Tourney's first trip to SSA considered a success

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 past weekend's Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions at the Suwanee Sports Academy.

The tournament, consisted of 184 teams across five different age groups, that included 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."

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."

From an operational standpoint, the Academy spent more than a year planning the event.

"We started making plans about a year ago, but really started to gear up for it in the fall," Eddy said. "There were countless hours of preparation and ensuring we had everything lined up and ready to go."

The tournament, while it was mainly 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 had hundreds of different scorekeepers and hundreds of different game officials to ensure everything ran smoothly.

"By the time this tournament rolls around, about 95 percent of all the work is done, but most people don't realize that," Eddy said. "Of course, some things are beyond are control and we react to them as they come along. The overall operations ran smoothly. I just wish I had a little more time to watch the games going on. There's some exciting players and teams here."

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."

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."