NEW YORK Jerry Buss showed up at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. The Los Angeles Lakers owner added the ultimate stamp of approval on a night the game's brightest "amateur" stars came to Broadway. He was accompanied by a rather fetching young lady, looking only slightly older than all those freshmen on the court he was ostensibly there to scout.
From agents to AAU coaches, scouts to sneaker reps, the crowd that surrounded the court made the Jimmy V Classic an atmosphere to behold, even before Memphis outlasted USC 62-58 in overtime and Notre Dame beat Kansas State 68-59.
It was all eyes on the kids – State's Michael Beasley, USC's O.J. Mayo and Memphis' Derrick Rose. Each is just a freshman and each will return here in June (along with Indiana's Eric Gordon, another frosh) to be a top-four pick in the NBA Draft.
And then the night was nearly stolen by a guy the NBA has already drafted twice – Trojan coach Tim Floyd.
There won't be a third time for Floyd, not after a horrific stint with the Chicago Bulls and an average one with the New Orleans Hornets, but the reason why the league saw so much potential in him was displayed Tuesday. Whatever his failures in the NBA, he is simply tremendous at the collegiate level.
Against high-flying Memphis, which entered the game averaging 85.7 point per game, Floyd junked up things, controlled the tempo and with a maze of multiple defenses, took Rose and the flow of the Tigers' offense out of the equation.
If Memphis' offense is "Princeton on steroids," as coach John Calipari likes to describe it, then USC's defense was a BALCO investigation.
"I got thoroughly out-coached in that game, believe me," Calipari said. "That was the hardest game I've ever had to coach."
USC's key defense was a triangle-and-two that Floyd claims his team practiced for 20 minutes, starting at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday – a little over two hours before tip – back at the team's Affinia Hotel.
"We put the triangle-and-two in the ballroom, we taped a lane down in the ballroom," Floyd said. "We thought we'd muck things up a little bit with that."
Floyd has been known to tell some whoppers in his day – player's ACT scores included – so who knows? But whenever they practiced it, the Trojans performed it with near perfection.
So while Memphis leaves New York feeling good about its national title hopes – to win one ugly is a sign of a great team – USC (6-3) wasn't hanging its head, despite consecutive losses – to the Tigers and at home against Kansas.
"We shot 28 percent and went to overtime with the No. 2 team in the country, which means we did a lot of things well." Floyd said. "I don't think there's a team in the country with a greater upside than us."
Calipari, himself a former NBA coach, moderately successful for a bit even with the New Jersey Nets, was just happy to survive. Mostly he liked that his team (7-0) found a way to win when it was knocked out of kilter.
"I think we ran our offense four times, five times all game," he said. "I'm happy."
For fans tuning in to see Rose v. Mayo, a defensive clash probably wasn't expected, but that's college basketball. Coaches still determine so much that they can control virtually every dribble.
As for the players, Mayo finished with 16 points, but on 6-of-20 shooting. He added just three assists to go against two turnovers. Rose countered with nine points, 10 rebounds and four assists (but five turnovers).
You'd say they disappointed, but the numbers were understandable because of the defensive ferocity.
"Maturity, decision making, flow of the game, when to go, when to stop," Calipari said of the things both needed to do better. "They both did the same things. O.J. took some shots when he didn't need to take them. Derrick did the same. Freshman things."
As for Beasley, he was a beast inside, with 19 points and 13 rebounds. But Kansas State (5-3) lacks a point guard and continuity, so who knows where the season is going for this team no matter how talented Beasley and sophomore Bill Walker are.
Notre Dame (6-2) was just crisper and better. Of course, the Irish were the one team without a prospect for the NBA folks to drool over, which is why this night had the feel of a mass tryout as much as a college doubleheader.
Irish coach Mike Brey tried to get into the superstar act by talking about the time six or so years ago when he gave a speech in Maryland and afterward Curtis Malone, the coach of the local D.C. Assault traveling team, took him over to watch a bunch of his 12-year-olds play.
"(Beasley) and (Kevin) Durant were playing," Brey laughed. "You knew they were going to be good. There was a special aura about them.
"I didn't get either of them."
Brey will live, of course.
HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
What's different about this season is that all of the top freshmen are almost assuredly turning pro. Last year, Durant and Greg Oden kept the illusion alive that they might stick around campus for a couple of seasons. That pleased the purists. This year, college hoops is unapologetically being treated as a waiting room.
And that's why all the NBA folks were here, from Joe Dumars to John Paxson to two sections full of scouts. Buss, an owner, made a cross-country appearance.
It was quite a scene, quite a mix.
This is what college hoops wanted when it eagerly accepted David Stern's NBA age limit – a shot of talent in the arm. ESPN's Fran Fraschilla estimates that freshmen are the top players on at least 50 different college teams.
And, conversely, this is what Stern wanted, the marketing and "cleansing" that the NCAA provides.
We're not sure if it's good for the college game, we're not sure if it's bad.
(Well, we're sure it's not so good for the kids who have to hope during their college purgatory they don't blow out a knee, like K-State's Walker did last season, the first potential casualty of Stern's stern rule.)
Regardless, the age limit is here to stay. So too will night's like this, when New York comes alive for all these mega-recruits, all this teenage talent.
Only to be upstaged, in typical college hoops fashion, by a veteran coach who put on the best performance of all.