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December 30, 2012
SAN DIEGO -- The conclusion of the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic brought few surprises, although some under-the-radar underclassmen emerged as intriguing prospects, while one committed recruit showed polished skills.
Diamond out of the rough
Dakarai Allen remembers the last time he was in the Torrey Pines High School gymnasium. It was 12 months ago, when the Sacramento (Calif.) Sheldon prospect had only a handful of mid-major offers and possessed a timid offensive game with a personality to match.
A year later, Allen was back in that same gym. Only this time he had SDSU head coach Steve Fisher's full attention -- mostly because the recent Aztecs signee had just put on a clinic and was holding a Most Valuable Player plaque and a Torrey Pines Holiday Classic championship trophy in his arms.
The scene was rare for many reasons. For one, it was the culmination of a 12-month blossoming. For another, it was because of how Allen ended up there.
The four-star's recruitment has been well documented throughout the past few months. After he landed an SDSU offer, no big Pac-12 school came around to get him until August, when UCLA finally extended a scholarship. Many thought the Bruins and their high-major lure would steal him from SDSU, but Allen did something that most recruits find unthinkable:
He chose a Big West-bound program over a college basketball blueblood.
"San Diego State can play anybody they want, so mid-major, it's not that big of a deal anymore," Allen said. "San Diego State is a top 25 school right now, so it just shows you don't always have to be high major to be successful."
Allen is hardly a trailblazer, because dozens of top 100 recruits have spurned the Pac-12 for Mountain West programs in the last few years. But watching scouts, fans, high school coaches and college coaches with mouths agape, all wondering out loud, "How did the Pac-12 let this recruit get away?" still was a sight to see Saturday night.
"(Other recruits) still believe it's about being Pac-12," Allen said. "They're talking to me about how we're going to the Big West and stuff, but that doesn't matter."
What mattered to Allen, who dropped 17 or more points in three out of his four games over the weekend, were loyalty, familiarity and chemistry -- not conference.
"No offense, but I like the coaching staff at San Diego State way better (than UCLA)," Allen said. "(Assistant coach) Tony Bland is like a brother to me. So that was one of the things that really, really drove me to San Diego State."
Last year, it was Allen who caught the eyes of scouts and college coaches. This year, another junior wing, who's long and athletic and plays good defense, could find himself on a similar path.
Tacoma (Wash.) Lincoln 2014 guard Ar'Mond Davis drew San Diego State and UCLA coaches to his games, and he showcased a nice frame with a great jump shot that should have him set to climb up recruiting boards.
Davis said heading into the weekend that Utah, Boise State and Portland were the only schools showing interest. After racking up double-digit scoring games with an "aw-shucks" attitude throughout the week, the 6-foot-5, 165-pound two guard looks poised to see that list grow.
Turning over a new Leaf
San Diego has a new Leaf, and this time he's taller, more skilled and has a much higher ceiling than his older brother.
T.J. Leaf, the 2016 little brother of 2009 El Cajon (Calif.) Foothills Christian two-guard Troy Leaf, had a dazzling weekend in San Diego, lighting up the stat sheet with blocks, boards and points.
And after playing in front of a few college coaches who witnessed it all, he's on the verge of seeing his recruitment explode -- and he knows it.
"I have many positions that I can play -- the one through five almost," said T.J., a 6-foot-7, 200-pound athlete. "I'm a good shooter and a good ball handler, and I work every day to get better, every game day and every day."
T.J. Leaf said he's expecting to grow possibly three more inches by the time he gets to his senior year, and after landing offers from Portland and the University of San Diego, he could be poised for a huge recruiting arc.
"Everyone in my family hit (a growth spurt) at the end of this year," T.J. said. "So if I hit it at the end of this year, I'll be a 6-10 wing. So?"
The young Leaf is in no hurry to make a choice.
"My brother, well, he was going to go to San Diego State and then he de-committed," Leaf said. "So (he told me) not to commit too early, because he committed at the end of his freshman year, which is crazy, so I'm going to wait for a while. Until the end of my junior year."
In a battle of touted 2016 guards, San Diego (Calif.) Torrey Pines two-guard Brandon Cyrus bested Chatsworth (Calif.) Sierra Canyon point guard Derryck Thornton Saturday evening. Thornton earned a spot on the all-tournament team after the loss, however, easing the pain.
Speaking of 2016 PGs, Chino Hills (Calif.)'s Lonzo Ball had an outstanding tournament, showcasing a great frame, excellent vision and a nice jumper. He claims no offers, but is hearing from UCLA, USC, Arizona and Washington.
UCLA assistant coach Scott Garson watched Justise Winslow and Ivan Rabb Saturday. Arizona coaches caught them on Friday. Washington, California and San Diego State watched four-star 2014 F Cameron Walker Friday as well.
2015 Huntington Beach (Calif.) Ocean View guard Kendall Small claims an offer from Portland and said the school he likes "the most" right now is Gonzaga.
2014 San Diego (Calif.) Francis Parker power forward Evan Fitzner picked up an offer from Cal recently, but the 6-foot-10 shooter told Rivals.com he remains "wide open" in his recruiting process.
2014 Tacoma (Wash.) Lincoln guard Ahmaad Rorie, who made his Cal pledge before his junior season, said he's happy with his commitment.