Cullen Highbe (21) of Alamo, is a new member of the AAU Elite Youth Basketball League Las Vegas Prospects, the highest level of AAU basketball a player can achieve. Highbe will be a junior this fall at Pahranagat Valley High.

Cullen Highbe, a junior this fall at Pahranagat Valley High, is now a member of the Las Vegas Prospects AAU Elite Youth Basketball League team, considered by some to be, “arguably the best grassroots circuit on the planet.”

Press releases from the league note 127 players on their 2015 teams were nominated to be McDonald’s All Americans. Of the 24 chosen, 17 who played in the prestigious McDonald’s All-American game, were alumni of the EYBL. Three of the top four picks in the 2014 NBA draft, had played in the EYBL.

Cullen’s dad, Dave Highbe, said the EYBL is the highest level in AAU basketball a player can achieve.

There are 40 EYBL teams nationwide, and the Las Vegas Prospects are one of those. Lincoln County’s Dantley Walker played with the Prospects one summer.

At present, two of the players on ESPN’s top 25 college prospects, Charles O’Bannon of Bishop Gorman, and Troy Brown of Centennial High, are on the Prospects team.

Cullen, a 6-8 center, has been playing his spring and summer club ball with the Nike Elite Team in Las Vegas, but was just asked to step up to the Prospects. He said he has been practicing with O’Bannon and Brown for a little bit and they treat him well.

EYBL players are 17 years old and under, and although Higbee is only 16, he was asked to join the team to give them some added height. He said, “The coaches say I work hard and see a lot of potential. They have been asking me for about a month. They said it will be a good experience for me. The things I see now, I am going to start to get used to, and have a feel for what is expected, and I’ll get to play even more in the spring and summer of 2017.”

He goes to practice about three times a week in Las Vegas, and then has games on weekends quite a few times during the spring and summer. “Starting soon after the high school season ends, it can be a challenge,” he said. “We might leave right after school, go to Vegas, have practice, get home about 10:30 p.m. and have to get up for school the next morning. When the school year ends, it won’t be so much of a grind.” The EYBL ends in July.

The Prospects team plays in many parts of the country. Cullen said they have a tournament coming up in Virginia and then over Memorial Day, in Atlanta. The team has already been to tournaments in New York, Michigan, and Indiana.

Pahranagat Valley coach Mike Strong commented, “This is going to be a positive experience and good fit for him. It’s a really good program and they do a lot of good things. It’s a really competitive environment.”

He thinks Highbe can again be a big help to the Panther team in the high school season. “They move the ball a lot like we do, maybe a bit more one-on-one than we are, and it will be more about what he learns that he will be able to bring to the table for us. Is he getting stronger, more physical, and more competitive himself? But the skills he will be learning will definitely help him. He has a chance to be pretty dominant.”

Cullen says the AAU game is much faster than high school ball. “It’s a night and day difference, and I’ll learn to play then at a higher level for my school team.”