July 29, 2008

Bejarano stars at Desert Duel

Tony Nixon, a 6-5 wing guard from Chicago-based Mac Irvin Fire turned in the top performance of the Desert Duel Memorial Tournament to this point, with eight 3-pointers in the second half of a of Monday afternoon 40-point win over the I-Can All-Stars, but Phoenix North High School sensation Daniel Bejarano was a very close second.

Earlier in the day, it didn't even look like he'd be able to play.

Bejarano, a 6-5 wing who plays for the Arizona Stars AAU program, fell hard to the floor on a dunk attempt in the team's first game of the day and had to be helped off the floor.

With his team leading by double digits and four minutes left in the game, Bejarano soared for a dunk when he was undercut by a Team Detroit player, bouncing hard off the floor. Bejarano gingerly limped off the court to a trainer's room with the aid of two others, only to return to the bench near the game's end.

"Nothing that ice and a little bit of rest won't take care of," Bejarano said following the game.

The fall was nasty. Following the game, Bejarano had his arm compression wrapped and he was sore in numerous places from his bones smacking the court after falling from the sky. Many kids wouldn't have played again for a number of days much less six hours later.

Bejarano? Not only did he play, he was the best player on the court in a game that also featured the No. 9 player in the nation's 2009 class, Milton Jennings, from Beach Ball Select.

Though his team was clearly outmatched, Bejarano did his best to keep his team in the contest. Early in the first half he had already scored 17 points on three 3-pointers, an alley-oop out of an out-of-bounds play, a drive in the lane which ended in a bank shot and another short jumper when Beach Ball did something you rarely see in an AAU game. It went to a box-and-one defense, essentially a zone with Bejarano being the only man covered man-to-man.

In 70-plus games we watched in the last week, no team played a box-and-one defense until a team from South Carolina did it to try to stop a 6-5 kid who hasn't even entered his junior year of high school, and won't turn 17 until Oct. 30.

AAU teams have a lot more pressing things to work on that their box-and-one offense and understandably, the Arizona Stars weren't particularly well equipped to combat the gimmick defense.

For Bejarano, the No. 17 overall recruit in the 2010 class, it almost didn't matter. He kept his team close throughout the contest with an array of breathtaking offensive moves, key blocked shots, huge defensive rebounds and downright amazing passes.

In fact, one of the most amazing plays we saw all summer wasn't even one of his 100-plus points he's scored through four games in this event but a defensive/passing sequence in which he blocked the shot of a 6-9 forward at the basket, then took two dribbles and threw a 60 foot pass over the outstretched arm of a defender in a tight space to a teammate for a layup on the other end of the floor.

Bejarano finished the game with 32 points, including a 28-foot 3-point jumper to bring his team within a basket with under 10 seconds left, but he didn't get a chance to shoot the game winner as the Stars set up a play for one of his teammates with Bejarano as a decoy.

Beach Ball gave Bejarano the Kobe Bryant treatment, and he still delivered a Kobe Bryant-esque performance.

If there was any doubt Bejarano was the best prep player in Arizona, it had to have ended on Monday.

We've watched essentially all of the other high major prospects in the state numerous times in recent months.

Nobody can touch Bejarano.

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