Those who haven't seen Willie Kemp and his talented Memphis Pump 'N Run AAU teammates before this weekend now know what all the fuss is about.
Kemp and Memphis stayed unbeaten in the Real Deal on the Hill Saturday by downing the New England Playaz and The Family in pool play and then whipped the Mid-State Ballerz late Saturday night to advance to Sunday morning's quarterfinal round.
Memphis will face the Atlanta Celtics black squad in an 8 a.m game with hopes of playing in a semifinal round game at 10:30 a.m. and maybe getting a shot at favorite Spiece Indy Heat in the 1 p.m. championship game.
"This is a great tournament in that you are challenged in every game and against every team," Kemp said. "I hope we can make it to the championship game. The two teams that do will have really done something."
Kemp, a 6-2, 180-pound point guard from Bolivar (Tenn.) Central, was the MVP this season while leading his high school team to a second straight state title.
He is making his third trip to Fayetteville in less than six months for this weekend's tournament and has grown to really like the place after previous trips for Midnight Madness and the Razorbacks' regular season win over LSU.
"They are doing a great job recruiting me," Kemp said. "I really like Arkansas. There is a good atmosphere up here. They've got good people here and a good program that is definitely on its way back up."
Kemp, considered playing for the Mid-State Ballerz this season, but chose to remain with the Memphis Pump N Run organization his final year of AAU basketball.
"It's a good team to be with and we've been together for four or five years now," Kemp said. "In the end I just decided it was the best deal for me."
Of course when you can pass the ball to 6-8 small forward Thaddeus Young of Memphis Mitchell, 6-7, 250-pound power forward Pierre Niles and 6-9, 235-pound power forward Wayne Chism - his Bolivar teammate and a three-time visitor to Fayetteville in six months himself - it's a nice deal.
"They are great players and to be a point guard with them is just a dream situation," Kemp said. "I know if I can get them the ball in position to shoot they are very rarely going to miss."
Kemp and Chism took unofficial visits to Arkansas, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Alabama during the school year.
"I went to those unofficially," Kemp said. "I liked them all, but I really like the time I have spent in Arkansas."
There has been some speculation that sent Kemp's mother is ill, he might stay in Tennessee when it comes time to play college basketball.
"My mon doesn't have any kidneys right now," Kemp said. "She is on dialysis right now. My mom said to not worry about that, but to go where I want to. She has said 'just go play ball and I'll get well.'"
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Young talked about how much he likes Arkansas and although many say he is likely headed for the NBA in 2006 without an age limit being instituted, he says he's all about college right now.
"I wasn't planning on going to the NBA anyway even before they started talking about that," Young said. "I think I need to go to college and while I would like to stay all four years, I know I at least need to stay two before I even start thinking about that."
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Niles says he would like to go straight to the NBA, but if the rule or his game doesn't allow that he plans to look at Arkansas, Memphis, Auburn, Mississippi State Arizona, Duke, Texas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Ole Miss.
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Chism has a similar list to Kemp right now.
"Arkansas stands really high on my list," Chism said. "It seems like the people are really cool around here. Arkansas, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Mizzou are the schools I am looking at right now."
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One new name for Razorback fans to note is that of 6-3 lefty point guard Verice Cloyd of MBA Hoops Orange.
He had a spectacular 32 points in his team's 61-52 win over EBO before Arkansas coaches at Bud Walton Arena.
Cloyd is somewhat of a secret, having averaged 23 points this season for Genesis One, a first-year prep school in Mendenhall, Miss.
He is from Nashville, Tenn and has schools such as Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Tennessee, Southern Miss and Ole Miss.
"I am really interested in Arkansas," Cloyd said. "This is a great arena and I could certainly see myself playing here."
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Former McGehee star Michael Washington had a monster game Saturday afternoon with 24 points, 17 rebounds and 5 assists as his Arkansas Wings team downed the Northwest Arkansas Raptors 68-53 in overtime.
Washington (6-10, 235) - now a junior at Cleveland (Texas) Heritage Christian- had 14 points and 11 rebounds in the final game Saturday night, but the Illinois Warriors eliminated the Wings 63-54.
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Ramar Smith, a 6-1 guard who plays for The Family, had a great game on Friday night, but was a little off his game on Saturday as his team lost a pair of games and fell into the consolation bracket.
"This is the first time I have been to Arkansas," Smith said. "I like it. I like the weather. Everything's good."
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Jodie Meeks, a 6-4, 210-pound combo guard from Norcross, Ga., had 17 points in his first game of the day and pronounced Arkansas as one of his leaders.
"The coaches certainly have me interested in Arkansas, and I am pretty good friends with all of them," Meeks said. "The one who has been recruiting me the most is Ronny Thompson, John Thompson's son."
Arkansas joins Clemson, Florida, Alabama, Auburn as Meeks' top schools right now.
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Armon Bassett, the 2005 prospect from Terre Haute, Ind., had a sparking 32 points in his Indiana Elite's 67-57 win over an Arkansas Hawks team that played without Michael Sanchez.
Bassett is headed to Hargrave Military Academy next season and plans to keep in touch with the Razorbacks.
"This place is much, much bigger and better than I thought it was going to be," Bassett said. "I could certainly see myself playing in front of 20,000 fans here someday."
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Another 2006 prospect that has Arkansas' interest is 6-6 point guard Marques Johnson of Ft. Wayne, Ind., who played for Blessed IJN this weekend.
Arkansas assistant Orande Taliaferro recently to watch Johnson in an open gym session.
"This is a really nice place and a place I am really going to think about," Johnson said.
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