Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
This month of April is definitely a great one in the basketball community. The NCAA Final Four took place in the great state of Texas, with the men’s in Houston and the women’s in Dallas. Now, it is playoff time in the NBA, as this is the time of the year that one of the most entertaining sports leagues in the world gets even more interesting.
But for one sneaker company, well, the most prestigious sneaker apparel company, there are two reasons why this month is super significant.
First, is the release of the film, “Air,” which is the story of how Nike courted and signed one of the most legendary figures in all of sports, Michael Jordan, in 1984. It tells the story of how Sonny Vaccaro, the basketball executive had the resiliency to defeat companies such as Adidas and Converse, both of whom were more popular in regards to sneaker sales at the time. During the first year of its release, the first Air Jordan sneaker sold $162 million in sales and continues to sell today. And everything was done on a small campus in Beaverton, Oregon. As far as the sales in the box office, the film has grossed $55.1 million.
And now, the othe reason why the week was so special was due to the Nike Hoop Summit, one of the premier all-star games that feature some of the premier high school seniors against some of the best international youths from throughout the world, some of whom currently play high school basketball in the United States and are representing the countries where they or their parents were born, or those who are currently playing for professional teams in their native country.
Since its inception in the spring of 1995, the Hoop Summit has produced a who’s who of players. The event has had a total of five players who have gone on to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award, with three of them still active players – Derrick Rose (New York Knicks), Kevin Durant (Phoenix Suns) & Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets). Also, there have been 35 players that have played in the NBA All-Star Game. Amongst those that are active players, with the exception of the aforementioned three, are Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers), Kyrie Irving (Dallas Mavericks), DeMar DeRozan (Chicago Bulls), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), Kevin Love (Miami Heat), John Wall (Los Angeles Clippers), Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards), Ben Simmons (Brooklyn Nets), Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics), Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves), Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics), Jrue Holiday (Milwaukee Bucks), Jarrett Allen (Cleveland Cavaliers), Darius Garland (Cleveland Cavaliers), Brandon Ingram (New Orleans Pelicans), Julius Randle (New York Knicks), Andrew Wiggins (Golden State Warriors) & Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans).
And for the first time in the event’s history, the event would feature a women’s game, which would feature the premier high school girls players & the best international women’s players in the world.
Throughout the week leading up to the game, the scrimmages were intense at the Portland Trail Blazers facility in Tuluatin, Oregon & during the final day at Lake Oswego High School in Lake Oswego, Oregon, the alma mater of Kevin Love. For the USA Basketball men’s practices, there were as many as 100 NBA personnel present, as they were checking out the future talent of tomorrow, many whose services they would be employing in the next two years or so. And when the lights were on, the players performed.
And then came game day, April 8th, a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the Rose Quarter section of Portland, Oregon, where traffic was flowing in the downtown area and the light-rail trains could be seen coming in to pick up the passengers. The Moda Center, the home of the Portland Trail Blazers, was there in full display. Since October 1995, the venue formerly known as the Rose Garden, has seen many historical moments, and holds as many as 19,000+ for basketball spectators. It was also there that a special, historical feat happened earlier this season on Feb. 26th, as seven-time NBA All-Star Damian Lillard scored 71 points in a win against the Houston Rockets, becoming the eighth-player in NBA history to score 70 or more in a single game.
Up first was the girls game, in which USA Basketball featured gems such as Zoe Brooks (North Carolina State signee), Kamorea “KK” Arnold (UConn signee), Hannah Hidalgo (Notre Dame signee), Madison Booker (Texas signee), Judea “Ju-Ju” Watkins (Southern California signee), Sunaja “Nu-Nu” Agara (Stanford signee), Jada Williams (Arizona signee), Mikaylah Williams (LSU signee), Jadyn Donovan (Duke signee), Alayah del Rosario (LSU signee), Ashlynn Slade (UConn signee) & Breya Cunningham (Arizona signee).
On the World Team’s side, there were two college signees in Letycia Vasconcelos (Baylor) & Diana Collins (Ohio State). The World Team has some more gems on their side, such as Marine Dursus (France), Shaniece Swain (Australia), Syla Swords (Canada), Delaney Gibb (Canada), Nyadiew Puoch (Australia) & Toby Fournier (Canada).
Throughout the game, both teams played very tough. On the World Team, they had players such as Swain & Puoch getting their buckets against the Americans, while Swords & Dursus were knifing through the defense and finding their teammates for passes.
But in the end, it would be the USA team that would emerge victorious, 100-79. Mikaylah Williams led all scorers with 22 points & Hidalgo added 13 points of her own. For the World Team, Swain led with 19 points, Fournier had 18 points & Puoch had 16 points. However, following the game, a couple of people associated with the game had experienced new beginnings. After leading Montverde Academy to a 26-1 record and a GEICO Nationals championship, USA Basketball assistant coach Special Jennings would accept the head coaching position at Jacksonville University. And two days after the game, Swain would be selected as the No. 14 overall pick in the WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks.
All in all, the women’s game was a success & with the way that the ladies’ game is growing, there’s no telling where their wave could go in the coming years. The ladies’ game is here to stay.
After that, it was time for the main event, the men’s game. The matchup that many had waited for all weekend. But during the contest, there were plenty of current NBA players in the building, such as two of the Trail Blazers’ own in Jusuf Nurkic & Nassir Little. Other current players in the building was the NBA’s all-time scorer in LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers & three Golden State Warriors’ players in All-Star forward Draymond Green, Jonathan Kuminga & Moses Moody. Warriors head coach & former NBA player Steve Kerr was also in attendance. The best part was that NBA TV was there, live & direct, televising the action, with former pros such as Carlos Boozer & Dennis Scott calling the games and doing sideline interviews. When playing in a pro arena, you see nothing but the best.
On the USA Basketball side, you had many Division I signees on display such as Justin Edwards (Kentucky), Naismith High School Player of the Year Isaiah Collier (Southern California), Cody Williams (Colorado), Jared McCain (Duke), Jackson Shelstad (Oregon), Ja’Kobe Walter (Baylor), Blake Buchanan, DaJuan “DJ” Wagner, Jr. (Kentucky), Sean Stewart (Duke), Eric Dailey, Jr. (Oklahoma State) and Omaha Biliew (Iowa State). The unsigned players were LeBron “Bronny” James, Jr. & Ron Holland, who recently decommitted from Texas.
On the World side, there were plenty of Division I signees coming from overseas and players of a country’s descent or players born from said country. The platters were Canada’s Aden Holloway (Auburn signee), Senegal’s Baye Fall (Arkansas signee), South Sudan’s Taylor Bol Bowen (Florida State signee), Finland’s own Miro Little (Baylor signee), Greece’s Andrej Stojakovic (Stanford signee), Australia’s own Alex Toohey (Gonzaga signee), Canada’s own Michael Nwoko (Miami [FL] signee), Cameroon’s Yves Missi (Bay, There was also a talented player from France named Zaccharie Risaccher, who is projected to be lottery pick in the 2024 NBA Draft. And last but not least, there were Nigeria’s Mackenzie Mgbako, a senior at Roselle Catholic High School in Roselle, New Jersey & London Johnson, who just played for G-League Ignite this season, who both played in last year’s event & made a return.
During the game, there was plenty of excitement in the air as both teams came ready to play. There were plenty of dunks, crossovers, shots and great plays on display for the crowd that came to watch these prospects. For the World team, Nwoko (17 points and eight rebounds), Holloway (15 points and five rebounds), Stojakovic (12 points and four rebounds) made plenty of great plays to keep them in the game. In the low post, it would be Mgbako (22 points and eight rebounds) that would be a force on the boards and in scoring.
For the USA team, Holland (15 points, nine rebounds, six steals and five assists) was a force all around the court. There were also contributions from Edwards (10 points & five rebounds), Collier (11 points & three assists), Wagner (10 points & four rebounds), James (11 points & four rebounds) and McCain (10 points). Even the local kid, Shelstad (eight points) made an impact in front of a Moda Center crowd.
In the beginning of the game, USA held it down, garnering a 14-point lead, 26-12, after the first quarter. Although the World team had more than 20 turnovers during the game, they still managed to stay close throughout the game, getting to one, 75-74, with 5:39 to go in the fourth quarter. But consecutive plays by Holland, helped the lead grow and USA pulled away, winning, 90-84, bringing the all-time series record to 17-7 lifetime.
All in all, it was a great week in the Portland area, as there was great basketball to be played, and it was also a first-class event. It’s an event that many kids in the U.S. and even in the other countries should aspire to play in if they are 19 years of age and under. It’s a chance for players to be seen on an international scale and they get to represent their native country to the fullest. At the end of the day, it gets no better. Someday, if they do end up making it to the NBA, they’ll be added to a huge list of alumni, but also have a memory of the day they once graced that court for the event.
Next year will be the 25th anniversary. If you’re in Portland on anywhere else on Saturday, April 13th, 2024, tune in on TV and watch this glorious event called the Hoop Summit. It’s one of the best shows on earth.
Interviews/Footage from the Nike Hoop Summit: