Is it an exaggeration to say that half the crowd at Thursday's Shop 'N Save/KMOX Shootout high-school basketball tournament will be NBA and college scouts? The proof is in the pudding: Shootout alums include NBA stars Alonzo Mourning, Penny Hardaway, Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury, Antoine Walker, East St. Louis' LaPhonso Ellis and former St. Louis University Billiken Larry Hughes.
Each year, the contest gathers the cream of national and local prep hoop standouts for eight hotly anticipated matchups.
The earliest contest is the only girls' game, with local powers Parkway West and Parkway South going to war. Then the Belleville West boys take on Hazelwood Central. Next, Pleasant Plains and Columbia, top squads in the Illinois Class A division, get it on. Mount Zion, the smallest Class AA school in Illinois, meets St. Mary's of Phoenix, Ariz. Local boys Beaumont then take on Leavenworth, last year's Kansas state champs.
The last three games are the biggies: Basketball factory Oak Hill Academy from tiny Mouth of Wilson, Va., faces Chicago's Whitney Young. Oak Hill offers an embarrassment of riches: Three of the starting five are All-Americans. Whitney Young is a perennial powerhouse from the tough Chicago Public League.
Creve Coeur's own Chaminade College Prep, featuring ambidextrous All-American David Lee, faces the Centralia, Ill., Orphans, the winningest high-school-basketball program in the nation.
At 9 p.m. comes the marquee matchup, when Chicago Thornwood -- with the consensus best high-school player in the land, 6-foot-11 Eddy Curry -- meets LA's Compton Dominguez, reigning national prep champs.
The Shootout welcomes six of the players ranked in the national top 20, and four of the teams from the top 25. Sploosh-sploosh.