SALT LAKE CITY – Certainly, College Park Rim Rockers have not practiced much.
They were not obliged.
The North African Youth Association team of 10- and 11-year-olds was more talented than everyone else. They introduced themselves to the games and, most often, they won. This Rim Rockers team finished in the top 10 of the country in almost ten years.
Of course that they did it.
Chuma Okeke of Auburn and Dedric Lawson of Kansas will be on the field Saturday in Salt Lake City. More than that, it can be the match to watch Auburn and Kansas fight for a chance to advance to Sweet 16.
"We used to play together when we were younger," Okeke said. "I do not even think we really trained at the time, we just played, I remember that he had played as his first game with us, he was in the habit of – like, you know how some people were blocking the shots because he was so long, he just grabbed them, it's a memory that I remember. "
Lawson is a legitimate candidate for national player of the year. He averaged 19.3 points and 10.3 assists for the Jayhawks. He is the cornerstone of all that Kansas does offensively. It is a threat inside and out, which allows Bill Self to start it to power forward and center it when the Jayhawks leave with their team of small balls.
When Lawson is in power, Okeke will be in charge of this year's player game.
"Oh, [Okeke will] more than holding his. I have a lot of confidence in Chuma, "said Bryce Brown. I have more confidence in Chuma than in himself. "
Brown says that Okeke is made for big moments.
Bruce Pearl agrees.
A group of Kansas journalists gathered for Pearl's press conference on the podium. Pearl knows the history of basketball in Kansas and respect for good basketball among people who follow the Jayhawks program. He gave them homework for the weekend: Pay attention to Okeke, especially when he faces Lawson.
"I know you all like the game. Observe Chuma, watch for it, because I know professional scouts are," said Pearl.
NBA teams will keep a close eye on the Okeke-Lawson match.
Pearl said that the way Auburn defends Lawson – all the big players of the Tigers, not just Okeke – will determine the outcome of the game. Whether it's Wiley, Spencer or McLemore when Lawson plays 5, or Okeke when Lawson is 4, Auburn will have to find a way to do what sometimes seems impossible.
"So, how can we stop Lawson inside and out?" Pearl said. "Chuma is going to have the match for a while, it will not be Chuma, it will be all our players inside who will have to take turns."
Lawson is eager to find his former teammate.
He remembers Okeke, still undersized and soft-spoken, who had helped Lawson lead the Association's team within the Association within UNA.
"He was an excellent player, he was good for our team, he was really a big part of our team," said Lawson. "He had it then. And then, he was a bit small, then the next year, I saw him and he had a growth spurt. I thought, "Oh yeah, it's okay. "
Okeke's interest in the match has very little to do with the story of his team mate with Lawson.
He just likes to play against the best college basketball players.
Okeke has been asked twice to keep PJ Washington, the Kentucky National Player of the Year. He defended Grant Williams, of the same status, twice. He held his or won these clashes. Okeke does not necessarily think it's winning or losing his individual match.
But that gives extra motivation knowing how talented Lawson is – and what will be the tightly monitored confrontation.
"I'm really looking forward to this match because I'm always looking forward to making good matches and playing good players," Okeke said. "He has a very good touch around the basket, he can shoot if he is 3. He is really good at moving and opening places and is always at the right place at the right time." Good to use his body. Yeah, it should be good. "
Okeke vs. Lawson could prove to be the difference between an exit of the 32 series and a Sweet 16 appearance.
The other Auburn players were asked if Okeke would be ready for the challenge. Okeke's teammates are wondering if the question should be formulated in the other direction.
"I do not think Dedric is ready for Chuma," said Anfernee McLemore.