Paul Pierce returned from an all-star basketball camp in New Jersey last weekend with some flattering press clippings and a trail of college coaches following his every move.
In other words, not much has changed for the Inglewood High senior.
Pierce said he has received an average of seven to eight recruiting letters a day since January. If anything, the volume of mail figures to increase after his strong showing last week at the Academic Betterment and Career Development Camp at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J.
Pierce, a 6-foot-6 forward who led Inglewood to the Southern Section Division II-A title last season, was named to the 12-player all-star team at the camp, which attracted 157 blue-chip players from the United States and abroad.
This week, he resumes his act locally. South Bay fans will get a chance to watch Pierce and many other prep standouts in the 11th annual Nike Slam-N-Jam National Invitational Tournament, to be played Saturday through Thursday at West Torrance and South Torrance high schools. Sixty-five all-star teams from 18 states are expected to participate.
Pierce, who will play on the same team with Serra forward Leonard Butler, another South Bay all-star, has been doing a good job this summer of balancing basketball, academics and recruiting, Inglewood Coach Pat Roy said.
"I don't know how a kid can do it, but he's definitely doing it," Roy said. "Most players by now would be bigheaded, but he's still the same person."
Roy said college interest in Pierce has picked up since the ABCD camp.
"In the last week, I've received at least 20 calls from the top schools in the nation," Roy said. "One of the New Jersey papers wrote that (Pierce) is arguably the best player in the country and definitely one of the top five in the country."
Such praise could make a player's head spin, but Pierce seems to take it in stride. He knows his basketball prowess won't mean a thing if he fails to meet NCAA academic requirements. He is awaiting the results of his first try at the Scholastic Aptitude Test, taken last month.
"I just try to stay focused on the harder things that are going to help me," Pierce said. "I try not to let basketball take me away from school work, because I know what needs to be done first."
Pierce said his grades at Inglewood are in order. When it comes to picking a college, however, there is no order of preference.
Pressed to list his top schools, Pierce mentioned Arizona, Kansas, UCLA, California, Kentucky and Georgia Tech. But, he emphasized, that doesn't rule out others.
"It's pretty wide open," he said. "I haven't really told anybody no yet. I feel like I'm strong enough to deal with it when it happens."
Roy, likewise, is confident Pierce can handle matters.
"He's very mature," the coach said. "He has everything under control."
As Inglewood's only returning starter, Pierce will be at the controls of the Sentinel basketball team next season. He averaged 23.2 points and 11 rebounds a game last season, leading Inglewood to a 30-4 record with his rare combination of inside strength and outside shooting.
Will Pierce, with less support, be asked to do more in 1994-95?
"It kind of looks that way," Roy said. "We lost nine players. We have a lot of new guys."
Of course, Pierce has already demonstrated he is capable of carrying the load. He held his own against many of the nation's top players at the ABCD camp. Stephon Marbury of Lincoln High in Brooklyn, N.Y., regarded by many as the best guard in the country, was named the top senior at the camp. Timmy Thomas, a 6-11 forward from Patterson Catholic in Patterson, N.J., was named the top junior.
"It was fun going against people who are all-stars," Pierce said. "You get to show them what you can do. You step up your game a little more because it's better competition."
Pierce will play for Team Nike in the Las Vegas Grand Finale on July 25-30, and he will return to the East Coast in August for a tournament in New York. In between the all-star competitions, he plays for Inglewood in summer league games.
"He's still getting better as a player," Roy said. "It seems like he can do a little more each day. When people come to see (Inglewood) play next season, they're going to see an even better Paul Pierce."
Just what every coach in the area didn't want to hear.
If all goes well, Torrance may become the permanent home of the Slam-N-Jam tournament.
Tournament director Issy Washington said financial considerations prompted him to move the event from Long Beach State, where it had been staged the past several years. He said West and South high schools will each receive a $2,000 donation to their athletic programs, plus a percentage of the gate if attendance is good. He said the rental of Long Beach State's gym cost about $10,000 last year.
"I'm not in it to make a bundle, but I want to keep expenses under control," Washington said. "Torrance has treated us like kings, so we may stay."
This year's tournament features many of the nation's best players. Values for Better America, the top-seeded team, includes sophomore sensation Schea Cotton of Mater Dei, Westchester guards Ben Sanders and Danny Walker, and 6-9 Jelani McCoy of St. Augustine in San Diego.
After VBA, the top teams are Boston Athletic Basketball, All Ohio Red, New York Riverside Church and American Roundball, a Southern California squad. New York Riverside Church, led by 6-4 swingman Richie Parker, won a prestigious tournament in Washington, D.C., last week.
Team Nike, coached by Washington, is seeded seventh and includes Peninsula juniors Phil Belin and Andrew Klein. Other area players participating include Anthony McNair of Morningside (Team L.A.), and Jamal Reed and Bobby Terrell of Carson (South Bay).
Games will be played all day at both sites from Saturday to Thursday, with the championship game scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Thursday at South. Tickets will be available at the door. Information: (310) 532-0622 or (310) 675-5146.