Four minutes into last night's Division II boys basketball regional semifinal between Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and Tallmadge at Savage Hall, a first-time witness to the “LeBron James Show” might have turned to the person sitting next to him and said, “I don't know what the big deal is all about.”
In fact, James, the most-hyped and arguably most talented prep athlete in history, didn't even hit the scoring column until threading a 3-pointer with 1:58 left in the first period, putting the Fighting Irish up 10-4.
But then, quicker than you could say “greatest high school basketball player ever,” James turned an ordinary game between ordinary human beings into an oohs-and-aahs ESPN highlight segment.
There was so much for the overmatched mortals from Tallmadge, which lost 82-32, and the crowd of 8,700 at Savage Hall to digest in such a short period of time, it all had to seem like a blur.
Just ask 5-8 Blue Devil senior guard Shaun Rine, to whom things looked fine in the early going.
“I looked up at the clock and we were winning 4-3 and I thought, `things are going great, we're doing all right,'” Rine said. “The next thing I looked up and it's 31-5 and reality kind of set in, and there was nothing we could do about it.”
The it included 13 points from James on three 3-pointers. Then there were his six assists five of which were of the “wow” variety. Add two blocked shots, two pickpocket-perfect steals, three rebounds and a huge, swooping dunk 2:50 before halftime, and Tallmadge trailed 35-8.
Even though James took himself out 2:02 before the break after ripping part of the nail off his right index finger blocking a shot, things went from bad to worse for the 14-10 Blue Devils in the third quarter.
That's when James and SVSM cranked up the full-court pressure and warp-speed transition game. In a stretch of about four minutes, the big crowd got its money's worth.
First there was the full-speed, fast break, in-stride catch and reverse dunk by James that had to seem like an optical illusion to most folks used to watching regular high school boys play.
Forty seconds later there was the fast-break between-the-legs assist pass to teammate Romeo Travis.
Perhaps those were so good that when James teased the audience with what promised to be the dunk of all-time on a wide-open break - softly setting the ball down instead of tearing the basket support off its moorings - he was actually booed.
All was forgotten 45 seconds later when James took off from the foul line on an inbounds play in the Irish end, rose about 18 inches above the rim - only because he didn't need to go any higher - and caught the ball with both hands and jammed it home for a 58-14 SVSM lead with 2:15 still left in the third quarter.
James, who finished with 19 points, nine assists and six boards in 22 minutes, did not play in the fourth quarter, nor did he appear in the postgame press conference.
“LeBron's finger is kind of hurting, so he thought he'd let some of the other guys get some press time,” announced Irish coach Dru Joyce, whose words got about the same response from the media throng that his tease of a dunk did earlier.
Perhaps the greatest compliment to James' play came from a Tallmadge team so awed in the 50-point loss that the players had only positive responses afterward.
“If anything, we just look at it as a great experience,” Rine said.
“He's amazing,” said Tallmadge forward Dion Harvey. “The best basketball player I've ever seen. It was fun playing against him. I enjoyed it.”
“We were going against the No. 1 high school team in the country and maybe the best high school player of all time,” Tallmadge coach Jon Karnuth said. “We stood up and did the best we could.”