T.O.C. Up Close: Houston Westside

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Sunday at the Tournament of Champions is usually an exclusive affair reserved for only the biggest of the big in the traveling summer sneaker circus. This year, though, a newcomer crashed the party.

Coach Charlie Jones' fourth-year program – the Houston-based Westside All-Stars – made it to the event semifinals. His boys lost to Pump ‘N' Run, sure, but the fact that they got there marked a high point for the group.

"That's probably the worst loss we've ever had," Jones said before heading home from the Smith Center. "But this is huge for us. We're always right there."

And should be. This is a team, after all, with four kids already committed to high-major Division I schools.

Texas City (TX) High SF Dion Dowell and Seabrook (TX) Clear Lake are UT Longhorns-to-be, and Katy (TX) Cinco Ranch backcourt mates Sean Morris and Charlie Jones III are headed to Colorado State.

The Reebok-sponsored crew is used to success too: The kids from the Lone Star State – a tight-knit bunch from the get-go – made it to the Final Four of the 2000 13-and-under AAU Nationals in Memphis.

Earlier this spring – the first time they've really traveled nationally – they finished second at the Tops of Texas in Austin, went 2-2 at the loaded Kingwood Classic and finished 2-1 at the well-respected Spiece Run ‘N' Slam in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Now this.

Westside made the playoffs out of a pool that included the high-octane Playaz from North Jersey, the Middlesex Magic from Massachusetts and Kansas City Pump ‘N' Run.

Not bad for a team that fights for respect not only nationally but right within its own backyard – a city that annually produces more talent than just about any other urban area in America.

Dowell, believe it or not, is the only player on this squad who has an invitation to either of the two shoe camps. The Texas commitment – an athletic, versatile stuffer of the stat sheet – is going to Nike.

The others can play, too, though.

Atchley's a big body down low, Jones is a true point who uses quickness and court vision to make others better, and Morris is an undersized shooting specialist who makes threes from all over the floor.

Maybe this result will open some eyes for the team as a whole.

The Westsiders are slated to hit summer spots at Mike Kunstadt's event in Denton, Texas, as well as the Big Time in Vegas and the Pumps' end-of-July tourney in Los Angeles.

More wins are sure to mean heightened respect. At least one would think – and hope.

"It's gratifying," Jones said, "to work so hard over the years and get to this point."

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