Arizona Basketball

Could Las Vegas backcourt tandem Brown Jr. & O’Bannon Jr. move on to star for the Wildcats?

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Backcourt mates Troy Brown Jr. (left) and Charles O'Bannon Jr. (No. 25) of the Las Vegas Prospects each have Arizona among their favorites (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Backcourt mates Troy Brown Jr. (left) and Charles O’Bannon Jr. (No. 25) of the Las Vegas Prospects each have Arizona among their favorites (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Las Vegas Prospects backcourt mates Troy Brown Jr. and Charles O’Bannon Jr. each have gained an admiration for Arizona hoops because of different ties to the program.

Brown Jr., a 6’6″ point guard, is a longtime friend and former AAU teammate of Arizona redshirt freshman Ray Smith, who also hails from Las Vegas. O’Bannon Jr. — you recognize the name of the 6’5″ shooting guard right? — is the son and nephew of former UCLA standouts Charles O’Bannon and Ed O’Bannon, respectively. The elder O’Bannons were rivals of the Wildcats when the competition between the two West coast powers was its most intense.

“I actually watched a lot of Arizona games when they played UCLA when I was growing up,” O’Bannon Jr. said. “There’s a lot of mutual respect there (between UCLA and Arizona). It’s always been like that.”

Brown’s past with Smith can’t be underestimated in this recruiting process. When Brown mentions Smith’s name or talks about him, he does so in glowing terms. When listing reasons why Arizona is high on his list, Brown mentioned: “They’re a great program, very close to home and of course Vegas native Ray Smith goes there … I am really good friends with him.”

When Brown said “Vegas native Ray Smith”, he flashed a wide grin.

“We catch up on occasion,” Brown said of Smith. “When we played with the Prospects, he was basically my big brother. I looked up to him a lot and I respected him as a person on and off the court.

“For him to be there at Arizona and knowing that he’s been through it all, if he says it’s OK there and he likes it, I have to respect that.”

Smith graduated from Las Vegas High School. Brown is a senior at Centennial High School here. O’Bannon Jr. is set to graduate this year from Bishop Gorman. Add the talent at Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep to the mix and Las Vegas has grown into a hotbed of talent for college coaches.

Arizona has a successful past in landing talent from Las Vegas dating back to the days when Lute Olson recruited former Bishop Gorman standouts Brian Williams and Matt Othick. Findlay Prep’s Nick Johnson, Brandon Ashley and Allonzo Trier were recruited to Arizona by Sean Miller.

“In the past, Las Vegas did not get a lot of love for the talent here,” Brown said. “That has changed.”

For Miller to continue the Wildcats’ success in these parts, by luring Brown and O’Bannon to Tucson, he must overcome tough competitors for their services.

Both are being recruited nationally and by most Pac-12 schools. Recruiting service 247Sports.com currently lists Cal as the leaders for Brown over Arizona and Duke while Texas is on top of others for O’Bannon Jr. Of course, much of that is a guessing game, based on a hunch.

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O’Bannon Jr. told me he plans to take an official visit this fall to Arizona.

“They’re up there,” O’Bannon Jr. said of Miller’s program. “Arizona is a big powerhouse. You can’t go wrong going there. You just have to stay ready over time because coach will recruit over you.”

O’Bannon Jr. welcomes a challenge like that. He is his harshest critic, mentioning to me, “This isn’t the summer I expected to have. I know I must make improvements.”

When asked what must be improved, he said: “Just my craft, all of the little things. As a shooting guard, I feel like I’m on my way to be where I should be or could be.”

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Defensively, O’Bannon looked sharp in a game here Thursday, stripping the ball from the opposing point guard at midcourt and then driving past a defender by dribbling behind his back, capped by a reverse layup.

He knows of the rigors of college basketball, and all the pomp and circumstance that goes with it, by being around his dad and uncle all of his life.

“It’s big, really big, growing up around basketball like that,” O’Bannon Jr. said. “It can help you but it can also hurt you (because of expectations), so it depends on how you take it and how you can use it to your advantage.”

Playing alongside Brown Jr. has benefited both of them because they are high-level Division I recruits. They don’t talk about package deals to attend the same college. Right now, they are simply enjoying their time together with the Las Vegas Prospects, for the second straight year. Come this basketball season, they may face each other in the state playoffs.

“It’s a fun experience playing with him,” Brown said. “Me and him are probably two of the goofiest dudes ever. We love playing with each other and we always make sure we have fun around each other. He’s a great kid on and off the court.”

In terms of how they help improve their skill level, Brown noted, “It’s just been me playing point guard figuring out his tendencies and what he does. I feed off of passing the basketball, and with him being a great scorer, I’m OK with getting him the ball and stuff like that, so I have to figure out if I drive this way, he’ll fade to the corner and also figuring out my personnel with him on the court, especially when he’s hot.”

Brown is a pass-first point guard but he also prides himself on being assertive taking the ball to the hole or shooting from the perimeter when necessary. He can score from all over.

“I love to distribute the ball and get my teammates involved the most,” Brown said. “That’s what makes me go.”

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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