Tuscaloosa, Ala. - There were only three games played in the University of Alabama's Coleman Coliseum on Sunday morning but it was all that was needed to crown champions in each age bracket of the 2004 Challenge in the South. The Alabama Lasers rode great guard play all weekend and small-town sensation Daryl Covington was the man of the hour en route to the title.
17 and under championship
It was Alabama and Mississippi in the finals as the Lasers squared off against a talented Jackson Panthers squad. And from the get go, it appeared to having the makings of a great championship game. Both teams traded baskets but foul trouble and not finding an answer to stop Daryl Covington on the wing and Richard Hendrix inside hurt the Panthers in the end.
Covington, a 6-foot-2 combo guard from East Laurens (Ala.) High School, came alive in the second half and finished with a game high 22 points in the victory. He can put points up in a hurry and did just that, finding the right opportunity to score on key possessions. His midrange game was strong as was his defensive skills. Miami (Fla.) and Auburn are looking at him and Covington will play at Indiana's camp next week.
Hendrix was his normal self, controlling the blocks and doing the little things from block to block. He finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds in the victory. It wasn't his most dominating player in the event, but the level of competition wasn't the most dominate, either.
For the Panthers, rising sophomore Biko Paris had another strong outing. The 6-foot-1 point guard had his moments but couldn't put it together from start to finish. He had a great weekend in Tide country. Remember his name this summer.
Jarvis Williams, Terry Martin and Kenneth Cooper couldn't find any consistency but each had their moments. Williams, a 6-foot-5 wing started strong, scoring three early buckets. Martin, who had a great weekend, only had 11, well below his average and Cooper was a non-factor in the second half.
Don't discount the effort they put forth, though. Playing without big man Cyrus McGowan, who was taking the SAT, the Panthers can ride the momentum into July after this tournament.
16 and under championship
In terms of most pound for pound talent, the Jackson Panthers' match up with Rise N Shine may have been the best game with the most prospects to watch. In the end, it was the biggest player on the court that did the most damage. Kenneth Cooper, a 6-foot-10, 245-pound center, was playing with both Panthers squads in the tourney. He came alive in the second half, dominating the paint and scoring on the high percentage shots. The rising senior had 18 points, nine rebounds and four blocks in the victory.
His presence was needed because O.J. Williams, the team's top scoring option, found the rims to be unkind. The 6-foot-1 point guard had a great weekend but couldn't find any luck on the rims at Coleman. If there were an all-tourney team, he would have been on it.
Andre Stevenson, a lanky 6-foot-8 lefty, had a nice showing as the team's power forward. He's an athletic player that has the ability to do some damage every time he leaves the floor. And he did just that in the finals.
Rise N Shine, an impressive bunch from Mississippi, couldn't find the offense from their top players Jujuan Brown, David Booker and Lakendrick Longmire. The trio combined for 14 points in the loss. In the semis, they combined for 47 points.
Devin Butler had a game high 23 points, including four three-pointers, and single handily kept his team in the game. He was one of the top shooters at the tournament and didn't disappoint even in the loss.
15 and under championship
On paper, Inner Strength, a first-year AAU program from Atlanta, had no business beating Alabama Challenge. They'll tell you that, too. But they did and they earned every bit of it. Chalk this one up as a great underdog story. Inner Strength was led by the hot shooting of Deonte Stocks, a 6-foot-1 guard from Lithonia, Ga. He was automatic every time he touched the ball, scoring a game high 25 points.
The Challenge had their own challenges against a great zone defense. None of their big dogs could get a bite in offensively and were forced to play catch up for the majority of the game.