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June 1, 2011
HARBOR CITY, Calif. - There is Zach Banner lumbering down the basketball court, manhandling defenders in the post, enforcing his strength on weaker power forwards and centers to control the paint.
Banner loves basketball. He loves football. And he loves the idea of playing both sports in college. His dream is to be an NFL offensive tackle but continuing his hoop dreams at the next level is something he's serious about.
"Dead serious," Banner said.
"The crazy thing is I want to play in the NFL. The NBA, I don't see it being me. If I saw myself being there I'd work my tail off to get there but I don't want the NBA. I want the NFL and I want to be a primetime offensive tackle."
Banner, a 6-foot-9, 310-pound prospect, is well on his way.
The Lakewood (Wash.) Lakes standout is rated as the No. 31 overall player by Rivals.com and the seventh-best offensive tackle at a loaded position, especially on the West Coast. His biological father is former pro offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy, although his involvement in Banner's life is limited.
Work ethic is unquestioned whether Banner is focused on football or basketball, he always wants to be in the weight room and he's an imposing figure up close. Already tipping the scales at more than 300 pounds, Banner is well developed muscularly and doesn't carry a lot of excess weight.
Playing in such serious AAU tournaments such as last weekend at the L.A. Nike EYBL with Seattle Rotary against some of the nation's top programs, Banner cannot be out of shape.
The big man loves basketball and has almost all his life. Playing both sports in college is not just an aspiration. It's something Banner plans to do. Even though Seattle Rotary got blown out during Sunday's early matchup, it was evident Banner has the credentials to play big-time college basketball.
"I've always loved college basketball," Banner said. "I want to play both. That's why playing at the highest level, me playing out here, this is serious.
"Every team has somebody in the top 150. Some of us have two or three. You're playing high-profile basketball all over the country. By doing that I am getting ready to play in college."
There could be some concern that Banner might be spreading himself too thin, constantly doing one sport or another and not focusing on football.
Some people close to him question whether it's even possible for someone so big to play both sports in college because of the time requirements and whether the football coach at his future school will allow him to do it.
Banner doesn't seem too worried about that.
He said his football skills have not been diminished at all by playing basketball all spring and summer, and that his footwork and conditioning stays at peak levels. He surely isn't losing any muscle mass and as long as he doesn't see his football ability slip, basketball will remain a part of his life.
"You can see my football tape," Banner said. "Basketball doesn't hinder me. The footwork I learn out here helps me on the football field and what I learn on the football field helps me not to be bullied by big dudes. They ask me, 'How did you get so strong?' They always ask me how I do it. I love it.
"I'm not saying I'm guaranteeing I'm going to a school that offers me for both. I'm saying that I might go to a school just for football but I might go to a school that offers me both. There aren't too many schools that offered me for football that haven't looked at me for basketball. It's looking really good. I can't wait for July for the coaches to come out."
Banner isn't the only top-flight recruit who's considering both sports in college. Four-star defensive end Arik Armstead, a 6-foot-8, 280-pound prospect, also wants to play both football and basketball. The USC commit said Lane Kiffin and Kevin O'Neill have signed off on it.
Whether this is a one-year trend or something new to consider in recruiting, Banner isn't sure.
"I just know that I was feeling it before anybody else said they were feeling it," Banner said. "This is straight-up original. I've been feeling this since I was in middle school that I wanted to play both in college."
The big questions remains: Where will Banner attempt this? He's not giving away any hints and his offer list is loaded with national programs such as Alabama, Auburn, California, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Penn State, Stanford, USC, Washington and many others.
When asked where his recruitment is headed, Banner just smiled and it's clear he's not giving away any hints. Sometime in June, though, he'll narrow it down and then decide from there. He's still too busy on the AAU circuit to make any serious decisions.
"It's everybody right now," Banner said. "I'll narrow it down to a top 10 or top 15 next month."
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