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High School Sports
Akron schoolboy whiz to show basketball skills Dec. 15 at Arena

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

By Mike White, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

He is only a senior in high school and already has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Shaquille O'Neal came to watch him play last season. He is projected to be one of the first picks in the NBA draft next year. Shoe companies are fighting over him, offering deals of $20 million.

LeBron James. (Associated Press/Sports Illustrated)

And three months from now, he will bring his act to Pittsburgh.

LeBron James, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound guard and one of the most ballyhooed high school basketball players ever, will play at Mellon Arena Dec. 15. James plays for St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, and the Irish will play a team from the WPIAL.

Mellon Arena officials have not named an opponent for James' team, but it most likely will be New Castle, a perennial WPIAL power with a big fan following. There also will be a preliminary game between two WPIAL teams.

While it isn't certain which WPIAL teams will play in the event, the deal to bring James' team here is done. SMG, which runs Mellon Arena, also operates the Cleveland State University Convocation Center. The Convocation Center has a two-game deal with St. Vincent-St. Mary. So SMG decided to bring one of the games to Pittsburgh.

Ticket prices, game times and the teams involved in the event will be announced at a later date, but the St. Vincent-St. Mary game likely will be played at 6 p.m. The Steelers play at home that Sunday.

"This is kind of a unique event for Pittsburgh and Mellon Arena," said Doug Hall, general manager of Mellon Arena. "We'd rather not be going head-to-head with the Steelers that day. That's why we're trying to move as far away from the Steeler game as we can in order to let people go to both games, or at least not have to miss watching the Steelers on television. But we also have to make the game at a time when St. Vincent-St. Mary can get back home at a decent hour."

Brian Chiera, director of marketing at Mellon, said, "For this event, we don't think a crowd of nine- or 10-thousand would be out of the question."

Huge crowds have come to watch "King James" in the past. Last season, a sellout crowd of more than 20,000 watched him play a game at Cleveland's Gund Arena. Ticket demand was so high that St. Vincent-St. Mary moved its games to JAR Arena on the campus of the University of Akron.

St. Vincent-St. Mary also played George Jr. Republic of Grove City at Youngstown State University. The game was sold out (capacity 6,000) more than a week ahead of time.

"The kid is a tremendous draw, no matter where he plays," said Bob Gibbons, a nationally known high school basketball talent scout from Lenoir, N.C. "People want to see the so-called next Kobe Bryant, the next Michael Jordan, the next great one that he's projected to be in professional basketball."

Some NBA scouts said James would have been an NBA lottery pick after his junior year at St. Vincent-St. Mary. He seems certain to be one of the first picks next year.

"He will not go to college. There is no pretense that he will," Gibbons said. "It will be an interesting evening for Pittsburgh people to see him, I'm sure."

Gibbons first saw James play at the USA Basketball Development Festival in Colorado Springs when James was a sophomore.

"At that age, he was the most talented player I ever saw," Gibbons said.

Nike and adidas already are in a bidding war to land James' services once he uses up his college eligibility. They are reportedly offering $20 million. Sonny Vaccaro, a well-known adidas representative who used to run the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic, has said James is the best high school player he has seen, and that includes Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady.

Gibbons said: "[James] went to the Nike basketball camp this summer and then came right to the adidas camp. He came to the adidas camp in Nike gear. He caused quite a stir."

Mike White can be reached at mwhite@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1975.

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