LAS VEGAS -- In basketball circles, what happened here in the summer of '17 will likely be talked about for years -- probably even a decade from now. Every summer recruiting period has its own flash of headlines, but usually those stories are contained within college hoops' offseason universe and mostly forgotten about by the time the regular season arrives. Rare is the year that stories from the summer recruiting circuit go national and linger in the consciousness.
But 2017 was obviously very different.
Thank, or blame, LaVar Ball for that.
With the final live period in the rear-view mirror, here's a broad recap of what happened in Vegas. And yes, there was plenty non-Ball news, too. Still, we must start with him for these five takeaways:
1. Good or bad, you can't deny LaVar's news value
From the Zion Williamson-LaMelo Ball mega matchup to LaVar(to subsequently making sexist comments about her, ) to the huge fallout from Adidas' decision to kowtow to Ball, fans, media, coaches and pretty much everyone who attended the Adidas Summer Championships will swap stories for years to come about the spectacle that played out in Sin City.
It started with Wednesday night's headliner at the Cashman Center, when the crowd was so huge that LeBron James was . I've never seen anything like it, and don't know if I ever will again. LaVar was the primary draw, but don't discount the LaMelo vs. Zion factor. Because for all else that was to come in Vegas in the next three days, the Balls -- and Zion -- never had a crowd nearly as big as the one in their game.
I spoke with plenty of coaches, and even some Adidas employees, about the LaVar effect. Many of them noted how the man has been self-promoting hype machine on the level of the Kardashians. After all, Big Baller Brand has played in this very Adidas event for three straight years. But the past two years, nobody knew who LaVar Ball was. BBB would play a game, and there'd be almost no media attention.
Ball deserves prolonged criticism for his insensitive and sexist comments. He still carries an army of followers and fans, though. He would take selfies with people -- on two occasions, the line was 50-plus people deep -- after every game. Celebrity culture is a powerful, bizarre thing. There are two bodyguards/trainers/family friends that travel with the team as well. And there's a documentary crew that had the consent of the Balls and Adidas to walk on the floor -- boom mics and all -- during timeouts. Hundreds of people were asked to sign waivers in order to have their faces shown on the docuseries that will eventually air on Facebook. Many of the officials working the games refused to do so.
People have pushed back, claiming the media needs to stop covering Ball. But the metrics don't support that. He garners as much interest as any non-athlete in sports today, and if he's going to make awful comments that draw headlines, exposing what he does and what he thinks serves a purpose as well.
Know this: If Adidas is to continue its relationship with the Ball family, the circus will continue again next year. LaMelo still has one more season of the summer circuit left, and I get the feeling 2018 will provide another element -- good, bad or otherwise -- that we didn't see this year.
2. LaMelo's game is a bit overrated
The kid is talented but he's incredibly erratic. Ball averaged a tournament-best 36.5 points in six games in Vegas, but his shots-per-game average had to hover right around the number of points he scored. (His final two games were at a high school, instead of the Cashman Center, so field goal percentage was not tracked.) Plus, he's a turnover machine. I counted at least 12 turnovers for Ball in his final two games -- this after he averaged four per game in the first four matchups.
He has his moments, though. A good handle, a nice floater, an aggressive pursuer to get in the lane. It's why he's a tough matchup from 30 feet -- because he'll launch from there as well. He also was chucking up shots from just inside halfcourt in the final minute of his team's 116-95 tournament-eliminating loss to Team Lillard on Saturday. By the end of that game he had a tournament-high 56 points. But to what end?
Yes, he's still young, but there's a lot bad to go with the good. His game is compelling yet frustrating. He's a flamboyant chucker. I saw a litany of airballs, and a few badly missed layups. Not once in Vegas did he get in a defensive crouch, and he frequently never crossed halfcourt to play D. Team Lillard roughed him up a little bit, with that chippiness leading to a double technical late in that game.
Off the floor, his quotability is practically null.
"Hey, I ain't taking no pictures," Ball said to his bodyguards after his team's win on Thursday. That was the most interesting thing I heard come out of his mouth. I asked him what it was like to have so many young fans -- even older fans -- at his age.
"Pretty much born into it, so it feels normal to me," Ball said.
And that's about as much as he would say, other than one- or two-word responses. Ball turns 16 on Aug. 22.
3. Adidas takes a hit
Nike and Under Armour have never embraced the Ball family, but Adidas has. And if Lonzo Ball becomes a bona fide on-floor star for the Lakers, then perhaps all of this is worth it. But know this: Adidas isn't happy with what just transpired. On one hand, the company and its Summer Championships just dominated the college hoops/recruiting news cycle for five days. Other events, like the Fab 48 and The Eight, were a blip.
But all press isn't good press. Adidas will need to contract out hundreds of new officials to work this event next year, because Court Club Elite. On Friday, the media was told by Adidas reps on site that a statement would be coming regarding the Ball-women's official saga. A quick, definitive statement that day would've helped the situation. Instead, Adidas .
The company has taken hits from national voices,. Some critics are chiding Adidas for aligning itself with Ball and his misogynistic tendencies. As we move forward, it will be interesting to track Adidas' relationship with the Balls. Plenty at the company find value in who he is, what he does, and prefer to shine a light on his dedication as a father and coach.
4. Five prospects who stood out
Zion Williamson: Averaged 28.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, delighted the crowds again and again with his eye-popping dunks -- but also his chase-down defense. Williamson had a pair of blocks from behind that were LeBron James-esque. His recruitment remains somewhat mysterious, though Kentucky is considered the leader at this point.
Immanuel Quickley: He was absolutely roasting LaMelo and the Big Ballers ... and then the controversy with the ref came. But Quickley's a fun player, someone with high confidence and smooth shooting ability. He averaged 25.8 points on 53 percent shooting. Will absolutely convert to an immediate impact player and combo point guard when he plays college in 2018. Kentucky is the overwhelming favorite.
Markquis Nowel: Was third in both points (29.5) and assists at the Adidas Summer Championships. Who is this guy? A point guard out of Brooklyn who's currently ranked 214th in the class of 2018 at 247 Sports' composite. Schools like Fordham, Rutgers, Seton Hall and George Washington have shown interest. Perhaps some bigger boys are already making calls now, though.
Taeshon Cherry: The four-star USC commit looked good for most of the week, but then went down with a rough injury on Friday. While playing in the championship of The Eight, Cherry yelled out, "I felt that sh-- POP, yo" as he clutched his left ankle and had to be helped off the floor. Cherry updated his status later that night, claiming the injury wasn't too severe. He will the centerpiece to USC's impressive 2018 class.
Anfernee Simons: Our pals over at Scout.com have another batch of players who performed well in the desert, and Simons leads their list. He was impressive at Fab 48, which is always a loaded event. Simons will be attending Louisville.
5. Las Vegas' basketball love continues to grow
While Nike's Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C. is the single best event on the recruiting calendar, there is nothing that compares to the variety and excitement that Las Vegas provides each year. Thousands of teams descend in the desert. In fact, it's really too much. It's impossible to see every player you want to see, catch up with every coach you want to gab with.
For years, Vegas has hosted Summer League in the NBA, plus been the hub of the final live evaluation period for college basketball recruiting. This year, both seemed bigger than ever. Plus, you had LeBron James and Russell Westbrook and many others working out concurrent to all the summer circuit competition. Come July, Las Vegas is basketball's primary destination, and it's basically helped extend basketball's media calendar.
There's always buzz in Vegas, but it feels like basketball keeps getting bigger and bigger out here. Given that the NFL and NHL are already coming to town -- and with Adam Silver last week that NBA expansion is a possibility -- it makes sense to give Vegas a hard look for a team as well.