I really didn't know what to expect when I pulled up to Riverview Park in North Augusta last Thursday for the Nike Peach Jam Tournament.
The Peach Jam, in its ninth year in North Augusta, brings together the nation's top 24 travel teams.
Putting together a list of some of the best basketball teams in the country provides an opportunity for the area to see some of the best high school basketball players annually.
Alums of the tournament include current NBA players Yao Ming (Rockets), Tyson Chandler (Bulls), Elton Brand (Clippers), Joe Johnson (Suns), Quentin Richardson (Clippers), Kareem Rush (Lakers), Darius Miles (Trailblazers), Corey Maggette (Clippers), Rashard Lewis (Sonics), Al Jefferson (Celtics), and Josh Childress awks).
A slew of current collegians also participated in years past: J.R. Giddens (Kansas), D.J. Strawberry (Maryland), J.J. Redick (Duke), Rashad McCants (North Carolina), Sean May (North Carolina) and John Gilchrest (Maryland).
This year was no different.
Half of the nation's top 20 players participated this year, according to the Insiders.com recruiting service.
Included were five of the top six players in the United States: Tyler Hansbrough (ranked 1), Richard Hendrix (2), Louis Williams (4), Martell Webster (5) and Keith Brumbaugh (6).
With the collection of tremendous talent involved, I figured that college coaches would be following the elite players like paparazzi. But I also thought that not much of the public crowd would be interested in relatively unknown high schoolers.
However, I started to get an idea of how popular the tournament was when the park resembled a Wal Mart parking lot on a Sunday afternoon. Cars were everywhere.
Walking inside the Activities Center, I knew this wasn't a normal sporting event.
Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser walked around the lobby eating nachos. Former Georgia coach and current Kentucky boss Tubby Smith was chatting on his cell phone as he came from the parking lot. Right behind Smith was Memphis coach John Calipari leisurely strolling into the building.
Rarely, if ever, does an opportunity exist for regular fans to interact with the heads of their favorite teams.
The Activities Center boasts four basketball courts and along side each court's sideline and baseline sat chairs occupied by college coaches.
Looking around the sideline of one game, you could see Arizona's Lute Olsen and North Carolina's Roy Williams sharing a laugh. Or Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and assistant Chris Collins chatting. Also spotted were Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt, Virginia's Pete Gillen, Kansas' Bill Self, UCLA's Ben Howland and N.C. State's Herb Sendek.
The little guy was also represented amongst the 200-plus coaches. In the gaggle of coaches, small schools like Quinnipiac, Liberty and Virginia Commonwealth had contingencies present.
While not coach-spotting, most of the public attending Thursday night's session flocked to see the Georgia Stars take on Athletes First from Oklahoma.
The crowd got an eyeful of future Georgia Bulldog teammates Louis Williams and Mike Mercer. Both have verbally committed to play in Athens in 2005 and they are also teammates at South Gwinnett High in Snellville. Alade Aminu, who has a verbal commitment to Georgia Tech, also played for the Stars.
As soon as the games end, recruiting services and fans flock to the players to see how they thought they played and to see where they might end up in college. The coaches, meanwhile, are relegated to the sidelines because the NCAA doesn't allow them to initiate contact with potential recruits.
That certainly doesn't stop the coaches from salivating while staring at the potential future of their program.
When I left the building that night, I realized that I might not see an event as unique the Peach Jam ever again, or at least until next year.
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