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Norcross sets up serious schedule

If the Norcross boys can figure out a way to go undefeated against the bevy of powerhouse basketball teams on their 2006-2007 schedule, they shouldn't just be crowned state champs. Or even national champions.

They should get an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament as well.

Because the Blue Devils, the reigning Class AAAAA state champions, are in the midst of putting together one of the toughest non-conference slates in the history of the state.

"I think it helps our team," Norcross head coach Eddie Martin said. "Two years ago we went undefeated and got to the state championship game and just didn't have the firepower, or maybe even the mental toughness, to beat Wheeler.

"Last year we went into the (state) tournament having played some extra-tough games, and we weren't undefeated, but the end result was a whole lot better."

The end result was a state title - something the talented Blue Devils will no doubt be favored to capture this season as well.

Norcross boasts three senior Division-I prospects in forward Gani Lawal (verbally committed to Georgia Tech) and guards Tony Neysmith and Jordan DeMercy, as well as highly-ranked junior Al-Farouq Aminu.

With at least four future college basketball players on his roster, Martin knew he would have to schedule some challenging games outside of Region 7-AAAAA.

And boy has he ever.

Over the holidays, Norcross will be participating in the Academy National Invitational Tournament in Houston, where they will be in an eight-team field that will include some of the top programs in the nation.

To get an idea, four of the teams from last year's tournament finished the season ranked in the USA Today Top 25 and perennial powerhouse Oak Hill won the three-game event.

The entire field for this year's tournament hasn't been released yet, but Martin knows St. Patrick (N.J.), which finished No. 11 in the nation last season, will be there.

And he knows his team will have three very competitive games in Houston.

"We'll play three powerhouses on three consecutive nights," Martin said. "We don't get any rest, and that prepares us for the state tournament, where we don't get any rest between the semifinals and the finals."

But Houston is just one stop on the Norcross Tour this upcoming season.

The Blue Devils will also be in Springfield, Mass., over Martin Luther King weekend to play in the Hall of Fame Classic against Mount Vernon (N.Y.), which finished 2006 as the No. 20 team in the nation.

The reigning state champs will also make a trip to Lexington, Ky., one weekend to take on Lexington Catholic and perhaps another high-profile team from the Bluegrass State - and Martin is hoping his squad will be able to watch Norcross grad Jodie Meeks in action for the Kentucky Wildcats that Saturday as well.

Martin and the Blue Devils are also in the process of hammering out the final details of two other games, to be played locally, against two very high-profile teams from out of state.

One or both of those contests may be televised as well.

"I think it's great," Martin said of the publicity and attention his team will be getting this season. "It's great for our kids, it's great for them to be able to get out there and be seen. And it's great for our school, too.

"It's just great to be able to experience stuff like this."

Especially if that experience ends like it did last season.