It always feels awkward to call a city that doesn’t have an NBA team — or a professional team in any of the four major sports — a ‘basketball city’, but Las Vegas has likely reached that point.
As Jeff Borzello of CBSSports.com pointed out in a column from Wednesday afternoon, the Sin City is becoming the premiere destination for any and all amateur hoops action.
Bishop Gorman and Findlay Prep are two of the nation’s best high school program, routinely churning out high-major players. The No. 2 player in the Class of 2012, Shabazz Muhammad, graduated from Gorman along side Rosco Allen (Stanford), Ben Carter (Oregon) and Demetris Morant (UNLV). Findlay Prep’s roster is even more stacked: Anthony Bennett (UNLV), Dominic Artis (Oregon), Amedeo Della-Valle (Ohio State), Winston Shepard (SDSU), Matt Wilms (UTEP) and Brandon Ashley (Arizona) are in the Class of 2012 while Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington), Christian Wood (UNLV), Nick Madray and Kingsley Okoroh headline some of the younger players on the roster.
The high school hoops in the city may actually be better in the summer. Nike hosts the LeBron James Skills Academy there, and every summer in late July, three major AAU tournaments take place in the city.
UNLV headlines the college hoops in the city, routinely selling out the Thomas & Mack Center as the Rebels have become a mainstay in the top 25 over the last four or five years. That arena is also used by the Mountain West Conference to host their conference tournament, one of three leagues — including the WCC and the Pac-12 — that will be determine their automatic berth to the NCAA tournament in Vegas this March.
Should we throw in USA Basketball’s training center or Impact Academy as well?
“The fact that it’s a destination spot for fans is huge,” said Ryan Greene, the UNLV beat writer at RunRebs.com. “Fans of even bottom-feeder programs like Air Force and Wyoming have shown up in force the last few years [to the Mountain West tournament] … The WCC tournament is the same. Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s fans flood the Orleans Arena and create a phenomenal atmosphere.”
There’s undoubtedly a buzz surrounding basketball in Las Vegas right now, starting with the success of the UNLV program and continuing with the high level of interest related to the high school, college, professional and international basketball in the area.
Based on the success Las Vegas is having as a host, this recent trend looks like it will be more than just a short-term fad.
Said Greene: “It’s a completely sensible home for hoops in America.”
With the number of casinos, clubs and strip clubs in the city and the always-gorgeous — albeit sweltering — weather, I’m positive that basketball decision-makers have made Vegas a destination point because of the abundance of quality buffets.