LONG BEACH, Calif. — When the phrase “ball is life” is spoken, written or added to 140 characters and out on the Internet, the first thing that comes to mind is the media outlet that specializes in creating highlight reels and mix tapes for high school basketball players that generate millions upon millions of views.
The company, Ballislife, continues to evolve. T-shirts, socks, sweatpants, sweatshirts and, of course, basketballs.
But Ballislife has taken things to a new level with its own high school All-American game that draws some of the best prep talent in the country.
The 5th annual Ballislife All-American game was played Saturday evening on the campus of Long Beach City College.
It drew the likes of future Kentucky teammates and consensus five-star prospects Skal Labissierre and Isaiah Briscoe. Thon Maker, a polarizing prep hoops figure out of Orangeville Prep in Canada made his only All-Star game appearance in Long Beach.
Then there was high-flying dunker Derrick Jones, who’s bound for UNLV, another headliner, along with future Florida State duo Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley. Add Brewster Academy trio Justin Simon (Arizona), Donovan Mitchell (Louisville) and Jalen Adams (UConn), among many others, and there was a good chance that what you see in the famed mix tapes would make its way onto the floor at LBCC.
The star power didn’t stop on the hardwood, either.
The two teams were coached by a couple Southern California grassroots legends. Etop Udo-Ema, founder of the famed Compton Magic AAU program, led Team Elite, while Dinos Trigonis, coach of the Belmont Shore AAU team and director of the prestigious Pangos All-American Camp, patrolled the sidelines for Team Future.
Udo-Ema had some firepower on his bench with him in former UCLA players Kevon Looney and Norman Powell, both of whom are projected to be first-round picks in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Trigonis countered with Stanley Johnson, the Pac-12 freshman of the year at Arizona this past season, and Kelly Oubre, who had a strong freshman campaign at Kansas.
But all name-dropping aside, the event, as a whole, did not disappoint the parents, fans and media packed into the humid and rickety gym.
The day began with a three-point shooting and dunk contest, but the dunk contest carried over into the early portion of the game, the day’s main event.
Rutgers-bound guard Corey Sanders of Team Elite threw down a ridiculous one-handed dunk over two defenders which began with a two-footed take-off in the middle of the paint.
Pflueger, also of Team Elite, then served up a no-look lob to Washington signee Marquese Chriss which gave their team a 40-20 advantage with 7:46 to play in the opening half.
Chimezie Metu, who is headed to USC next season, capped an impressive first half for Team Elite with a flying one-handed put-back dunk from the baseline.
Team Elite led Team Future 63-47 at halftime.
Once the clock began to tick in the second half, the future Big Blue Nation duo twosome of Briscoe and Labissierre took over.
Briscoe bruised his way into the paint for layups, while Labissierre showed his back-to-the-basket prowess with a handful of dunks and a pretty hook shot.
Team Future cut the Team Elite lead to two 93-91 after a 3-pointer from Oregon-bound guard Tyler Dorsey with 6:48 to play.
Briscoe and Arizona-bound Justin Simon then started a personal showdown, going bucket-for-bucket against one another down the stretch.
Simon hit a pull-up mid-range jumper to give Elite a 99-95 lead, but Briscoe answered, pulling Future to within one, 99-98, with 5:08 left.
The teams went back and forth before a Maker dunk made it 113-110 Elite with less than 10 seconds to play. Future called a timeout, set up a play for Briscoe, but he missed a 3-pointer, which was then tipped out to Oregon State signee Stephen Thompson, Jr. ,who missed a straight-away 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Elite the three-point win.
Maker was named MVP of Team Elite, scoring 17 points on 8 of 10 shooting with six rebounds and three assists, while battling against Labissierre.
“I like playing against Skal,” Maker said after the game. “I didn’t come to play for the MVP, I just came to have fun, but to get the win is a great thing.”
Labissierre earned MVP honors for Team Future after scoring 16 points and pulling down 16 rebounds.
“Whenever me and Thon play each other it’s always really competitive and it’s always a battle,” Labissierre said. “The comeback was us getting out of the all-star game mentality and getting back to playing basketball.”
Elite coach Udo-Ema said Future’s comeback was a result of his team getting too comfortable.
“I think that we got a little complacent and weren’t sharing the ball as much,” he said. “We finally figured it out at the end and got the win. That’s all that matters.”
Briscoe was another standout on the night, finishing with 20 points and four assists. Dejounte Murray had 18 points for Team Future.
Beasley was the event’s leading scorer with 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting.