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November 28, 2014

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high school basketball:

This club basketball team made a name for itself with unheralded local players

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Steve Marcus

Las Vegas Knicks coach Lamar Bigby instructs players during practice at Western High School on Wednesday, April 2, 2014. The club team has gone from starting its program to being nationally ranked in three years. Now it has sponsorship from Reebok.

Las Vegas Knicks Practice

Nick Brannon, center left, and Nate Grimes lead members of the Las Vegas Knicks in stretching during practice at Western High School Wednesday, April 2, 2014. The club team has gone from starting its program to being nationally ranked in three years. Now they have a sponsorship from Reebok. Launch slideshow »

Garett Scheer is receiving college basketball recruiting interest from a handful of schools.

If the 6-foot-6 junior forward from Centennial High continues to progress this spring and summer, he might land a scholarship.

“That would be awesome. My parents wouldn’t have to worry about paying for college,” said Scheer, who is being recruited by Air Force, Brown, Cal Poly and Yale.

Scheer’s growth from a run-of-the-mill high school player to someone drawing interest from colleges didn’t happen overnight. And, he says, it wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the schooling and exposure he receives in the offseason playing club ball for the Las Vegas Knicks.

The Knicks were started three years ago by Lamar Bigby and Eric Ashley, who coached together on Cheyenne High School’s staff. Cheyenne’s ninth-grade team had two players — Nate Grimes and Darrian Traylor ­— they believed could blossom into big-time prospects, but those players had no team to play for during the offseason.

Just like that, the Knicks were born.

The Knicks are one of three major club teams in Southern Nevada, jockeying with the Las Vegas Prospects and Vegas Elite for players. Instead of relying on athletes already established, the Knicks built their franchise with under-the-radar players with room to grow such as Scheer.

“He wasn’t very good when we first got him,” Bigby says.

Neither were some of the others — at least initially as the Knicks built their brand.

“The kids who don’t have a name (on the recruiting trail) come here to get noticed,” said Bigby, a former UNLV player. “We don’t have the best kids, but I’d like to think we have kids with the most upside and potential.”

They were accurate in their assessment of Grimes and Traylor. Grimes, a 6-foot-7 forward, is a consensus three-star recruiting prospect with nearly 20 scholarship offers; the combo guard Traylor has five offers.

Bigby is quick to list others who could attract recruiters' attention, believing his club is just getting started in producing college-caliber players.

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Garrett Scheer takes a shot during a Las Vegas Knicks practice at Western High School on Wednesday, April 2, 2014. The club team has gone from starting its program to being nationally ranked in three years. Now it has sponsorship from Reebok.

Others seem to agree.

When the club season hits its stride later in the month, the Knicks’ emergence on the circuit won’t be hard to spot. After two seasons of not having a shoe sponsor, the Knicks are now one of about 20 teams nationwide sponsored by Reebok. The shoe company provided players with shoes, practice gear, sweats and uniforms — all at no cost.

More important, the Knicks’ under-17 team will play in the Reebok Classic Breakout in Philadelphia, which is paid for entirely by Reebok. It’s an event in which players, especially those still looking for a scholarship offer, can further establish themselves.

The sponsorship is valued at about $10,000. Players still pay $800 each for the nearly four-month season, covering about six tournaments and gym rental for practice.

In three quick years, the Knicks franchise has grown to include teams in four age groups, giving more than 30 local players a place to play during the high school offseason. Last year, the team featuring Grimes and Traylor posted a 41-8 record, Bigby said.

Days after landing the Reebok deal, a big-time score to join the ranks of other top clubs with a comparable sponsorship, the Knicks’ under-17 team was ranked No. 17 nationally in the preseason by indihoops.com. It is the lone local team ranked.

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Nate Grimes, a member of the Las Vegas Knicks, wears new Reebok games shoes during practice at Western High School on Wednesday, April 2, 2014. The club team has gone from starting its program to being nationally ranked in three years. Now it has sponsorship from Reebok.

At this time last year, Bigby would work the phones making first contact with college coaches for his players. Now, the coaches are coming to him — from regional schools such as Southern Utah and Northern Arizona to schools in the Pac-12.

Grimes has offers from the likes of New Mexico, USC, San Diego State and Oregon State, and he intrigues coaches because of his untapped ability. Grimes played varsity for the first time last winter.

Although he deserves some of the credit for bringing coaches to Knicks games, he’s not the lone attraction.

Point guard Devon Colley of Las Vegas High has a scholarship offer from Florida A&M, and interest from Grand Canyon, Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona. Wing Deon Whiteside from Bishop Gorman has interest from nearly 10 schools.

Nick Brannon from Valley High, Obim Okeke from Gorman and 2016 prospect Jamal Logan from Bonanza could be the next flooded with interest from recruiters.

No matter how much success the Knicks have, Bigby says he won’t waver from his philosophy of giving unheralded players a place to play. There’s no telling who will be the next Scheer.

And, after this spring and summer, the Knicks will have to live on without 2015 recruits Grimes and Traylor leading the way.

“There'll be others. That’s what we’ll always going to be about,” Bigby said about developing unproven players.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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