One Hill Of A Tournament

FAYETTEVILLE -- College basketball coaches dashed to parking lots, jumped into their rental cars and quickly left town Sunday afternoon.

They'd had seen enough.

What they saw was a mass gathering of some of the best talent in the country during the three-day Real Deal on the Hill Tournament.

It all ended in the belly of Bud Walton Arena with three games of 16-and-under and 17-and-under talent being played at once in front of a couple thousand fans.

Also in the stands were those college coaches from throughout the land.

Clearly, the most intriguing matchup was in the 17-and-under championship game between Memphis Pump-N-Run and Indy Spiece Heat.

That was a real slobberknocker, a rock 'em, sock 'em, free-for-all which Memphis won 76-62.

Tournament Most Valuable Player Willie Kemp of Memphis was the difference maker, not Indy Spiece Heat's 7-foot, 245-pound center Greg Oden or 6-1 teammate Mike Conley Jr., although both received rave reviews.

Oh, Indy Spiece Heat had its moments, like early in the second half when Oden shoved a dunk through the nets, twirled to his left and pointed his finger at no one in particular and cut the Memphis lead to 41-39.

And the crowd went bonkers.

Or ...

When Oden gave another facial with 5 minutes, 50-something seconds left to cut the Memphis lead to 53-51.

Or ...

When Conley split the midsection of the Memphis defense for a layup with 5:03 left in the game to tie the score at 55-all.

Didn't matter. Pump-N-Run, just kept pumpin' and runnin'.

"We just came out and played hard," said Kemp, who scored a game-high 27 points. "I think this was a great tournament for being here for the first time in Arkansas.

"We came up here wanting to win this thing and we wanted to play them (Indy Spiece Heat) and they wanted to play us.

"I just went out there and had fun."

Kemp, a 6-2 guard, is a coveted recruit which makes college coaches salivate.

And his stock continued to improve this weekend.

"Yeah, I think this will help me a lot," Kemp said. "I know I have great players on my team and I know they helped me out a lot, too."

So, where you gonna sign next year?

"It's wide open right now," Kemp said. "Schools like Kentucky, Louisville, Georgia Tech and Tennessee are on my list."

Yo Willie, what about Arkansas?

"Yeah, yeah," Kemp said. "I've got them on my list. I came up for Midnight Madness and took an unofficial visit later.

"It's a good atmosphere."

Playing in this tournament not only elevated the status of Kemp, but also AAU basketball, and put Fayetteville on the national map for all the right reasons.

"It's not often you get this much talent in your own backyard," said Springdale High's 6-8 Michael Sanchez earlier in the week. "This has really got to help."

Looking back, this thing was the real deal.

Some of the nation's best talent. Some of the best college coaches watching. Some of the best basketball players assembled in one area, albeit in several venues in Fayetteville and Springdale.

Shame on you if you missed it.

When it started, more than 70 teams showed up with all those cell phones and head phones wrapped around their noggins and fancy warm-up suits and uniforms to boot.

"This is a great tournament," Conley said. "It should be a big hit in the future. Actually, it probably already is, judging by the interest."

There were so many gym rats running around town someone needed to call pest control.

Really, no problem since all these teams brought the almighty dollar into northwest Arkansas.

Cash registers working overtime always is a pretty good barometer of success.

Perhaps most striking and noteworthy was how well this tournament was organized, stayed on time, and completed its task without a glitch in its maiden voyage.

Pretty impressive.

A tip of the Stetson goes to all involved.

Really, we shouldn't have been surprised.

Maybe because this tournament WAS the Real Deal on the Hill.


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