It was with a great deal of pride that Bill Winston watched Monday night's NCAA National Championship game between Florida and Ohio State.
That's because the starting lineups and reserves were littered with alums of The Real Deal on The Hill AAU Tournament, which will have it's third annual event this weekend at the University of Arkansas' Bud Walton Arena and on 23 other courts in Northwest Arkansas.
That included Greg Oden and Michael Conley, Jr., who competed in the inaugural event that was dreamed up by former Arkansas gold medalist Mike Conley and Ingram, the even director who doubles as the coach of the Arkansas Hawks.
"We have another great class and group of players here this weekend," Ingram said. "To look at the NCAA Tournament and watch all the kids that had played at the Real Deal on the Hill was pretty special. Just the impact guys from the first round all the way to the championship game – the Real Deal on the Hill had their stamp all over it."
They will certainly be some starts of tomorrow on hand again this season for the event, which brings over 1,000 prospects with five boys divisions from ages 12 to 17 to Northwest Arkansas and an inaugural 15-and-under girls division.
"There are the top five players who are sure-fire college and NBA stars and then 6 through probably 40 - who are all about even – that are all great, great players," Ingram said. "They are a lot of great wing players here this weekend, a lot of power forwards and a lot of shooting guards. Shooting is back in now.
"This is probably our best tournament from top to bottom talent wise," Ingram continued.
But while the top college coaches will be on hand to watch the event, the University of Arkansas will not have a head coach hired by then and will miss out on an opportunity.
Heath was not retained and Dana Altman was hired, but he was one day and done and back off to Creighton leaving Arkansas in the search mode again.
"I am a true Razorback fan," Ingram said. "The whole situation right now is just tough. I wish it wasn't like this."
That said, Ingram is at least proud that the University of Arkansas will have the opportunity to show off its facilities and campus this weekend.
"I visited with a coach one time, a high profile coach," Ingram said. "He told me that there were two things that kids like to know. That was they like to know where they are playing at and in what conference and how many people are coming to the games.
"He said there are a lot of things, but that are two of the most important things in recruiting," Ingram added. "At least they will get to see that this weekend and we can always turn a negative situation into a positive one."
Ingram said fans could help by showing up this weekend.
"We got a lot of true Razorback basketball fans out there and they need to show up this weekend," Ingram said. "They need to show up and support this young men that are playing because there are some kids here this weekend that really will want to come here because of the school and not the coach. We need to come out this weekend and show them that we are true loyal basketball fans."
Two of the top players in the event are 6-6 junior Jrue Holiday of California Pump-and-Run and 6-10 sophomore forward Renardo Sidney, the former Mississippi prep star who is now in California.
"California and Pump and Run don't come the South," Ingram said. "They do one East Coast tournament and spend the rest of the time on West Coast. They got a kid name Drew Holiday that is just tremendous.
"The other top kid is a one that lived most of his life in Mississippi before moving to California and Arkansas is on his list," Ingram added. "He has a lot relatives in Little Rock and is probably the next big, big-timer that we know is going to be a star in the NBA and he really likes Arkansas."
Two other top out-of-state players coming for the event are Yancy Gates of Cleveland and Chicago's DeAndre Liggins, two kids that were being recruited by Arkansas under Stan Heath.
"There are going to be some great players and we (Arkansas) need these kids," Ingram said. "It is a great opportunity when you have that man scholarships (seven) in 2008 that we can turn this negative into a positive."
Ingram will also be busy coaching his own team – the Arkansas Hawks, which will featured one of the tournaments top front lines in 6-8 senior power forward Michael Sanchez of Springdale Har-Ber, 6-7 junior small forward Clarence Trent of Gig Harbor (Wa.) and 6-10 junior Andre Clarke of North Little Rock.
Sanchez is still trying to decide between college or going to Findley Prep School in Las Vegas while Trent – who has a lot of interest in Arkansas – has been visiting Sanchez on his spring break and might end up there as well.
"Michael had about 30 points in a scrimmage we had with Athletes First last week," Ingram said. "I have been friends with Clarence's guardian for 15 years and they are really, really interested in Arkansas. Hopefully we will get the right coach in here at Arkansas and he will be a Razorback."
Ingram thinks that Clarke is going to be the surprise of the tournament, whose 17-year old Division includes other in-state teams such has the Arkansas Kings (Trey Finn and Cruz Williams), Northwest Arkansas Raptors and Southwest Little Rock Bulls .
"People are going to be saying where did this guy (Clark) come from?" Ingram said. "He is headed to Genesis Prep (in Mendenhall, Miss.) next season."
The perimteter will feature Fayetteville sophomore guard Fred Gulley, Har-Ber's John Tyson and former Wildcat Aaron McHenry and Blytheville swingman Gabriel Osagie.
The Hawks will play their first pool game Friday night at 7:40 p.m. at Fayetteville High against the St. Louis Majestics and then will play Saturday morning at 8 a.m. against the Illinois Stars at Bud Walton and at 12:40 p.m. against Midwest Mission back at Fayetteville High.
"I think we are going to have an excellent team," Ingram said. "We have got what I think are seven Division I players on our team."
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