Stefan Moody is making a name for himself among college recruiters at the… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Las Vegas — The winks, nods and thumbs up from college coaches started from practically the opening tip of Stefan Moody's first game.
The diminutive point guard would race down the court in a blur, his dreadlocks flapping in the air as he finished a fastbreak with a monstrous two-handed dunk that seemed impossible for a player of his size or stature on the club basketball circuit.
Particularly since he had none.
Moody was an unknown to major-college coaches only four days ago, just another name in an inch-thick packet of nearly 500 teams participating in the Las Vegas Fab 48 tournament.
"Stefan Moody, he's not really even known in Florida," said Kenny Gillion, Moody's coach on Team Breakdown, based in Plantation, Fla. "I can't even say sleeper. He's a guy who's all the way asleep."
Consider the Las Vegas tournaments an earsplitting wake-up call for college coaches. Along with the ballyhooed players whom they follow from start to finish are a handful of lesser players who catch their attention, often by accident.
One major-college coach said he just happened to be in the gym when the 5-foot-10 Moody, who has a vertical leap of nearly 40 inches, put on one of his acrobatic displays.
"I love that kid," said the coach, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to publicly comment on players who have not signed letters of intent.
Another college coach nudged a reporter later that day when Moody approached the basket on a breakaway.
"Watch this, watch this!" the coach said excitedly.
Moody finished with a finger roll, gently laying the ball in the basket. The coach shook his head and smiled.
College coaches are not allowed to speak with their club counterparts during the tournaments that have overtaken this city, so they indicate their interest in players in more subtle ways. Smiles and knowing glances are common.
"Need No. 1," one coach silently mouthed to Gillion, referring to Moody's jersey number.
Among the coaches who watched Moody were Louisiana State's Trent Johnson, UCLA's Ben Howland and Alabama's Anthony Grant. The Crimson Tide was the only major Division I team to call the Moody house and express interest before this week, though Northern Florida had also called. No scholarships had been offered.
When it comes to choosing a college, Moody won't be picky.
"I'll take any D-I offer I can get," said Moody, a soft-spoken, unassuming sort who will be a senior this fall at Kissimmee (Fla.) Poinciana High.
Moody can do more than make the flashy play. He has a deft shooting touch unusual for a player with his athleticism. He also displayed a knack for converting in crucial situations.
With his team trailing by a point in the final seconds of a game Monday, Moody took an inbounds pass near the far end of the court, dribbled through three players and made a difficult layup over a 6-7 defender to secure a victory that sent his team into the semifinals.
Moody isn't even the best player on his club team. That distinction goes to Demetrius Henry, a 6-9 senior forward who could be an All-American next year. But Henry was already a hot commodity among college coaches.
Not so much for Moody, who had mostly played in local club tournaments and one in Myrtle Beach, S.C., before Las Vegas.
"I've been telling him pretty much the whole summer, 'You're going to get your opportunity when you come out to Vegas,' " Gillion said. " 'You just have to do what you've been doing locally.' "
It might not be long before Moody can think nationally. Gillion said he expects his budding star to generate 10 to 12 scholarship offers from Division I schools. A major-college assistant coach described Moody's potential as "mid-major-plus."
"He's a terrific talent," said Clark Francis, editor of Hoop Scoop. "I'd like to see him some more, but he might be a top-100 player."
Gillion has watched this scenario play out before and likes how it ends. He coached Jermaine Taylor, a guard who went from obscurity to Central Florida to the NBA's Sacramento Kings.
"I've coached some NBA guys in the past and I've seen how they've taken off in tournaments like this," Gillion said. "He's on the same path. He's just blowing up."