The Real Deal on the Hill lived up to it's name last year in the tournament's first year of existence. Year two is looking pretty good, too. With O.J. Mayo, Bill Walker, Michael Beasley and Renardo Sidney in attendance, the sequel might just be as good as the debut.
Top prospect countdown
Last year's Real Deal ended with Thaddeus Young, Willie Kemp and Wayne Chism knocking off Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook and Eric Gordon for the championship. It is never a bad day when seven players in the top 50 are battling it out for the hardware. This year has all of the ingredients for another great ending.
Four of the five best players in the class of 2007 will be in Arkansas this weekend. Leading the way is the Rivals.com No. 1 junior in the country O.J. Mayo.
This will be the first live AAU event Mayo will play in since the NBA announced it's rule regarding high school players. He should collect a crowd of coaches as well as a good number of fans. This is essentially the last time people will be able to watch the star guard in action for a reasonable price up close and personal as a high school player.
Mayo's teammate Bill Walker will draw a crowd wherever he goes because of his amazing aerial assault. Rarely does he disappoint in that avenue. Walker currently checks in at the No. 2 spot in the latest Rivals.com rankings.
Close behind and also in attendance is Michael Beasley of the D.C. Assault. The ultra skilled 6-foot-8 forward can burn teams inside and out. The No. 3 ranked prospect in the junior class anchors one of the best teams in the tournament field.
Rounding out the top five is Illinois commitment Eric Gordon. The five-star guard played for the tournament championship last year with Spiece Indy Heat but lost in the finals. This year, and with a new team, Gordon is hoping to redeem last year's loss with a big showing at the Real Deal once again.
The Rivals.com 2009 rankings are far from being completed let alone released but one of the top players from that class will also be at the Real Deal. Mississippi forward Renardo Sidney will hit hte court for the first time in nine months in a competitive game. Since sitting the season out at Piney Woods High School, Sidney has been watching and not playing due to transfer rules. Don't be surprised to see the top prospect to come out with something to prove this weekend.
J.J. Hickson is one of the top big men available in the class of 2007 and he has long maintained that he is open and that there wasn't a top school, a top five or a top 10 in his list. His list is trimmed down beginning this weekend. Expect a coaching convention to break out at his game on Saturday morning.
Like Hickson, Josh Southern is a big, sturdy post player with a lot of promise. But unlike Hickson, Southern has not been in the recruiting spotlight this year. The 6-foot-9 post from Michigan has all of the tools to changing that with a good showing in Arkansas.
Get to know the name DeAndre Liggins. The 6-foot-6 versatile prospect from Chicago will be suiting up for Indiana Elite, alongside Eric Gordon. Liggins is a tremendous talent in the class of 2008 and could make some noise this weekend.
Last year, Spiece Indy Heat dominated the AAU circuit. But with Greg Oden and Co. finishing up their senior years, this year's Spiece team to watch is the Central Stars. This group has been playing together for years and their fundamental, unselfish style of play will serve them well in the AAU setting. Don't be surprised to see guys like JaJuan Johnson, Matt Howard and company open some eyes as well as attract the college coaches.
Happy hour opens at 2
On Saturday, coaches will be stretched thin as the best teams play each other in pool play at 2 p.m. With 16 gyms going at the same time, the trick for coaches and scouts is to find the best game to attend.
The action at Bud Walton Arena will be action packed in the mid-afternoon. The D1 Greyhounds play Philly MJC. DC Assault will play Blessed IJN Elite and the Arkansas Hawks will wrestle with the Tulsa Bulldogs.
At the HPER Building, four courts will be going at the same time. Trying to stay focused on one game might be difficult. The Long Island Lighting plays Jackson Panthers Select. Total Response/Illinois Warriors will try to stop MBA Magic. The Oakland Soldiers take on Blessed IJN Gold on court three and the Atlanta Celtics tangle with Team Amino on court four.
Up the hill and around the corner from Bud Walton and the HPER Building is Fayetteville High School, where current Razorback Ronnie Brewer did his thing. Indiana Elite scrums with the Dallas Mustangs White team on the main gym floor while the Dallas Mustangs Again play DTA Wisconsin on the JV court.
All seven games are within walking distance of each other.
With talent spread across the 16 gyms for the 17 and under tournament, talent can be found just about anywhere this weekend. Guys to pay close attention to include future Michigan State guard Chris Allen with the Worldwide Renegades. Blessed IJN always has surprises on the team but continue to heavy steady prospect likes guard Eshaunte Jones.
The Dallas Mustangs Again boast Arkansas native and current Dallas resident Anthony Randolph and bull guard Brockeith Pane. Keeping with the Texas flavor, the Houston Superstars boast wing forward Kodi Augustus.
A pair of tremendous point guards from New York also dot the field in GC Ballers floor general Johnny Flynn (Syracuse) and Long Island Lightning head man Corey Fisher (Villanova). The New York Panthers are never short on talent and one to keep an eye on in 2008 is guard Sylvan Landesberg.
The DC Assault have to be a heavy favorite to win the tournament because of the talent rich roster that Curtis Malone has this year. With Beasley, Julian Vaughn and 7-footer Anthony McClain holding down the frontline, teams will have trouble scoring inside. Mix in a tremendous backcourt of Nolan Smith (Duke) and Austin Freeman (Georgetown) and it spells trouble for 31 teams.
The Oakland Soldiers have a rising star in forward Drew Gordon while the Atlanta Celtics boast a talented young freshman named Derrick Favors. He'll be flanked by Senario Hillman (Alabama) and Cameron Tatum.
Southeast Elite will lean on future Alabama guard Rico Pickett while Rocktown holds to it's rock George Goode for scoring support.
And as always, there will be plenty of surprises and break-out performances.
A couple of players to keep your eyes on this weekend at the Real Deal on the Hill are former Charlotte commitment Cameron Tatum and Savannah (Ga.) scorer Casey Mitchell.
Tatum will suit up with the Atlanta Celtics at the Real Deal. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard took a visit to Tennessee last weekend and said he enjoyed himself with Bruce Pearl.
"That guy is a star there. We were walking down the street and people were leaning out of their windows saying, 'Bruce Pearl for governor.' They love him up there," Tatum said.
Tatum is a strong lean to the SEC school barring a qualifying score on the SAT. If he doesn't qualify, he'll be off to prep school, he said.
Mitchell, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound shooting guard from Savannah (Ga.) High, will suit up for the Worldwide Renegades at the event. He was one of the top scorers in the Southeast this year as a senior and is now looking for a prep school.
Had he signed this year, Mitchell said he would have likely inked with Alabama. Cincinnati was the first school to offer him last year but when Huggins was forced out, the Bearcats stopped recruiting him. Could we have a Kansas State sighting this weekend on the Worldwide Renegades sidelines?
After spending last weekend in Virginia, Rivals.com continues a country wide search for the nation's top prospects. We will be in Fayetteville, Ark., for this year's event from start to finish.