AAO Top 25 turns into mini-Nike

In his weekly recruiting column for Hawgs Illustrated and The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas, Dudley E. Dawson writes about how the AAO Top 25 showcased the best boys and girls prospects in the state this past weekend.

Back during the summer of 1993 when I was working full-time in the newspaper business, the opportunity to cover the Nike All-America Basketball Camp in Indianapolis presented itself.

It happened because West Fork 7-foot senior-to-be John Nelson had been invited to the prestigious camp along with his head coach David Ferrell - also there for his first time.

The only problem is the newspaper would pay for the mileage and meals, but just didn't have the money at the time to pay for the week's worth of hotel bills it would incur.

The floor in Ferrell's room was awfully hard that year, but hey, you do what you have to do

. It was a wonderful opportunity to not only cover Nelson, but the prospects that the University of Arkansas was interested in and obviously sparked my interest in basketball recruiting.

There was a quick little guard you might have heard of on Nelson's team that year. His name was Allen Iverson, who was battling some legal trouble at the time, but went on to Georgetown and is one of the NBA's brightest stars right now.

I haven't missed a Nike Camp since then and have plans to attend my 13th straight this summer - the 12th year in a row I will sleep in a bed and not on a floor.

During that 1993 summer, Ferrell talked about how he wished he could bring a miniature version of the camp to Arkansas - one that would highlight the state's best players instead of the nation's as Nike does.

He just had his 10th straight one and this one - thanks to being able to have it at the spectacular All-Star Sports Complex in Springdale - certainly came the closest to pulling his complete vision off.

Ferrell was able to invited some 85 boys prospects and 78 girls to the event, which had continuous basketball for five hours on Saturday night and another four on Sunday.

The successful coach even borrowed a page from the Reebok ABCD Camp and had top 25 games at the end for those prospects who had shined the best as each kid was given the opportunity to play in six games.

"This was the first time we had the boys and girls camp going on at the same time and it came out without a hitch," Ferrell said. "This All-Star Sports Arena kind of allows it. It was just more exciting. The kids enjoyed it more, there were bigger crowds and it just turned out like you and I thought envisioned 10 years ago when you were sleeping on the floor and we saw Mr. T in the elevator."

The fact that Ferrell was able to expand the rosters to over double what had been invited to the previous camps will prove beneficial to both the players and the camp.

"We changed the format for the first time in 10 years and just built toward that Top 25 All-Star games," Ferrell said. "We were able to have four games going on at one time instead of just one. It was a lot more exciting and both the parents and coaches really seemed like they loved it this way."

While well-known names like Springdale's Michael Sanchez, Searcy's Chris Brown, Russellville's Marcus Pillow, Guy Perkins' Isaac Guiden, Little Rock Hall's Willie Larry and Fort Smith Northside's Kodi Burns all destined for D-1 scholarships with or without the Top 25, there were many others who got the chance to be seen by college coaches.

Burns is also a standout football player, a sophomore quarterback that got a grid scholarship offer from Arkansas over the weekend.

It's thought that some 50 coaches showed up to see the festivities this weekend.

"There were so many people and so many college coaches here that it was hard to keep up with them all," Ferrell said. "It's a win-win for the players and the coaches. You can come to one place and evaluate 80 players and they enhances their chances of getting a scholarship."

Clearly the best basketball to come along in awhile is the 2007 one, the players who will be juniors next season.

"How do you even pick out the best sophomores because there are so many of them?" Ferrell said. "I was asked two or three times over the weekend to name the best ones and obviously Sanchez' name comes up, but there are five, six, seven or 10 of them. You could have had an all-star game with just the sophomores."

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