Sports

Racking up the frequent flier miles

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

The summer vacation has been just that for Federal Way High School senior-to-be Earnest “Pooh” Williams. It’s been a seemingly endless road trip, thanks to Williams’ talent on the basketball court.

The 6-foot-4, 195-pound swingman’s summertime itinerary has included trips to Virginia, New Orleans, Oregon, Texas, California, Georgia and Kansas as a starter on one of the best summer AAU high school boys basketball teams in America — Seattle’s Friends of Hoop. Williams and the rest of his team even played in front of a national television audience Tuesday night in the championship game of the Las Vegas Prep Basketball Showcase. Friends of Hoop was beaten by Fresno’s EBO/EA Sports, 81-70, on Fox Sport’s Best Damn Sports Show Period.

“It’s going pretty good,” Williams said. “It’s a lot of fun to play with different stars from different high schools.”

The 2005 Friends of Hoop roster includes guys like Seattle Prep’s 6-11 Spencer Hawes (No. 2-ranked player in the nation, according to USA Today), O’Dea’s Jamelle McMillan (son of Nate) and Curtis point guard Isaiah Thomas, among others.

“We have a lot of good players,” Williams said. “I just try to fit right in with them and just relax and play my game and hope good things will happen.”

And good things have been happening, thanks to the exposure Williams’ has been getting with Friends of Hoop.

The team won its second consecutive 64-team Las Vegas Main Event title with a victory over the Washington DC Blue Devils Tuesday, 78-61. The win earned Friends of Hoop the game with EBO/EA Sports, who won the Adidas Super 64 tourney title.

There were a total of 938 summer league teams in Vegas last week competing in three separate tournaments with more than 500 college coaches in town watching every move and jump shot.

The traveling road show of Friends of Hoop has displayed Williams’ evolving basketball game to some of the biggest coaches in college basketball. Legends like Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams have been in the stands this summer to take in a Friends of Hoop game.

He already has six full-ride scholarship offers in his back pocket and says he will sit down with his family and coaches following the Friends of Hoop season and decide what he is going to do after his senior year.

“It’s still wide open,” he said. “But I’m thinking about signing before the school year starts.”

Interest has been rolling in from programs like the University of the Pacific, Wisconsin, Montana, San Diego, New Mexico, Santa Clara, Dayton, Loyola Marymount, Cleveland State and Buffalo, according to Williams.

Pacific, who finished the 2005 season 27-4 before losing to Washington in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, might have the inside track. The Tigers’ roster includes Williams’ former AAU teammate Steffan Johnson — a Kent-Meridian graduate.

“He called me the other night after he found out they offered and was talking some stuff in my ear,” Williams said. “But we’ll see what happens.

Williams is one of the growing number of the elite boys basketball players who don’t have an offseason. Players are now making a name for themselves during the summer, which has become a more important proving ground than the traditional high school season. With the steady growth of summer basketball, players are seen by more college scouts, face better competition and often play more games in a month than they do during the entire prep season.

As a junior, the left-handed Williams averaged 17 points a game for the South Puget Sound League South Division champion Federal Way Eagles and caught the eye of Friends of Hoop co-coaches Jim Marsh and Chuck Williams.

And Williams hasn’t disappointed the team’s coaching staff this summer.

The starting small forward might have played his best basketball of the summer two weeks ago in Augusta, Ga., at the Nike-sponsored Peach Jam Touranment, which featured the nation’s top 24 AAU teams.

Friends of Hoop lost to the eventual champions, Boo Williams from Virginia, in the semifinals. Williams had a solid tournament, averaging nine points, including a team-leading 22 in a win over Louisiana Select in an early-round game.

“I’ve been playing really good,” said Williams. “I’ve been really working on my 3-point shot and that’s helped me out a lot. I put up at least 500 jumpers a day and I’m doing a lot of shooting and dribbling drills.”

Friends of Hoop was started in the mid-1990s by former Seattle Supersonic coach George Karl. The team gained national notoriety last summer when they rolled around the country winning pretty much every major AAU tournament.

It’s roster was littered with the sixth pick in the 2005 NBA Draft in Martell Webster and fellow McDonalds All-Americans Jon Brockman (University of Washington) and Micah Downs (Kansas).

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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