Centennial’s Vozzola continues to blossom

The friendship formed by Rudy Vozzola and Sam Smith didn’t end with their student days at Clark High School in the early 1970s.

In fact, it has become generational.

Smith, a former UNLV basketball star who played a key role on the Rebels’ 1976-77 Final Four team, began training Vozzola’s son, Ben, in elementary school.

Now entering his senior year at Centennial High School, Ben Vozzola has blossomed into a 6-foot-5-inch combo guard with several scholarship offers from Division I programs.

"Ben was special," said Smith, who still trains with Ben Vozzola roughly three times a week at a local YMCA. "He didn’t back down from anything.

"I used to match him up against high school girls in the fourth grade. He never backed down."

Playing for Branch West Prep (Calif.), Vozzola opened pool play Thursday at the Reebok Summer Championships by scoring 18 points in a 66-61 loss to Houston Hoopstars Elite at Liberty High School.

Later, he scored 14 points in a 72-53 win over Colorado Chaos Red at Liberty.

Ben Vozzola said Smith has left a "major" impact on his game, particularly in the lanky sharpshooter’s offensive skill set and the mindset to shake off a missed jump shot.

"When you miss, you’ve got to know you’re going to make the next one," Vozzola said. "Or if I’m not going to shoot, I get teammates involved."

A three-star prospect on Rivals.com and Scout.com, Vozzola said he has offers from the University of San Diego, Fresno State, Santa Clara, Arizona State, Washington State, Colorado State, Utah, UNR, Northern Arizona and Portland.

Vozzola said he’s not distracted by the rows of college coaches eyeing him this week, a crowd Thursday at Liberty that included UNLV’s Lon Kruger and Gonzaga’s Mark Few.

"It’s nervous the first game, but then you’re going to just get used to it as the game goes on," he said. "I really don’t pay attention to them. I just play."

He’s leaning toward San Diego, though he doesn’t expect to commit anywhere until after the summer and then sign in November.

"My favorite one right now is San Diego," he said. "They want me to make an impact as a freshman, maybe even start."

It’s been a busy month for Vozzola, who also has competed at the Pangos Summer Sweet 16 at Long Beach, Calif., and the Fullcourt Press All-West Camp at Hawthorne, Calif.

"You have to showcase your skills in July because you don’t have that chance in spring time, so you’ve got to go all out in the summer time," Vozzola said.

Smith, 54, now a shooting coach for players across the country, likened Vozzola’s playing style to Rex Chapman.

"Ben’s got a gift," he said. "There’s not many point guards 6-5 who can shoot and handle like him.

"He’s got to go to a school that runs and shoots and turns him loose. Turn him loose, let him go."

Vozzola said his strength is what he hopes to improve most by the time he reaches college.

"That’ll come, though, in time," he said.

Vozzola also credits former Centennial coach Greg Bohls and Todd Allen, who will take over for Bohls next season, with developing his game. But it’s at the YMCA on Meadows Lane in Las Vegas where he’s put in extra work behind the scenes.

"Ben shoots 300 balls out of a ball machine at the ‘Y’ almost every other day with Sam Smith," Rudy Vozzola said. "A lot had to do with Sam."

Allen described Vozzola as a "total gym rat."

"We’ve not had too many kids come through Centennial like him," Allen said. "His basketball mentality is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time."

Vozzola led the Bulldogs to a 16-14 overall record and fourth-place finish last season in the rugged Northwest League, which included three Division I signees in Cheyenne’s Elijah Johnson (Kansas) and Demetric Williams (Wichita State) and Mojave’s Anthony Marshall (UNLV).

Centennial’s season ended with a 74-56 loss at eventual Class 4A state champion Bishop Gorman in the Sunset Region quarterfinals.

The Bulldogs are hoping for more next year, and it starts with Vozzola.

"I tell him he’s got to be a leader for us," Allen said. "He’s our focal point. He’s the man here."

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