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New name, same fame for Norcross showcase event

Norcross' boys high school basketball program has a new sponsor for the fourth edition of its regional showcase event.

But when the 2012 Hilton Invitational tips off with three games tonight and continuing with five more Saturday at the House of Blue, the emphasis will be on more of the same.

"We started the two-day, Georgia versus the Southeast (format) three years ago," Norcross boys coach Jesse McMillan said. "We've added one more game to the Saturday lineup. And overall, I thought last year we had a really strong field, but this year's out of state field might be even better."

The level of competition figures to be the same for 13 teams involved in eight games over the two days, with plenty of the Southeast's top teams and top players on display.

And for the host, there will be the same level of pride.

"I think there's a feeling that this is our event," McMillan said of his Blue Devils (10-7), who take on North Carolina power Charlotte Christian (12-5) at 7 p.m. Saturday. "We go and play around the country in other national events, and we take a lot of pride to represent (Norcross and Gwinnett County) and play well in this one."

Indeed, Gwinnett should be well represented for this weekend's event, and not just by Norcross.

Local teams will be featured in all three games tonight, with Archer tipping off the event against Charlotte Christian at 5:30, followed by South Gwinnett against Orr Academy (11-3), a Chicago public school, at 7 p.m. and Berkmar taking on Dr. Phillips (15-4) of Orlando, Fla., at 8:30.

Norcross and Greater Atlanta Christian, which meets Orr Academy, will represent the county on Saturday.

"When we were making the decision (on which teams to invite this year), Archer was very intriguing to us because of their run to the state tournament last year," McMillan said. "And they're showing that to continue to be the case with the way they're playing. And the Berkmar-Dr. Phillips game should be an excellent game because they play the same style. And I really feel like (Berkmar's) Yonel Brown matching up against (Dr. Phillips') RaShawn Powell will be a really good point guard matchup."

Tonight also brings some things full circle for coach Greg Phillips and the Berkmar players, especially the seniors, who were sophomores when they participated in the inaugural event -- a 70-49 loss to Peachtree Ridge -- during Phillips' first season as coach.

Phillips' team is in a much different place this time around.

"It was my first year, and the kids were still getting used to my coaching style," recalled Phillips, a former Norcross assistant. "Hopefully, we'll make a better showing (tonight). Jesse does a great job (with this event). It's fun and the competition is great. It takes the stress off region play, but the competition is still good."

There figures to be plenty of strong matchups with the individual talent each team features, including seniors already committed to or signed with major Division I programs like Charlotte Christian's Patrick Rooks (Clemson), 6-foot-11 Peter Jurkin (Indiana) and Braxton Ogbueze (Florida) of Charlotte's United Faith Academy, Josh Smith (Clemson) of Olympic High of Charlotte and Jarmal Ried (Oregon State) of DeKalb County's Columbia.

Columbia is one of three other metro Atlanta powers -- along with Wheeler and Harrison from nearby Cobb County -- to round out the field. Wheeler takes on unbeaten Olympic, which is ranked 35th in the ESPN Top 50 poll.