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Soldiers look sluggish, but win first round game

By Jared Green
Tuesday July 31, 2001

The biggest basketball tournament of the summer kicked off in Berkeley on Monday, and the home team managed to get through its first-round opponent despite some tired legs. 

Getting back from the adidas Big Time Tournament in Las Vegas at 6 a.m. Monday morning, most of the Slam ‘n Jam Soldiers I got less than six hours of sleep before hitting the floor at their own Elite 8x2 Tournament at RSF Fieldhouse on the Cal campus. Although they missed a lot of easy shots, they easily beat SSA Platinum, 80-57, to move on to the winners bracket of the tournament.  

“Oh, man, we played terrible,” Soldiers coach Mark Olivier said. “We were so tired today. But it’ll come together before long.” 

Oakland Tech’s Leon “The Show” Powe led the Soldiers with 17 points, but despite his nickname, Powe wasn’t the main attraction on Monday. That would be Ohio guard LeBron James, roundly considered the best prep player in the nation despite being only a junior. James didn’t have his shooting touch against SSA, missing well more than half of his shots, but his full-court game dazzled spectators, among them Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, UCLA coach Steve Lavin and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. James put up 16 points, four steals, two blocks and five assists despite sitting for much of the second half. 

Soldiers coach Mark Olivier had the luxury of sitting his best player because the game turned into a rout early. His team took a 12-0 lead before SSA broke through with a free throw. James started the game on the bench, but immediately started the highlight reel when he entered the game, tossing a perfect alley-oop pass to teammate Marquis Kately for a thunderous jam that got the crowd on its feet. James followed that with an airball from 3-point range, but minutes later had a breakaway dunk, a steal and another dunk. 

While James had the most spectacular plays, Powe did the dirty work down low. He got two consecutive putbacks to give the Soldiers a 30-10 lead with six minutes remaining in the first half, muscling through the overmatched SSA big men. Then it was showtime once again, as James threw another alley-oop pass, this one off the backboard to Rekalin Sims, and St. Mary’s guard John Sharper finished with a steal and feed to Powe for yet another dunk. The score at halftime was 45-23 in favor of the hosts, and it was clear that they would be moving on to the winners bracket. 

The second half was lackadasical at best, with both teams struggling to make their shots and numerous fouls halting the action every few seconds. SSA’s Josh Davis was the one opponent who didn’t look intimidated by the highlight reel going on around him, as he attacked the basket with authority and made several 3-pointers. Davis led all scorers with 22 points, giving him nearly half his team’s total. 

“Man, we were just tired out there today,” Sharper said. “But it’s fun being back here on my home court, with our fans cheering for us.” 

The Soldiers will take on the Houston Superstars today at 8 p.m. The losers bracket games will run from 3:30-6:30 p.m., with the winners bracket following. 

NOTES: Powe’s Oakland Tech teammate Armando Surratt scored 23 points for 805 in a 76-54 loss to the Superstars. The senior point guard was the best player on the floor, but didn’t get enough help to pull out a win... EBO point guard Richard Midgely, who has verbally committed to Cal, isn’t playing in the tournament. A native of England, Midgely is getting in a visit back home before starting his senior year at Modesto Christian... The Illinois Style, featuring Duke signee Sean Dockery, was a last-minute cancellation for financial reasons, Olivier said.