Courtesy photo
Pahranagat Valley senior Culen Highbe (50) jumps center in one of his AAU games this summer. He played with the Las Vegas Prospects of the nationwide Nike Elite Youth Basketball League.

Pahranagat Valley senior Culen Highbe has concluded a unique experience only enjoyed a handful of the other players from Lincoln County. He played Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) summer basketball with a Nike Elite Youth Basketball League team, the Las Vegas Prospects.

All of the top AAU teams in the country convened in Las Vegas the last weekend in July for their end-of-summer tournament.

Highbe’s team advanced to the championship game of the 17-and-under division but lost 60-59 in overtime to California Supreme Elite, coached by NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal.

Highbe has played with the Prospects following both his sophomore and junior years at Pahranagat with the opportunity to play not only on the EYBL circuit but in other AAU tournaments facing teams from all over the country, including foreign countries such as Australia and France.

Dave Highbe, Culen’s father said, “Arguably the best players in the country are on these kinds of teams. Most of your top Division 1 college prospects play on these teams. The major three big shoe companies, Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all have these circuits and post season tournaments. The EYBL is with Nike, Adidas has the Gauntlet series and Under Armour has another, with Nike being the top tournament.”

This season, which began in April, the Prospects played in major cities including Indianapolis, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Hampton, Virginia, as well as Las Vegas.

Culen said his teammates came not only from Nevada but also California and Arizona.

The Prospects struggled to a 3-13 record on the Nike circuit but did better with non-Nike EYBL teams around the country.

In Las Vegas for the season ending the tournament, the Prospects went 2-1 in pool play then beat two other EYBL teams from Houston and Georgia in the quarterfinals and semifinals to advance to the championship game.

Culen, a 6-9 center, said this second year of experience has helped him strengthen his game. “It has greatly improved my defense, often facing players who are taller, bigger and stronger.”

He said being at center has really helped him learn how to “better communicate on defense with my teammates, be a floor general and better on offense at looking for the open guy.”

Coming from a small 1A Nevada school and playing with guys from 4A schools has not been an issue, Culen said. “Sometimes we joke about it in a good-natured way.”

He feels he will definitely be able to bring what he has learned from the EYBL to his high school game. “Every summer has made my game better, and I’ll carry over a lot of things I’ve learned to the high school season. It’s also been great getting out there and seeing what basketball may have for the future.”

Playing somewhere at the college level will definitely be a goal to aim for.

Pahranagat was 26-3 last year, 8-1 in the 1A Southern League, advanced to the state championship game but lost to Mineral County 63-46. Highbe had 28 points for the Panthers. He was also named co-MVP of the league with Karmi Kelly of Spring Mountain.