All-stars, by definition, shouldn’t have much to prove.
They are the most recognized, the most decorated and - in the case of the players assembled Wednesday night at Gonzaga for the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association all-star games - those most coveted and recruited by a college near you.
Except, of course, for those who weren’t.
With 48 players on the WIBCA’s rather expansive honor roll, not everyone is going to be a McDonald’s All-American. But then, not every university out there is a UCLA or an Arkansas bound for the Final Four, either.
So for every Donald Watts - a chip off the old Slick and Bob Bender’s latest building block at Washington - there’s a Matt Smith, who will take his game from Colville to Willamette University this fall.
For every Jason Terry, who Lute Olson spirited away from UW at the stroke of midnight, there’s a Matthew Guerero, who continues to eeny-meeny his community college options at the 11th hour.
Even among the seven players who signed NCAA Division I letters of intent, there are a couple of curiosities.
Paul Bustrin, a 6-foot-6 forward from Evergreen and MVP of the State AAA tournament, will enroll at New Hampshire - sold on his recruiting visit and pumped that the Wildcats are coming off back-to- back winning seasons for only the second time since scooping the ball out of the peach basket stopped being a fundamental.
And James Madison, a shooting guard from Port Angeles, will suit up for … no, not James Madison. Cute, though. Lefty Driesell must have thought so, too, because the Dukes did show interest, but Cleveland State offered cold, hard tuition and Madison “went with the sure thing.”
That is to say, the sure Division I thing.
“That’s where the best basketball is played,” said Madison, who had no major college offers from the Northwest. “Seattle Pacific is a great school and all, but we’ll play Michigan and Ohio State next year and that’s pretty tempting.”
It’s instructive to realize just how tempting.
Will Hutchens of Dayton and Ryan Floyd of Sprague-Harrington were the best players the B ranks had to offer this season - possibly the best in several seasons. Both are good enough to make an impact on any NAIA team in the region, and carry some junior colleges.
The flip side: that might not be enough to tell them how good they could be.
So Floyd will walk on at Gonzaga - digging deep to pay for a year’s schooling in the hope he can make enough of an impression to be rewarded with a scholarship in year two.
Hutchens, who led Dayton to the State B championship and the senior class with a 4.0 grade point, is even more ambitious: he’s going the same route at Washington State.
“I guess I’ll see what I’m made of,” he said, smiling.
Not that he’ll be seen much. Neither current coach Kevin Eastman nor his predecessor, Kelvin Sampson, have been particularly inclined to showcase their walk-ons, even in blowouts.
Hutchens’ other options? About what you’d expect.
“Walla Walla, Whitworth was calling, quite a few CCs,” he said. “I thought about walking on here (Gonzaga). Cornell called last fall, if you can believe it. But that’s too far away and too much money.
“I didn’t want to go to a community college because I’ve been in the Running Start program for two years (at Walla Walla) and I’ve got 65 quarter hours already.”
At WSU, he could have his major of choice (crop science) and at least practice Division I ball.
Floyd weighed similar choices before plunging into the bigger pond.
“I always wanted to play Division I,” he said. “It was kind of a goal and a lot of people told me I could. The excuse I keep getting from people who don’t think I can is that I’m a B player. Will’s in the same boat. Nobody really took a look at us because we were from B schools and they just don’t think the competition is good enough to make us players.
“I don’t know if it makes a difference. We’ll see.”
History makes more arguments con than pro for the B player’s future at a major college, but even the AAA player faces hard choices. Mead’s Jason Smith, the only Greater Spokane League player in the AAA-AA game, is still the epitome of undecided; he was to send a tape of Wednesday’s game to a school in Texas. And joining Floyd next year will be Mike Nilson, a 6-4 guard from Shorecrest who did the unthinkable: he turned down an offer of a ride from a Division I school, Idaho State, to walk on at Gonzaga.
Bulldogs coach Dan Fitzgerald can only profit from a decision like that, but he does have some concerns about the effect.
“There’s a feeling out there and I don’t know where it comes from that if you’re not Division I, why go?” Fitzgerald said. “And it’s really too bad.
“I think you’re seeing where it’s hurting NAIA programs. There aren’t that many good teams anymore - the teams that could come into a place like ours on a given night and scare the hell out of you. I know you take those two guys (Hutchens and Floyd) and put them at the guard spots three years from now with an NAIA team and they’re our worst nightmare.”
But then, on nights like that, those players have a lot to prove.
, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.