MANATEE -- So, what do some of the elite prep basketball players who attended Sundays Beach Blast basketball showcase at IMG Academies talk about between games?
How about their Final Four dreams?
The Beach Blast, which concluded Sunday, included 360 of the top prep players from the southern part of the country.
The players were divided into 32 teams and played continuous games against each other as a bevy of college coaches watched from the sidelines.
We had more than 100 college coaches from Division I, II, III and junior college here for the event, Loren Jackson, IMGs interim basketball director, said Sunday.
Coaches from Mississippi, Florida Gulf Coast, Toledo, Coastal Carolina and the University of Alabama Birmingham were all present Sunday to scout the talent, Jackson said.
Players who participated in IMG training recently include Glen Big Baby Davis of the Orlando Magic and Tyrus Thomas of the Charlotte Bobcats, Jackson said.
Its not a tournament, Jackson said of the Blast. Its a showcase.
Weve brought our kids here for the last three years because its first class competition with a ton of college coaches in the stands, said Coach William Sperow of M.A.C.K. Prep of Charlotte, N.C. Its super competitive and our kids get to play and be watched by college coaches.
Players at the event were from Florida prep institutions as well, including five teams from IMG, players from Impact Academy in Sarasota, Orlando, Brandon and Oldsmar, Jackson said.
We have our own eighth and ninth grade teams here at IMG and, watching them play, the future looks bright, Jackson said.
A glimpse into a prep brain
So, what are those eighth and ninth grader IMG b-ballers thinking about between games?
In order to keep themselves trucking along through a grinding schedule of shoot-arounds, class, weight-lifting, basketball practice and homework, they like to dream of themselves in the Final Four championship game and, of course, that involves how they will make the final shot that wins it for their teams.
Evan Davis, 15, an IMG guard from Hamilton, Ohio,, sees himself wearing the Navy blue and white of Butler University in the 2016 Final Four championship game.
Cristian Jackson, 15, a guard from Chicago, sees himself in Connecticut Huskie red and blue in that same game.
MaCio Teague, 14, from Cincinnati, sees himself in the royal blue and white of the University of Kentucky in the same contest.
What makes this interesting is that the players see their buddies from IMG opposing them for the championship.
We go at each other like this every day in practice, Cristian said.
In MaCios dream, he is handling the ball with his Wildcats down by one in the 2016 Final Four championship with only Evan and the basket separating him from glory.
I show no mercy, MaCio says Sunday. I get the first step, put a move on and dunk on Evan for the game winner.
Evan shakes his head as he listens to MaCio.
Thats not how its gonna go down, Evan says, now getting into his Dream sequence. My Butler team is trailing by one and we have the ball and Im shooting in MaCios face. Boom. Sorry, man. Game winner.
You both have it wrong, he says. That Final Four is my Connecticut Huskies versus Kentucky and were down one with five seconds left. Im coming up on MaCio and Im stepping back. Now, Im burying the game winner like Kimbell Walker did over that kid from Pitt in last years Big East Championship game.
They have traveled far
MaCio, Evan and Cristian have traveled far away from home now to try and make the 2016 Final Four a reality.
They live, train and go to school at IMG.
The three are up at 6 a.m. for the IMG shoot-around. They attend class on the IMG campus from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. After lunch they have speed training in the gym. Then, from 2-4 p.m., there is basketball practice. Weight lifting is 4:15-5:15 p.m. Dinner and homework follow. There is not any time for fooling around. But these guys are all business about their dreams.
Its tough at first because you are a long way from home, said Evan, whose dad, Claude Davis, graduated from Butler in 1983.
Evans hero is Gordon Haywood, a former Butler player.
Im here because I need to develop in two areas, including my game off the dribble and on the ball defense, Evan said.
MaCio dreams of playing for the Los Angeles Lakers while his hero, Kobe Bryant, is still on the team.
Kobe, he says, with a smile when asked his role model. I like the way he leads.
MaCio has Kentucky, UConn, Duke and Louisville as his colleges of choice.
MaCio will be a Division 1 player, Jackson said.
Cristian, a shooting guard, loves the Connecticut Huskies. His heroes are Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls and Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers.
IMG gives you a great opportunity to go to college, said Cristian, who is very fast with the ball, like his hero, Rose. What makes us different here is that we have the will power to stay in the gym. All three of us have the love of the game.
These young men, like many other in the gym Sunday, will be better for this intense experience, said Laura Hope, who counsels IMGs student/athletes.
The coaching staff here takes an active role in their development, Hope said. These kids are thousands of miles away from home and their relatives are putting their futures in our hands. Besides basketball, they are learning how to do their laundry and keep their rooms clean. In my opinion, while its great that many of these kids will be the elite of basketball in four years, its just as good that many will become college coaches and CEOs of companies.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.