Thursday, May 22, 2008

Gibbons AAU tournament worth watching

My mother-in-law occasionally tells a story about a fraternity party she attended at the University of Georgia, where none other than James Brown was providing the musical entertainment.

I would love to have seen James Brown before he was the Godfather of Soul. That’s why I enjoy Bob Gibbons’ Tournament of Champions so much every year when it comes to the Research Triangle area, as it will Friday through Sunday.

This is a chance to see top-rate basketball players in front of modest crowds before the average sports fan knows who they are. This is James Brown at a Greek bash in Athens, only he’s matched up in a battle of the bands with Mick Jagger and Willie Nelson.

AAU basketball, which allows teams of high school all-stars from various regions of the nation to compete against one another, has its problems. The kids play too many games (witness North Carolina commitment Reggie Bullock’s tendonitis – an overuse injury).

Some coaches are more interested in gaining influence over the marvelously talented players than teaching and mentoring them. Add sponsorships from sneaker companies to the equation, and AAU can be a cesspool.

But the talent and character of the players usually rises above it. Over the past few years, it’s been a treat watching Greg Oden and Kevin Love lead their teams to titles before they became household names.

This year’s tournament has promise, too. Derrick Favors is the latest in a long line of outstanding Atlanta Celtics big men who have included Josh Smith, Dwight Howard and Randolph Morris.

John Wall of North Carolina-based D-One Sports is a point guard who could be the Derrick Rose of the 2009-10 college season. ACC-committed players include Indiana Elite’s Mason Plumlee (Duke), D-One Sports’ C.J. Leslie (N.C. State) and Beach Ball Select’s Milton Jennings (Clemson).

Putting together the tournament puts Gibbons, the All-Star Sports recruiting guru, on the brink of exhaustion, but it’s a rare opportunity to see so much young talent gathered in one place. – Ken Tysiac