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The fourth annual AAU event – which all six 2008 Razorbacks basketball signees played in during the past two seasons and also 9 NBA lottery picks - will be held on April 18-20 throughout Northwest Arkansas with games in Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville.
It has been named the best AAU event in the country by both Scout.com and Rivals.com and brings some $5 million dollars into the Northwest Arkansas economy with kids from ages 8 to 17 playing in a myriad of divisions.
"Last year we had 287 teams on our waiting list and at this point if we wanted to be the biggest tournament in the country, we could be," Tournament Director and Arkansas Hawks head coach Bill Ingram said. "But that is not what we are after, we want to be the best in the country, a great tournament with high quality and something that we can manage and keep it where we can run it really well."
It's not as if it is some small deal - seeing as how the field has expanded from 86 squads the first year to an expected 234 this season.
That includes keeping the 17-and-under boys division at 64 teams.
"We want to keep it at 64 teams because that makes it a very high level tournament," Ingram said. "We'll let teams register, but we were at 64 teams in October. Right now we have 80-something teams on the waiting list."
Ingram and former University of Arkansas track standout and Olympic Gold Medal winner Mike Conley founded the tournament.
That was after putting together the Arkansas Hawks – which stands for Hard At Works Kids – organization.
The Real Deal has certainly had its share of famous alumni with first-rounders Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Kevin Durant all have played in the event.
There's also been former Hawks, Razorbacks and current NBA players Ronnie Brewer and Joe Johnson, other Hawks in and current college stars such as Kansas State's Michael Beasley and USC's O.J. Mayo.
"This will be the first year we have not had it on Easter weekend and we anticipate we will probably have more participation from the fans," Ingram said.
As has been the case in the past, every big name college head basketball coach makes the tournament a necessary stop.
"Our coach's hospitality room is just filled with the biggest names in the game," Ingram said.
Ironically Razorback head basketball coach John Pelphrey was being interviewed by UA officials at the time the tournament was going on last year and was unable to attend.
But the previous two events clearly paid off for him as all six of UA signees played in the Real Deal in either 2006 or 2007.
"This year is the first year that Arkansas' entire recruiting class has played in the Real Deal on the Hill," Ingram said. "…That is kind of a testament to what kind of players we bring in."
That included Southeast Elite point guard Courtney Fortson, who became a fan favorite and ended up signing with Arkansas.
"As Courtney played more games, more people went to watch him and he was the guy that they picked out," Ingram said. "They kind of adopted him and every time he played people were cheering him on and when he walked through the building they were patting him on the back, telling him good game – people he didn't even know. I know that had a lot to do with him coming to the University of Arkansas."
Some of the top names that will be on hand for the 2008 event will be 6-9 Atlanta Celtics power forwards Derrick Favors and Shawn Kemp, Jr., New York Juice guard Lance Stephenson (6-6), Birmingham Storm center DeMarcus Cousins (6-10) and Arkansas Hawks guard Fred Gulley (6-2) of Fayetteville High.
Both Favors and Stephenson will be coming in a day earlier to take unofficial visits to Arkansas.
"That's a big plus for Arkansas," Ingram said.
There will be also be girls teams involved for the second straight year with both 16 and 17-year-old tournaments the next spring.
Bentonville will host the youngest divisions (10, 11 and 12) while Rogers (13 and 14) and Springdale and Fayetteville (15, 16 and 17).
"That is one of the best things about this year's tournaments," Ingram said. "Every city is a part of it."