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National hoops showcase a hit in Gwinnett

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Gainesville Wildcats Hunter Atkinson (30) is fouled while driving to the basket against Charlotte Reign Luke Morrison (35) and Jacob Nabatoff (6) during the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions at the Suwanee Sports Academy on Saturday.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Gainesville Wildcats Hunter Atkinson (30) is fouled while driving to the basket against Charlotte Reign Luke Morrison (35) and Jacob Nabatoff (6) during the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions at the Suwanee Sports Academy on Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Representatives from their schools mens basketball programs, Al Pinkins of Ole Miss, Corey Williams of Florida State University, Jimmy Williams from the University of Memphis and Bob Hoffman of Mercer University look on and discuss while watching basketball athletes from around the country compete in the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions on Saturday. Coaches and representatives of colleges and universities from all over the country attend the tournament at the Suwanee Sports Academy for the possibility of recruitment.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan The Suwanee Sports Academy hosted dozens of basketball games with teams from around the country during the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions on Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Team Winston Lepreece Lynch (0) drives to the basket against Birmingham ICE Xpress Terrence Bunch (5) during the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions at the Suwanee Sports Academy on Saturday.

SUWANEE -- AAU basketball is one of the most popular activities for many kids who love the game.

For some, it's something that will propel them to the next level, while others play for the camaraderie and the chance to play a little bit more of the game they love.

In Gwinnett County, there's been a boom in AAU basketball, as is evidence by this weekend's Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions being held at the Suwanee Sports Academy.

The tournament consists of 184 teams across five different age groups, that includes more than 1,800 players from states as far away as California and New York.

"The tournament is one of the oldest (AAU) tournaments," said Suwanee Sports Academy general manager Mike Eddy. "They were looking for something different and we saw that as an opportunity for us."

The tournament, which includes alumni like Paul Pierce, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Chris Paul, among others, is a NCAA-certified national showcase that has hundreds of college coaches in attendance to see who could be possible fits for their teams.

Coaches from the entire country were in attendance, including Kansas' Bill Self, Indiana's Tom Crean, Florida's Billy Donovan, and other coaches from Yale, Murray State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Maryland.

"This is a benefit for all college coaches," said Jacksonville University head coach Cliff Warren. "This gives us a chance to look at who we'll recruit come July. There's so many players to see."

Warren said having a large AAU tournament gives coaches like him a place where they can come and see multiple players they're interested in recruiting.

"The AAU circuit allows us to see hundreds of players in a three-day period, while high school games lets us see one or two players," he said. "Some coaches are coming to these to look at one or two players, while others will look at hundreds of players. It varies, depending on the tournament."

Eddy said although it's nice to get some of the larger school coaches attending the event, the coaches from lower-level Division I and Division II schools are what drives it.

"In truth, maybe 10-15 of the kids playing this weekend will play at a major Division I school or in the NBA," Eddy said. "But, there's so many schools out there that are looking for kids and those coaches are here as well."

Locally, multiple teams represented Gwinnett in the tournament, providing these teams with a rare opportunity to sleep in their own beds at a showcase tournament.

"We usually have to go out of town to play in a high-exposure tournament," said Georgia Team Flight head coach Marlon Cook, who coaches a team made up of mostly Shiloh basketball players. "It makes a difference when you can sleep in your own bed.

"Plus, it's a nice boost for the economy. We went to the mall and saw many other teams there, too."

The tournament, while mainly being held at the Suwanee Sports Academy, also has games being played at Lanier, Collins Hill, Peachtree Ridge, North Gwinnett, South Gwinnett and Berkmar, among others.

In total, the 10 venues also have hundreds of different scorekeepers and hundreds of different game officials to ensure everything runs smoothly.

"It takes a year to plan this thing," Eddy said. "By the time this tournament rolls around, about 95 percent of all the work is done. Of course, some things are beyond are control and we react to them as they come along."

Eddy said he hoped the Tournament of Champions would be a springboard for Suwanee Sports Academy to host other events.

"We want this to be an annual event here, and want to have more events," he said. "We want to show the AAU circuit that this is the place to be."