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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

UCLA's Ben Howland is still hunting for Washington talent

The coach is persuing 6-foot-9, 270-pound Josh Smith, but trying to lure recruits away from home is tough.

July 24, 2009|ERIC SONDHEIMER | ON HIGH SCHOOLS

LAS VEGAS — Ben Howland is trying again. The UCLA coach is recruiting another top high school basketball player from the state of Washington. The third time might be the charm.

Howland's focus is on 6-foot-9, 270-pound Josh Smith from Kentwood High in Kent, Wash. He knows it's a supreme challenge persuading an elite athlete to leave his community.

Howland went after Jon Brockman from Snohomish, Wash. Brockman ended up being an all-Pacific 10 Conference forward at Washington. Howland made a bid for guard Abdul Gaddy from Tacoma. Gaddy will be a freshman at Washington this fall.

Now Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar is trying to protect his turf, hoping Smith decides to stay home, but Howland is making a powerful push.

Both coaches were in the gym Wednesday night at Henderson International School, sitting on the baseline not far from each other watching Smith and his travel team, Seattle Rotary, on the first day of a busy week for high school basketball.

It's a mini-coaches' convention here, with lots of scouting and coaches showing off their school colors so players know they are being watched.

West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins sat in the bleachers, with Pittsburgh Coach Jamie Dixon nearby. Notre Dame's Mike Brey and Georgetown's John Thompson III were there, and USC Coach Kevin O'Neill stood with his cellphone against his ear. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski sat in the bleachers right in front of Howland, and North Carolina's Roy Williams showed up too.

Rental car dealers are thriving, with some initially sold out on Tuesday. Tournaments sponsored by Adidas and Reebok are going on until Sunday.

Howland and others said Las Vegas week has grown in importance because of a new dead period imposed in April.

"Losing out on April is real bad for college basketball and bad for kids," Howland said. "We're all behind. It cuts down on opportunities for kids."

Added Pittsburgh's Dixon: "This is huge because you can't go out in April. It's become critical. We get so little time to watch kids play."

Smith, who is going into his senior year, is considered the best big-man prospect on the West Coast. His first recruiting letter came from Romar as an eighth-grader. He averaged 26.8 points last season. The pressure is on for him to stay home.

"A lot of people want me to go to UDub," he said, "but I'm keeping my options open."

Smith said he "loves Los Angeles," having visited many times because his mother's family comes from the area.

His strengths for now are blocking shots and rebounding. He figures to be a banger under the boards in the mold of Brockman.

He's working on getting in better shape this summer and improving his moves around the basket.

One thing that is certain about Smith is his character.

Asked about being here this week, Smith said, "It's fun to be in Vegas, but for a kid who's 17, this isn't the city to try to have fun in."

Franklin keeps progressing

Gary Franklin Jr. of Santa Ana Mater Dei keeps getting better, which means college recruiters are becoming more enthusiastic about the prospect of landing the senior point guard.

He originally committed to USC, then changed his mind after the resignation of Tim Floyd, but he has had second thoughts and indicated he is reconsidering USC after talking with O'Neill.

Franklin also mentioned Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, Villanova and UCLA as schools he is considering.

Who is the real Weathers?

If someone can figure out how to bring out a level of consistency in Los Angeles Fairfax guard Jordan Weathers, then the sky's the limit.

Weathers scored 22 of his 24 points in the first half to help California Supreme Black defeat the New York Panthers, coached by NBA guard Rafer Alston, 77-76, on Wednesday.

It was typical of Weathers, who appears to have a habit of suddenly disappearing during games.

But the potential he showed in the first half and his shooting form was something that can't be dismissed.

"It feels good to play in front of all these coaches and get exposure," Weathers said.

Big-time performance

With Krzyzewski watching, 6-9 senior Terrence Jones from Jefferson High in Portland, Ore., scored 24 points for I-5 Elite.

Afterward, Jones said he is considering Oklahoma, Florida, Arizona, Maryland, Duke, Connecticut, USC and UCLA.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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