LITTLE ROCK - The first annual Mike Conley, Jr. All-Star Challenge Thursday night at Little Rock Hall featured athletes from Arkansas and Tennessee and one special guest from Texas.
That would be Razorback basketball signee Nick Babb (6-5, 190) of Arlington Martin - someone who clearly is an adopted Arkansan already if the support at the event scheduled as a Real Deal in the Rock AAU Tournament precursor is any indication
"It was a lot of fun and a good experience knowing that they are coming out to support me even though it was not in Bud Walton (Arena) or Fayetteville," Babb said. "It was good knowing that they actually cared enough to come out here and some some support.
"...I heard a couple of people over there giving me encouragment, telling me 'good job, keep playing hard' and 'can't wait to see you,'" Babb added. "It was just a good feeling knowing they've got my bad through hard times."
St. Louis signee Davell Roby had 16 points while Tennessee downed Arkansas 81-78 despite a game-high 26 points from unsigned Little Rock Parkview star Daryl Macon.
Macon, a 6-2 shooting guard who is unsigned and currently contemplating prep school or a junior college among his options, missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have tied it.
Arkansas signee and Forrest City star Trey Thompson (6-10, 250) – named his team's MVP - had 16 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and a block while Lehigh signee Kahron Ross of Jonesboro had all 10 of his points in the first half and Babb added 9 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds.
"I saw a lot – a lot that I really didn't think he had," Babb said of Thompson. "His footwork has gotten a lot better and it was great playing with him and getting a good feel for how he plays so far. I am just excited about getting with him the gym."
Thompson – who had 14 of his 16 points after halftime – liked what he saw of Babb.
"I thought he was great, outstanding," Thompson said. "I think we are going to do a lot up there at the University of Arkansas.
"Pretty much in the first half we were just playing around and having fun, but in the second half you could see the game was getting serious," Thompson added..."We had a good game."
North Little Rock point guard Anton Beard - the third Arkansas fall signee - was on had to support his future teammates, but could not play as he is committed to other all-star games.
Babb averaged 13.5 points, 7 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.4 steals per game this season while playing both point guard and shooting guard for his team.
He shot 51 percent from the field overall, 43 percent from 3-point range and 67 percent from the free throw line.
"On my offense, I just feel like I am not a one-sided player," Babb said. "I can shoot the ball, I can get to the basket. That's not just all I can do. I can play defense and be a lockdown defender, block shots. I will just chip in with whatever he tells me to do."
Babb chose Arkansas over SMU, Wichita State, Creighton and others.
"It has helped me a lot," Babb said of playing both guard spots. "It was probably one of the main factors that helped me get those major schools – being able to play the point and not just come off screens and shoot the ball. It was an extra strength in my back pocket if I needed to use it."
Babb took only two shots in the first half, but hit 4-of-5 after intermission.
"I don't want to show everything at the beginning," Babb said. "You have to keep some things in storage. It is a process. I still have a couple of things to tighten up on. I just have to keep working hard."
He admits to already looking forward to Arkansas' game at SMU next season.
"It is going to be a bunch of fun and I am looking forward to it, but you have got to get the show on the road first with the first couple of games and keep it going from there," Babb said.
Babb recently took a trip to Boston to see his brother Chris play for the Celtics.
Chris played most of the season with the Celtics' Developmental team in Maine, but was called up toward the end of the season and ended up signing a three-year deal with the team.
"It was a lot of fun," Babb said of the visit. "Just having a brother in the NBA, even if he doesn't get that many minutes, but just being able to say my brother is in the NBA with the Boston Celtics is a lot of fun. It was a good experience knowing that I can get there someday, too, and him going through it all to lead me through it."
The younger Babb notes he has learned a lot from watching his older brother, who played his college basketball at Iowa State.
"I have learned a bunch, especially just keep working hard," Babb said. "He told me to just stay with it through the hard times when you want to quit and not just the easy times. He told me to just keep grinding through it and playing through it."
Babb noted that he had to learn how to handle adversity late in his junior season.
"My junior year I broke my hand and that was hard to recover from," Babb said. "It was a tough thing to play through. It was my shooting hand. I couldn't really play and it was right before the playoffs so I had to sit out through that. That was pretty hard to do.
"It helped me a lot to develop the dribble with my left hand and be able to use that as my strong hand, too," Babb added.
It was Thompson's first game since leading Forrest City to the Class 5A state championship despite battling through a groin injury.
Thompson averaged 20 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks per game this season.
"It was the best feeling so far from my basketball career," Thompson said. "I said I was going to win it early in the season, I've been saying this summer before the season started and it finally happened."
Both Babb and Thompson are scheduled to be on the Arkansas campus for the first summer session in late May.
"I am just looking forward to the challenge," Thompson said. "I know that I have to do a lot of conditioning and stuff I am not used to like weights. I am just looking forward to the challenge at hand and having a great time."
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