What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas — unless, of course, it’s the Coastal Crew Rebels boys’ basketball team coming home with a good showing from a big tournament.
The Rebels went 2-2 at the Las Vegas Grand Opening tournament April 25-29.
Last year was the first time the Rebels left the Lowcountry when they ventured to New York. This year, the boys were invited to play at the Las Vegas Grand Opening tournament. The thought of playing against teams from the Midwest and West Coast was intriguing, but the task of getting there left a few players a bit anxious.
“For some of the kids, like Herbert Roberts and Freddie McSwain and others, that was their first plane ride. And as much as they loved the experience, they were glad when the plane touched back down in Savannah,” Rebels’ founder Ernie Walthour said.
Some of the same feelings were present for the team’s most recent big trip. “I think they were a little in awe of Las Vegas before they got there, and when they got there it was everything they expected,” coach David Linderman added. “They were excited to be the first team from Liberty County to be there.”
Walthour said it was a great experience for the players, who made their way to the final four before being eliminated.
Linderman said the West Coast style of play was a bit more physical than expected, and the competition was stiff.
“They got away with a little bit more physical play, which is contrary to what we had been hearing,” he said. “People had said the games on the east were more physical but the referees out there let us play … the competition was really good. We ended up playing a team Rivals.com has ranked as the 55th in the nation and ESPN had ranked 39th.”
Walthour said the tournament was well-organized, and he was able to talk to several college coaches about his players. The staff and players got to tour the famous strip and see places like the MGM Grand Hotel, Caesar’s Palace and more.
“The players were really pleased and awestruck,” Walthour said. “I mean, I was amazed myself.”
The Rebels’ Elite team will travel to Suwanee to play in the NIKE Memorial Day Classic May 24-27, and then head to Orlando in July for the Super Showcase and AAU Nationals to finish out the travel season.
Linderman and Walthour said many of the players who make up the current Elite squad will not be eligible to play AAU next year due to age restrictions.
“This is the last time kids like Herbert Roberts will be eligible for AAU, so it is kind of bittersweet … you build up this team for 4-5 years and then they come to their last season of AAU,” Walthour said.
“But we feel real good about the scholarship opportunity we will have next year. We think we will have between 6-7 signers off this team next year.”
“Ahman Muhammad is already being recruited … Herbert Roberts definitely has opportunities, Zaquavian Smith has a great chance to get a scholarship; so does Miguel Pineda … Domonique Kirkley … they just have to play well the rest of this AAU season and have a good year next season in high school,” Linderman added.
Walthour said the past few years have paved the way to getting players signed, and it’s due in large part to the exposure they receive at big-name tournaments like the Bob Gibbons Invitational, last year’s trip to New York and Las Vegas.
Walthour said the transition is underway now as far as rebuilding the next elite team.
“We have a very good player, George Mitchell, who we will be building the next Elite team around,” he said. “So we’ve already started taking steps to get this next team in place.”
“George is an eighth-grader and is the future face of the Elite program, and we took him with us to play in Las Vegas to prepare him for the future and playing on the big stage,” Linderman said.
Grand Opening results
Coastal Crew Rebels 67, 5 Star Hoops of Las Vegas 61
Clutch Players Silver (Oregon) 60, Rebels 47
(scores not posted)
The Rebels beat the Show-Orange from Arizona
Final-four game — the Rebels lost to the eventual champion Utah Reign