It’s taken most of the summer, but the Las Vegas Prospects are finally playing the way coach Quincy Pondexter thought they could. And that effort led to two wins Saturday to reach the quarterfinals of the 17U Platinum Premier bracket at the Las Vegas Classic.
“We’ve finally got it clicking,” Pondexter said after the team’s 90-85 win over I Can Go All-Stars. “It’s hard to put together a team, especially for kids from all over the place, and have it be successful. So it’s been difficult. But at the same time, I love our group of guys and they’re coming out and competing and getting better. And they’re really doing a better job of playing for each other.”
For years, the Prospects were built almost exclusively with local players. While some of the area’s top stars are present again this season, the majority of the roster has a different look. Just three of the nine players who suited up Saturday come from the area.
“The Class of 2019 here in town isn’t a very strong class,” Prospects director Anthony Brown said. “Vegas has gone on probably about a 10-year run where you could build teams. This was a year we had to do something different.”
The Prospects have arguably the area’s top three players in Clark’s Jalen Hill, Liberty’s Julian Strawther and Coronado’s Jaden Hardy. The rest of the roster comes from California and Utah.
With so many players unfamiliar with each other, it took the Prospects awhile to jell. The team went 9-9 on Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League circuit despite boasting a crew of top college recruits.
Hill is ranked No. 100 in the Class of 2019 by ESPN, and Hardy is No. 4 in the Class of 2021. Strawther (No. 28) and Josh Christopher (No. 9) from Mayfair High in Bellflower, California, are two of the top players in the Class of 2020.
“We put the team together really late, so it just took some time for them to jell together,” Brown said. “And right now they’re jelling. Right now, they’re firing on all cylinders.”
The team won the Peach Invitational Tournament in Georgia this month, giving the group momentum entering the Las Vegas Classic.
“We’re starting to come together,” said Hardy, who scored a game-high 22 points in a 92-55 win over Flite Black in the team’s first game Saturday. “At first, we started to play a little selfish, but now we’re coming together and we’re all getting good looks and playing as a team.”
Hardy, Christopher and Strawther give the Prospects outstanding offensive options. Christopher had 33 points and nine assists against I Can Go All-Stars, and Hardy scored 30 and Strawther had 17 points and nine rebounds. That doesn’t count Hill, the team’s leading scorer during EYBL play.
“We’ve got some elite offensive options, and they’re really young kids,” Pondexter said. “Our main guys aren’t seniors. They’re young, so it’s pretty awesome to see them mature and get better every week.”
With players living in different states, the team really didn’t practice this summer, leaving Pondexter to try to put things together during shootarounds or even timeouts. But Hardy said that over time the players began to trust one another.
“After a while the chemistry started to build up,” Hardy said. “We started to know each other and get a feel for each other.”
Now, the team hopes to end the summer on a high note.
“Our main key is to finish this tournament with another championship,” Hardy said.
Sunday’s championship games
— Las Vegas Classic 17U Platinum Premier bracket at Spring Valley, 2:30 p.m.
— Fab 48 17 Invite division at Bishop Gorman, 2:30 p.m.
— Information: bigfoothoops.com (Las Vegas Classic); lasvegasfab48events.com (Fab 48)