High school stars become role players at AAU tournaments

David Michaels and Kris Bennett don't have time to waste in this week's AAU basketball tournaments.

The two Las Vegas residents must make the most of the playing time they get if they're to impress any of the hundreds of college coaches in town.

They're two of many players who shine nearly every night for their high school teams but become role players on the all-star teams put together to compete in national tournaments.

And it's not always easy to accept, especially with the potential of big scholarship dollars waiting.

"It's hard because it is an all-star team, but you realize that and you just have to do what you can to help the team," said Bennett, a 6-foot-8-inch senior at Durango. Bennett has seen only a handful of minutes in the Las Vegas Prospects' last two games in the adidas Super 64 tournament at Rancho.

"I just go in and rebound, play defense and work hard, do what I can to get minutes and help the team out," Bennett added.

Bennett and Michaels, a Valley graduate, claim they don't think about the coaches who sit in the stands or in folding chairs along the baseline, taking notes during games.

"You see them, but you don't pay a lot of attention to them," Michaels said. "I just try to keep my head about me. You can't let them affect how you play the game."

Michaels didn't play in the Prospects' 68-60 victory over Chicago Elite on Thursday but has seen enough action during the course of the AAU season to turn the heads of some potential college suitors.

A 6-7 post who averaged nearly 10 points and more than 11 rebounds per game as a senior for the Vikings, Michaels probably never saw more than a couple of college coaches at his games all season.

That's not the case at the national AAU tournaments, where college coaches flock to look for the player who can help their program.

"Playing with them is getting me exposure," Michaels said. "I've gotten some offers from junior colleges, and now some Division I schools are showing some interest."

Only so many players can play for a national title contender.

But for every Duke, Kansas or North Carolina coach who attends the national tournaments, there's a lesser-known school like Santa Clara, South Florida or Western Michigan seeking the right player to fill a hole and help compete for its conference title.

"Often a kid comes in and says he wants to play at Duke or North Carolina," Prospects coach Anthony Brown said. "Not everyone can play there, but you can play somewhere else and be a rock star.

"The kids who may be a lower Division I player are getting quality minutes and need to come in and produce. They're going to play at the level where they can play."

Few coaches come to a gym with the intent to watch a kid who might not see much playing time, but as they're watching someone else, a player like Michaels or Bennett might show just enough in a three-minute span to make that coach want to see him again.

That one small spurt of play when the right coach is present could make a big difference.

"You want to elevate your game, but you want to play hard all the time," Bennett said. "You kind of just want to play your own game and let them see what you have.

"You don't want to try to do something you can't do. You want to show them what you can do, not what you can't do."

And it might just be enough to earn a chance to play for four more years.

"We're giving kids opportunities, and not just the superstar players, all the kids," Brown said. "That's what this is about."

Contact reporter Bartt Davis at bdavis@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512.