Bet on it: Las Vegas more than short-term fad for American basketball

by | College Basketball Recruiting Blogger
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Fans enjoying a game of basketball during their trip to Vegas? Believe it. (Getty Images)  
Fans enjoying a game of basketball during their trip to Vegas? Believe it. (Getty Images)  

People go to Las Vegas for a variety of things: the hotels and casinos, the nightclubs and spas, and just the overall vibe -- and debauchery -- of Sin City. A live sporting event is not high on the list of tourist attractions for the city, outside of boxing matches and betting rooms. With no professional teams, Las Vegas is just not known as a sports town.

Sure, AAU tournaments have descended upon the city in late July for years, but that was something of an anomaly in the Las Vegas sports calendar.

That's changing, though, as Las Vegas has become something of a mecca for American basketball the past few years -- at all levels of the sport.

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"It's like the epicenter for basketball now," one D-I college coach told me last week. "Everything is there."

At the high school level, Findlay Prep and Bishop Gorman have had nationally ranked basketball teams in recent years, while the late July AAU season still attracts hundreds of travel teams and college coaches to the desert. Moreover, Nike moved its LeBron James Skills Academy -- perhaps the best offseason gathering of high school and college talent -- to Las Vegas this summer.

College basketball is also becoming bigger and bigger in Las Vegas, as UNLV has become what looks like a perennial power out West. The Runnin' Rebels are making plenty of inroads on the recruiting trail, picking up top-100 prospects and impact transfers seemingly every month. It doesn't look like coach Dave Rice is slowing down anytime soon either.

The Mountain West and West Coast conferences have hosted their conference tournaments in Las Vegas for several years, and now the Pac-12 is joining those two in the desert fun.

For professional basketball, the offseason appeal of Las Vegas is obviously attractive to NBA players. Part of the summer league takes place in the city, and USA Basketball also had its training facility and several exhibition games in Las Vegas. A long list of players spend much of the summer out in Nevada, training at the Impact Academy.

"I just don't know how many major cities you can find in the U.S. that offer everything Vegas does," said Ryan Greene, the UNLV beat writer at RunRebs.com, "between the convenience, hotel rooms, abundance of gyms, tourist attraction and weather."

There aren't many basketball-specific venues in the area, but there's more than enough for everyone that converges in the city throughout the year. The Thomas and Mack Center does the trick for UNLV and USA Basketball, while the WCC uses the Orleans Arena and Pac-12 will have the MGM Grand Arena.

Moreover, the number of smaller gyms is an asset for the AAU tournaments. Since the NCAA doesn't allow high school events to be hosted at Division I arenas, the plethora of high schools in the area makes it easy for hundreds of travel teams to play at the same time. You can get to any gym in the city in less than 30 minutes.

Las Vegas in itself is enough of an attraction for the average sports fan; having quality basketball there throughout the year is icing on the cake.

"The fact that it's a destination spot for fans is huge," Greene said. "Fans of even bottom-feeder programs like Air Force and Wyoming have shown up in force the last few years [to the Mountain West tournament] ... The WCC tournament is the same. Gonzaga and Saint Mary's fans flood the Orleans Arena and create a phenomenal atmosphere."

There's undoubtedly a buzz surrounding basketball in Las Vegas right now, starting with the success of the UNLV program and continuing with the high level of interest related to the high school, college, professional and international basketball in the area.

Based on the success Las Vegas is having as a host, this recent trend looks like it will be more than just a short-term fad.

Said Greene: "It's a completely sensible home for hoops in America."

  

Vegas Guide: A look at the three AAU tournaments this week

Adidas Super 64: July 25-29
Teams to Watch: Florida Elite, Urban DFW, Eric Gordon All-Stars, Atlanta Celtics, Garner Road, Mass Rivals, Dream Vision, Michigan Mustangs, Louisville Magic 16s
Players to Watch: Kasey Hill (No. 6 in 2013, Florida), Chris Walker (No. 8, Florida), Isaiah Hicks (No. 16, North Carolina), Jordan Mickey (No. 28), Karviar Shepherd (No. 27), Solomon Poole (No. 24, Georgia Tech), Brannen Greene (No. 25, Kansas) Anton Gill (No. 35, Louisville), Noah Vonleh (No. 3, 2014), Isaac Hamilton (No. 23), Daniel Hamilton (No. 24, 2014), Craig Victor (No. 16, 2014), Derrick Walton, V.J. Beachem, D'Angelo Russell (No. 10, 2014)
Primary Venues: Rancho High School (17s), Foothill High School (16s)

Fab 48: July 26-29 (special six-game tip-off event on July 25)
Teams to Watch: DC Assault, M33M, Milwaukee Rebels, Team Philly, Belmont Shore, New York Rens, Las Vegas Prospects, Team Thad 16s, Team Scan 16
Players to Watch: Jermaine Lawrence (No. 13), Nate Britt (No. 22, North Carolina), Robert Hubbs (No. 36), Austin Nichols (No. 47), Kevon Looney (No. 8, 2014), Chris McCullough (No. 11, 2014), Leron Black (No. 26, 2014), Christian Wood (No. 48, UNLV), Zena Edosomwan (No. 52, Harvard)
Primary Venues: Bishop Gorman High School (17s), Centennial Hills YMCA (16s)

Las Vegas Classic: July 25-29, 2012
Teams to Watch: Mac Irvin Fire, Houston Hoops, California Supreme, Oakland Soldiers, Seattle Rotary, Mac Irvin Fire 16s, Nike Team Texas 16s, Houston Hoops 16s
Players to Watch: Jabari Parker (No. 1), Jahlil Okafor (No. 2, 2014), Aaron Gordon (No. 7), Jabari Bird (No. 15), Justin Jackson (No. 13, 2014), Justise Winslow (No. 12, 2014), Marcus Lee (No. 57), Stanley Johnson (No. 31, 2014), Melvin Swift (No. 43, 2014)
Primary Venues: Durango High School (17s, 16s), Spring Valley (17s), Doolittle Rec Center (17s), Agassi Prep (17s), Tarkanian Basketball Academy (16s)
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