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Tournaments are a showcase

July 23, 2008|Eric Sondheimer and Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writers

LAS VEGAS -- Sitting in a chair under the basket of the Rancho High auxiliary gym was UCLA Coach Ben Howland. Four chairs away was Arizona State Coach Herb Sendek. Ten chairs down was USC assistant Bob Cantu.

Their focus was Tyler Honeycutt, a 6-foot-8 senior forward from Sylmar High, as he played in the Adidas Super 64 tournament here Tuesday.

Four months ago, when a high school season in which he averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds ended, Honeycutt had zero scholarship offers.

Now? "Every time I go somewhere, all the coaches are watching," he said. "My phone is always ringing. Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming because there's a new area code every time on my phone."

Welcome to Honeycutt's strange but exciting new world, where he's being wooed but also opening up himself to scrutiny as he tries to make a college choice. He's up to eight scholarship offers and counting.

However, it's not all fun and games if you believe his high school coach, Bort Escoto.

"I've had people follow me to the bathroom and follow me to the car," Escoto said. "I've told him, 'Don't answer the phone unless it's somebody you know.' "

Escoto is worried about go-betweens trying to get close to Honeycutt in a bid to influence him. He calls them "sharks."

"It's shark-infested water," Escoto said. "You better not go out without a harpoon. My harpoon is my demeanor, and it's 'Stay away.' "

With scholarship offers from UCLA, USC, Arizona State and Michigan, Honeycutt has become a summer success story after joining the Double Pump Elite club team. It gave him exposure to top college coaches, and he has done the rest.

This week, he's displaying his skills in front of the largest gathering of college coaches since the Final Four in San Antonio. In fact, there was such demand for GPS navigational devices that some rental agencies ran out.

On Tuesday, Honeycutt picked up three fouls in the first half and finished with eight points in a 77-72 loss to a club team from New Jersey.

If players can handle the likes of Howland, USC Coach Tim Floyd and Florida Coach Billy Donovan staring from chairs directly under the basket, it's a good sign they might be able to perform in front of thousands in an arena setting.

"It's preparing them for playing under pressure," Loyola Marymount Coach Bill Bayno said.

"It's great," said Andy Brown, a 6-8 forward from Santa Ana Mater Dei playing for the Southern California All-Stars. "It showcases your talent. Hopefully, you play to the best of your ability.

"Every coach in the nation is here. Sometimes on a free throw, I take a glance."

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Renardo Sidney, the top prospect from the West, met John Henson, one of the top prospects from the Southwest, in a game Tuesday evening.

Henson, a 6-10 forward from Round Rock, Texas, finished with a game-high 25 points plus 14 rebounds and four blocked shots to lead his team to victory. Sidney, from L.A. Fairfax High, had 15 points and five rebounds.

Among the college coaches watching: Floyd, Kansas' Bill Self, North Carolina's Roy Williams, whom Henson has committed to play for, Kentucky's Billy Gillispie, Alabama's Mark Gottfried and Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt.

"I'd say the team that won fared the best," said one coach impressed by Henson who was forbidden by NCAA rules to discuss players at the event.

Regarding the individual matchup, Sidney said, "They played a box-and-one. He's a great player, but if you want to be good, you have to play one on one. That's what they do in the NBA. I tip my hat to him, though."

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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