ATLANTA - On the AAU circuit, a lot of times it as more about playing hard and playing together than it is about big time prospects and high-major players. The Long Island Lightning epitomized that as the New York team claimed the first annual Wallace Prather Memorial tournament at Georgia Tech on Sunday afternoon.
The local flavor that took in the weekend's events probably didn't have the Long Island Lightning and the Southeast Elite in the finals but playing hard and playing smart helped propel both clubs to the championship game. The Lightning just played harder and smarter for a game longer.
It was a balanced team effort in the championship game for the Lightning. Players bought into a selfless style of play and fed off of each other's energy and attitude.
Unsigned senior Nick Murphy, a 6-foot-3 guard, lead the team with 13 points and did it in a workmanlike fashion. Likely headed to Notre Dame Prep or Laurinburg next year for a prep year, Murphy, the tournament MVP, is hoping to see his recruitment improve some.
Murphy is a slashing guard that loves to grind it out on the defensive end, making opponents work for every bucket. Offensively, his energy and hustle translate into baskets.
His backcourt mate Akeem Bennett played a big role in shutting down the Elite's top player, Rico Pickett. His defense is like a gnat on a humid summer night. Bennett, a 6-foot-2 prep school bound guard, is quick to the paint and found open teammates for buckets. He has a good feel for the game didn't force the issue even at the frantic pace he plays at.
The Lightning came awfully close to not making it to finals. The team squeaked by the DC Assault in the semi-finals. Justin Burrell, a St. John's commitment, thundered home a big two hand dunk over Julian Vaughn and on the next possession took an offensive charge. Murphy was able to score the game-winning basket with two seconds to play and helped push the team into the finals. He finished with a team high 19 points in the win.
Varez Ward led Southeast Elite with 13 points while Courtney Fortson, one of the top guards at the event all weekend, had a quiet 11.
DC Assault beats local team for 16U title
Like the Lightning, the 16 and under DC Assault's recipe for success was hard play and pure want. The Assault knocked off the Georgia Stars 54-47 to win the tournament title.
The Assault relied on the muscle of big man Ron Anderson, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound power forward, and Marquis Simmons, a 6-foot-7, 205-pound live wire forward.
Anderson was an immovable force on the blocks and steadied the ship for the Assault on championship Sunday. Simmons played with a lot of energy and emptied his tank on Sunday. The class of 2008 prospect begs for another long look because of the amount of noise he made on Sunday.
James Stewart, a 6-foot-2 guard from Friendly High School, was the go-to guy in the backcourt. He's added some bulk to his body since last year. He knows how to use it to his advantage, too. Stewart is just tapping into his talent.
Young Celtics win 15U crown
With a dozen Celtics teams in the tournament field, odds were strong that one of the programs would take home a championship trophy. The youngest Atlanta Celtics stepped up and brought home the hardware.
From top to bottom, the Celtics crew was the toughest team in the 15 and under field. Led by top freshman big man Derrick Favors, the Celtics had little trouble all weekend.
Favors played the part of a top flight, high-major prospect all weekend and continued his impressive spring tear. He wasn't alone though. The Celtics have some fire power around him.
Noel Johnson, a 6-foot-6 wing from Lovejoy (Ga.) High School, is being primed as the next big thing in the Southeast. His bloodlines go deep into the professional ranks and it shows in his style of play. He's long, active and just figuring out what kind of tools he has to work with.
Other players of note for the Celtics: Manny Atkins (6-foot-4 guard from Tucker High School), Andre Malone (6-foot-3 shooting guard from North Clayton).
Our final news and notes notebook from the successful Wallace Prather Memorial is coming on Monday.