A prep basketball tournament held in Fort Mill over the weekend is the kind of event that may stretch York County’s reputation beyond football.
Nation Ford High School hosted the first ever Battle At The Rock (more on the name later) Friday and Saturday and the first impression was very positive.
State powers like Dorman and Irmo were involved, along with North Carolina private school powerhouses like Asheville’s Christ School, Charlotte’s Northside Christian and Fayetteville’s Northwood Temple Academy, and probably the two most acclaimed prep basketball programs in the country, IMG Academy and Oak Hill.
It helped that this is a strong year in York County for boys’ basketball. So Rock Hill, York, York Prep, Northwestern and Nation Ford more than just filled out the tournament field.
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“There is some talent in the area,” Nation Ford coach Jared Adamson said. “And I think having this event draws notice to that.”
The event, put on by Visit York County and Phenom Hoops Report, felt like a big deal.
Allen Iverson walked in with his entourage and sat behind the scorer’s table.
The crowd roared as IMG Academy, the nation’s top high school basketball team -- though to call them a high school team is really inaccurate, they’re NBA players in training -- ran through its layup line routine, which consisted of attempting -- and succeeding -- at every dunk that’s been imagined.
College coaches lined the walls, but even they were outnumbered by the young men with cameras recording all of the highlights for the Internet’s future consumption.
And fans crammed into the stands of Nation Ford’s suddenly sweaty and humid gym outnumbered everyone. The Saturday nightcap between IMG and Christ School sold out.
This scene was cooked up in Billy Dunlap’s mind about a year ago when he joined the Rock Hill/York County Convention and Visitors Bureau as its CEO. Tourism is Dunlap’s day job. He’s entering his 30th year as a college basketball official -- he’s worked almost every conference on the east coast except the ACC -- and he’s a hoops man to the core.
He’s also a Rock Hill native and remembers the Celriver Classic that the area hosted back in the 1990s. Tracy McGrady once played in that tournament. Recreating something similar was on Dunlap’s mind and the plan really hit overdrive when he got Phenom Hoops Report involved. They promote basketball in the Carolinas, putting on camps, releasing recruiting rankings and doing other odds and ends in the hoops world, and they got commitments from Oak Hill and IMG to play in the rookie event.
Oak Hill and IMG’s addition morphed the tournament into a national showcase-level event, like ones held annually in Charlotte and Columbia. That drew college coaches from Pitt, Clemson, South Carolina, South Florida and Winthrop (to name a few), which increased the exposure opportunities for all.
“To me, it’s a win-win for anyone that’s playing basketball here in Fort Mill this weekend,” said Dunlap.
A number of local kids that have Division I college basketball potential would be included in that group. And that’s partly why Adamson needed merely fractions of a second to say yes when asked to consider hosting the event.
“It’s good for the kids, and for the exposure of basketball in this area,” said Northwestern’s coach, John Bramlett.
The local teams performed well in Saturday evening’s final session of the tournament.
Northwestern went to the wire with Northwood Temple Academy, losing on a buzzer-beating layup. Trojan senior guard Zay Martin scored 28 points and relished the competition with Northwood’s Louisville commitment, Josh Nickelberry.
“It was fun. We went out there and competed and played hard, just lost a tough one,” said Martin, a definite college prospect, though what level isn’t yet clear. “It was a good experience to play against a guy like (Nickelberry).”
Then Rock Hill faced off against Charlotte’s Northside Academy, a long and rangy squad led by junior Jalen Seymour, who counts Virginia Tech, South Florida and N.C. State among his scholarship offers. The Bearcats closed to within five points in the last minute before losing 71-65, but their top two players, Jordan Wildy and Saiveon Williams, both played well. Wildy -- one of those players that could elevate his college destination greatly in the next two years -- scored 20 points and grabbed 12 boards. He entered Saturday’s game with scholarship offers from Tulane and Western Carolina, and ended the night with a new one from Winthrop.
“It’s awesome,” said Wildy, a 6-foot-8 junior. “Don’t have to go far to get exposure. It was real good competition to see how my talents matched up against other players like me.”
Nation Ford took care of business, thumping Charleston private school Porter Gaud 82-51. Falcons players -- especially its couple of future college players -- relished squaring up to Porter Gaud’s Josiah James, a 6-foot-6 senior signed with Tennessee and probably the state’s best prospect this season. He also happens to have the physique of a 28-year old man and a skill-set that’s almost as mature. But Nation Ford held James, an elite passer, to zero assists and pulled away in the second half for an easy win.
“It was fun,” said Nation Ford senior guard Zeb Graham, who scored 20 points to go with Shaman Alston’s game-high 24. “We knew there was gonna be a big crowd with Oak Hill and IMG and we wanted to defend the home court.”
This year’s event could be the last that the Falcons host. Dunlap said the plan is to move the event to the new sports facility being built at Knowledge Park in downtown Rock Hill. Then the tournament will truly live up to its name.