`King James' reigns over Cap Classic

Ohio standout to make his last prep stop tonight

Boys basketball

High Schools

April 17, 2003|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - He says he's still not sure where he'll play next season or what shoe company he'll endorse, but this much LeBron James does know: He's ending perhaps the most celebrated prep career ever on his own terms.

In early February, the St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron, Ohio) senior saw his amateur status was wiped away by Ohio officials for accepting two vintage sports jerseys. But James' eligibility was ultimately restored by a judge, and he will wear a high school uniform for the last time tonight in the 30th Capital Classic all-star game at MCI Center.

James, the presumptive No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, won Gatorade National High School Boys Basketball Player of the Year honors for the second straight season after leading the Irish to a mythical national championship and their third state title in four years. He will play in the 8 p.m. national game as his Black team faces the Gray team, which includes Maryland recruit Ekene Ibekwe.

"You're invited here because you can play basketball, but you also have to be a great person off the court and in the classroom," said James, speaking at a news conference at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, where the players visited patients Tuesday. "That's what keeps bringing me back - just playing with the great players on the court ... and they have great personalities also."

Future Terrapins Will Bowers, a 7-footer out of Archbishop Spalding, and D.J. Strawberry, a guard from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif, will team with Annapolis point guard Laronja Owens to lead the Blue team vs. the White team in the regional game at 6 p.m.

But as they've been throughout the high school season, all eyes will be on "King James," an 18-year-old who has graced national magazine covers, elicited comparisons to Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and seen his high school games televised nationally and on pay per view.

A tumultuous year, which also included an investigation into a $50,000 sports utility vehicle his mother Gloria gave him as a gift, looks to be headed for a good ending.

James, a 6-8, 240-pound forward, said he's still undecided about whether he will jump straight to the NBA. But evidence suggests he will.

The Capital Classic is James' third postseason all-star game - he also was most valuable player in the McDonald's All-American game on March 26 and the EA Sports Roundball Classic five days later - and you can only play in two to retain NCAA eligibility.

"I'm going to sit down with my family and make a decision on what I'm going to do so everything can start flowing," said James, who would need to declare for the NBA draft by May 15. "In the next two weeks, I'll have a decision."

LeBron fever has been apparent in the nation's capital. As of early yesterday, 15,500 tickets had been sold for the event (capacity is about 20,000). The Capital Classic hasn't been a sellout since 1981 and it has averaged just over 9,000 fans during the past six years, including 7,473 last year.

James, who was granted a $10 million insurance policy to play in the game, was asked yesterday if he think he deserves all the attention. "I'm just playing basketball, the game I love," he said. "You all are the ones who are coming to see me ... so I guess I'm doing the right thing."

Several of the players - nearly all of whom have committed to Top 25 schools - didn't seem to mind playing supporting roles in the James show.

Said Michigan State-bound Shannon Brown, out of Proviso East High School in Illinois: "I think he handles it really well, and everything he gets, he deserves."

Added future Terp Ibekwe: "I've never played against LeBron, but I know he's going to bring his `A' game and his competitiveness. It's going to be fun playing against him, but we want to win."

Rosters

National game

Gray team (coached by Gary McKnight, Mater Dei HS, Santa Ana, Calif.) - Shannon Brown (Proviso East HS, Maywood, Ill.); Jermareo Davidson (Wheeler HS, Marietta, Ga.); Ndubi Ebi (Westbury Christian, Houston); J.R. Giddens (John Marshall HS, Oklahoma City); Dion Harris (Redford HS, Detroit); Ekene Ibekwe (Carson HS, Calif.); Taurean Minor (Booker T. Washington, Houston); Chris Paul (West Forsyth HS, Clemmons, N.C.); Courtney Sims (Noble & Greenough School, Dedham, Mass.). Black team (coached by Kevin Boyle, St. Patrick HS, Elizabeth, N.J.) - Shagari Alleyne (Rice HS, Manhattan); Gary Ervin (Notre Dame Academy, Fitchburg, Mass.); Brandon Foust (Brookhaven HS, Columbus, Ohio); Kris Humphries (Hopkins HS, Minnetonka, Minn.); LeBron James (St. Vincent-St. Mary HS, Akron, Ohio); Linas Kleiza (Montrose Christian, Rockville); Andrew Lavender (Brookhaven HS, Columbus, Ohio); Rodrick Stewart (Rainer Beach HS, Seattle); Vakeaton Wafer (Heritage Christian, Cleveland, Tex.).

Regional game

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