CLEVELAND — Jakarr Sampson stood out here at the King City Classic. Not necessarily because he played better than the other campers at this Nike-sponsored event for elite high school players. But because he remains an admirer of LeBron James.
After James announced Thursday night that he would leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and play for the Miami Heat, this city turned against its former favorite son. Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavs, called James' decision to leave "a cowardly betrayal." Fans burned James' jersey here and in his nearby hometown of Akron.
"C'mon now, that's crazy," Sampson said on Friday, the last day of this camp named for James, heretofore known by the nickname King James. "He brought Cleveland back. They used to be terrible. Tickets used to be $5."
When a wiseacre reporter noted that ticket prices might return to $5 next season, Sampson laughed and nodded in agreement.
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Still, Sampson, who attends the same St. Vincent-St. Mary's High School in Akron that produced James, said he still thought highly of LeBron.
"Everybody's upset," said Sampson, a 6-foot-7 wing who will be a senior next season. "My whole thing is there's no reason to hate him. He's a real good player. He just wants to win. Who can blame him?"
Sampson considers himself more than a fan of James. He's been to the basketball superstar's home more than once.
"We built a real good relationship," the high school player said. "... He's a real cool dude."
Sampson acknowledged that James could have handled the announcement better. James went on ESPN, which staged an hourlong special titled The Decision, to say he would leave. The show also came in the middle of the King City Classic, which has been an annual tribute to James as well as a camp for college recruiters to evaluate prospects.
Nike hung seven banners of NBA stars at one end of Cleveland State's Wolstein Center, which has been home to the King City Classic. Three of the banners were of James.
"He probably could have waited till the camp ended," Sampson said of James' announcement.
Sampson, a top-100 prospect going into the summer according to the Prep Stars recruiting service, said he was considering such schools as Ohio State, Michigan State, Dayton, Xavier, Southern Cal, St. John's, Miami and Louisville.
Campers were divided into eight teams with college names. In the tournament ending the King City Classic, "Kentucky" beat "Syracuse" in the championship game Friday.
Julian Royal, a 6-8 forward from Alpharetta, Ga., scored 12 second-half points to lead Kentucky's comeback victory. The team also included guard Shannon Scott, who has committed to Ohio State, and Kansas-bound forward Zach Peters.
Sophomores takecenter stage
A self-titled "Super Soph" camp took over the Wolstein Center after the King City Classic ended Friday.
The "Super Soph" Camp was for selected players in the high school class of 2013. Recruiting analysts Brick Oettinger of Prep Stars and Van Coleman of Hoop Masters said the 30 or so players represented a cross section of promising players but should not be considered the top prospects in the class. It was too early to know what players should be regarded the best, they said.
Among the players in the 'Super Soph" camp were Tanveer Bhullar, a 7-2 native of India who is attending the Kiski prep school in Saltsburg, Pa.
Internet reports have linked Bhullar to Kentucky, but the recruiting analysts wondered how his massive bulk would mesh with John Calipari's high-octane dribble-drive style.
Other campers included Torren Jones, a 6-4 wing from Chandler, Ariz., center Kennedy Meeks of Charlotte, N.C., (no relation to Jodie Meeks) and wing Bo Zeigler, the son of Central Michigan Coach Ernie Zeigler.