Street Leaguers take practice seriously

Allen Iverson's infamous tirade about practice is arguably as poignant a statement as anyone has ever uttered about how little anyone cares about the subject: "We're sitting here talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, but we're talking about practice. Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it's my last, but we're talking about practice, man. How silly is that?"

While Iverson thought he could afford to easily dismiss practice, the skaters in Sunday's Street League Super Crown Finals cannot. Unlike AI, who was making more than $267,000 a game in the 2008-09 season, this is the only opportunity all year for Street League finalists to get a $200,000 payday for an evening's work.

So the top eight finalists Nyjah Huston, Paul Rodriguez, Sean Malto, Chris Cole, Torey Pudwill, Luan Oliveira, Mikey Taylor and Shane O'Neill will surely take, "practice, not a game, practice," a bit more seriously. Practice at Newark, N.J.'s Prudential Center ran from 1 to 7 p.m., and all eight skaters were on the course at 1 p.m. on the dot and did not stop skating or working on their tricks until the bell sounded at 7 p.m.

The results were nothing shy of mind-boggling consistency. Each and every guy dialed in a trick and then rifled it off flawlessly 10 more times before moving on to his next maneuver. To say one guy looked more solid or comfortable in practice would be too close to call. But with the smaller, fun-sized course replacing the big section (that has always looked more like jumping out of a three-story building than anything fun to attempt), guys like Skate Mental's O'Neill and Plan B's Pudwill were using a deeper bag of tricks.

While driving over to the arena with O'Neill, he seemed the most excited that I've ever seen him. "I think this is an ideal course for my type of skating, but I have to see how I feel in practice. If I can put all my tricks together that I want to land, then this could be the best run of my life," he said.

Typically, I'd count O'Neill out of the running with Huston, Cole and P-Rod generally being the front-runners when there's a big section. But from the way O'Neill skated in practice, if he could land 75 percent of the technical tricks he put down on every obstacle (including rails, a rarity for O'Neill) he could be Sunday's dark horse.

Alien Workshop's Taylor, on the other hand, joked that he wouldn't be surprising anyone. "I've got a two percent chance to win. That's what the Street League odds say. I'm surprised they gave me that much of a chance," he said.

Despite splitting his thumb open Friday on a DVS filming mission and having to wear a splint on his finger, Pudwill said he thought the new course design gave him his greatest chance to win all season. "This is the best course yet. It's geared towards my style of skating because it's not as big, so I can really mix it up and get creative in a bunch of different ways," he said.

I thought Brandon Westgate had been substituted for Oliveira when I first saw Oliveira barge across the course. Oliveira typically has such finesse when he skates, but Saturday he was ollieing entire boxes and banks at top speed off flat and going up rails instead of down them. With his switch bag of tricks and smooth style, he could be the one to take Huston out.

That brings us to our usual suspects Cole, Rodriguez and Huston. All three were landing tricks for six solid hours in practice. It was near impossible to keep up with their barrage. Watching the way these three guys prepare for battle for just five minutes makes it crystal clear why they have dominated the top three spots all season.

The level of consistency with them is uncanny. At one point, I started keeping count and, for an hour-long stretch, they were each averaging eight or nine makes out of every 10 attempts.

I'm sure the Las Vegas bookmakers all have top honors going to Cole, Huston or Rodriguez, but we could see an upset and someone unsuspected, like Oliveira or Pudwill, might take it. Find out Sunday.

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