sponsored by the brief Villanova star, feature Eddie Griffin, one of UMass' top targets. Griffin is 6-foot-9, can play either forward spot and is considered one of the top 10 players in the nation.
While the Playaz are based in New Jersey, Griffin is a Philadelphia native and attends Roman Catholic, the same high school that Lari Ketner once played for.
Joining Griffin on the front line will be Marcus Toney-El, a high scoring 6-7 forward at Seton Hall Prep.
Albany's Charles Spencer has mentioned UMass as a possibility, but the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder is also a Division 1 football prospect at defensive line and may want to go to a school where he can play both sports.
His teammate, 7-foot-1 center Craig Forth, is only a sophomore, but also has an interest in UMass.
* * *
UMass hosted junior college guard Jovann Johnson for a visit this week according to Insiders Report, a recruiting Web site. Johnson, who can play both guard spots, averaged 18 points, five rebounds and three assists at Wabash Valley Community College in Mount Carmel, Ill. He is also considering Ohio University.
Johnson would be eligible to play next year, but because the letter of intent signing period has already passed, any commitment Johnson makes won't be official until he arrives on a campus in September.
OSTON - With several former members of the state's premier AAU team on the roster, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team already resembles the Boston Amateur Basketball Club alumni association.
Photo by Ben Sherman, UNCBasketball.com
Playing power forward at 6-foot-6, Lamb might remind some local observers of a young Dana Dingle.
The entire UMass backcourt for next season - Monty Mack, Shannon Crooks and Jonathan DePina - is made up of BABC alumni and it appears that Lamb might spread the reunion into the front court. The highly regarded high school senior-to-be has UMass on top of his list of potential college choices.
"UMass is leading a little bit. I like UMass a lot," Lamb said Sunday at the BABC's Invitational AAU Shootout at Boston College. "I've been up there a couple times. I really enjoyed myself. I'm real good friends with those guys."
Lamb also is considering Connecticut, Kentucky and Miami.
"I'm going to take all my visits and check out the schools and make my choice," he said.
Lamb helped lead the BABC to the championship in this weekend's event by upsetting the high-powered Tim Thomas Playaz, 86-83.
Lamb also will be on hand when the BABC takes part in the AAU New England Championship Saturday and Sunday at the Mullins Center in Amherst. Game times will be released later today.
BABC coach Leo Papile compared Lamb to another ex-Minuteman.
"He's a lot like Lou Roe. He's an undersized four," Papile said, referring to the power forward position. "He's a quick jumper. He explodes off the block so he can play in there. I'll take a 6-5 Lamb over a 6-7 okay guy and I'll beat you. He's very active and he's a nightmare matchup for a big, slow four. The lack of size doesn't hurt him."
* * *
Good news on the recruiting front has been scarce for UMass over the past year.
The stated plan, according to the UMass staff, was to focus on the junior class when the Minutemen would have more scholarships to offer. There was evidence this weekend that their plan might be working so far.
Currently the NCAA calendar says it's a dead period, which means there is no face-to-face contact allowed between coaches and prospective recruits, so no college coaches attended this weekend's BABC event, but several top-level players, including Lamb, did participate and afterward listed UMass among their potential college options.
Eddie Griffin, a 6-9 forward from Philadelphia, is considered one of the top 10 players in the nation and is getting attention from most of the top programs on the East Coast.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint's Philly roots have helped keep the Minutemen one of Griffin's top options. Griffin has been getting overtures from North Carolina and Seton Hall as well, but said no schools lead right now.
Lawrence native Scott Hazelton usually plays for the Mass. Wildcats in AAU competitions, but since his team wasn't part of the event, Hazelton joined the Playaz for the weekend. At 6-7, Hazelton has been ranked among the top 30 players nationally in nearly every recruiting publication.
While he admits an affinity for the Atlantic Coast Conference, he said the Minutemen are still in the running.
"I'm keeping my options open, Duke, Maryland, UConn... I like Maryland a lot," Hazelton said. "Locally I'm looking at UMass and Providence. Not BC, though. I know coach Bruiser. He's a nice guy. He's been recruiting me since I was a freshman. I'm just going to go where ever is the best place I'm going to fit in."
The third thoroughbred on the Playaz was Marcus Toney-El, a 6-6 small forward, whose cousin, Mike Smith played on the Minuteman football team. Toney-El's list of school choices is long.
"UMass is on my list," he said. "They're a good program. I can see myself playing there. I can see myself playing anywhere. I don't want to single anyone out."
Papile said UMass is in the running with two more of his seniors-to-be as well. The most intriguing is 6-9 center/power forward Modibo Diarra. Originally from Africa, he arrived with height and skills that were limited, at best. Diarra is still raw, but he seems to have the necessary shot-blocking instincts and his rebounding instincts appear to be improving.
"When he came here, he couldn't play a lick," Papile said. "He's come obviously so far in that year and a half. He's a policeman in there. He'll block shots and gets us the rebound when we really need it. As far as recruiting goes, he doesn't want to make a big deal of it. He's found that the Boston area is his home. So I'll be stunned if he goes to school outside of Massachusetts."
BABC has a pair of shooting guards who are starting to gather attention. According to Papile, at 6-4 and 6-3, respectively, Ray Noiles and Jamal Brooks are both solid shooters and defenders and could gather more attention with strong summers.
The after-effects of the Boston College academic controversy from the 1996-97 season continues to have repercussions. After two recruits, DePina and Elton Tyler had accepted scholarships from the Chestnut Hill institution, BC did an about-face and decided not to admit the duo.
In addition to losing Tyler and DePina, center Mike Bradley and then-junior Sean Connelly, who had both given verbal commitments to BC, backed out due to the treatment of their friends.
DePina ended up at UMass, Bradley went to Kentucky, Tyler to Miami and Connelly opted for Providence.
Since then only Tyler has seemed happy. DePina considered leaving Amherst but decided to stay. Bradley, who was frustrated that he would be playing for Tubby Smith and not Rick Pitino (who took a job with the Celtics), surprised the Wildcats by transferring after two years in Lexington, and ended up at Villanova.
Connolly's situation was similar. He signed with the Friars, expecting to play for Pete Gillen, but got Tim Welch instead, when Gillen left to coach Virginia. After playing significant minutes and finishing as the Friars' second leading scorer as a freshman, Connolly still wasn't happy and will transfer.
"Timmy Welch came up to me at the NBA Draft camp in Chicago and he was distraught," said Papile, who coached Connolly in AAU. "The way he looked, I thought he was going to say that he got into a car accident. It seems to be a trend, though - all these kids that were stars at their schools leaving."
A reunion with former BC coach Jim O'Brien at Ohio State is the most likely scenario, but some recruiting sites have mention UMass as a possible landing site.