Perhaps the only thing the folks in Myrtle Beach, S. C., take more seriously than the throngs of heat-seeking college students who arrive every Easter vacation--truly something to be serious about--is basketball.
And, right around the winter holidays each of the past six years, the resort town in Atlantic Coast Conference country puts out the red carpet for high school basketball.
The Beach Ball Classic, an eight-team tournament that attracts some of the best high school basketball programs and top college prospects in the nation, begins with two games Sunday. Simi V1634495589teams in California, will attempt to become a national hotshot when it plays Hillcrest, from Simpsonville, S. C., in a first-round game at 7 p.m. Monday.
The invitation-only tournament, which this year includes traditional powers such as DeMatha, from Hyattsville, Md., and Archbishop Molloy, from Jamaica, N. Y., features five teams ranked in a national magazine's preseason top 30 and 12 prep All-Americans.
"There can't be a better Christmas tournament in the country," said Morgan Wootten, DeMatha's coach for 32 years. "It's really very classy. And I think this is the strongest field ever. It's awesome."
DeMatha is 8-0, including a two-point victory over Archbishop Molloy.
Simi Valley comes equipped with All-American Don MacLean, the 6-10 center who cleaned up in the recently concluded Las Vegas Eldorado tournament. He scored 146 points in four games and left with the tournament's most valuable player award.
Shawn DeLaittre, Simi Valley's 6-5 forward, also was named to the all-tournament team. The Pioneers finished second after blowing a 21-point second-half lead and losing the final in overtime to Bishop Gorman, 105-99.
The level of play at the Beach Ball Classic, however, will be considerably higher. Not only does Simi Valley Coach Bob Hawking not mind the competition, he relishes the opportunity.
"The priority is to play good people," he said. "That's why we're there. It's a measuring stick. It's an honor to be invited to a tournament like this. They don't invite a lot of cupcakes."
No, but there is an Eau Claire--the defending tournament champion, from Columbia, S. C. Eau Claire plays Clay County, from Manchester, Ky., in a first-round game Sunday, and Archbishop Molloy plays Nathan Hale, from Tulsa, Okla., in the other. In Monday's other opening-round game, DeMatha plays Socastee, the host school from Myrtle Beach. DeMatha is the only two-time tournament champion, winning in 1984 and '85.
All games are to be played in Socastee High's gymnasium, which has a seating capacity of 3,000. The tournament has been a sellout since August--and for good reason.
The tournament committee selects the participants based on game films, scouting reports and word of mouth. Eddy Oliver, the tournament's executive director, looks for not just how a prospective tournament player handles a basketball, but how that player handles himself.
"I think it would be the easiest thing in the world to invite just the best teams here," Oliver said, "but we pay a lot of attention to class. The quickest way to ruin this tournament would be to bring in a bunch of rebels who'd cause a ruckus."
Although Simi Valley is not ranked nationally, for the past two-plus seasons the Pioneers have demonstrated they belong among the elite.
"We've followed what Bob Hawking has done there, and he's done a great job," Oliver said. "They seem to have the right ingredients for the teams we want to come in here."
Tournament officials have put together a 200-page program for the four-day event--a tribute to the popularity of the event. They have no trouble selling advertisements. Sponsors, who receive four tickets for each day of the tournament, scramble for ad space in the program to ensure a tournament seat.
"This tournament has been a real success with the sponsors," Oliver said. "They know they probably won't get tickets unless they buy an ad."
No one apparently wants to miss a chance of seeing players who have made nearly every college recruiters' list of blue-chippers. Recent tournament alumni include North Carolina's Jeff Lebo, Ranzino Smith and King Rice, Duke's Tommy Amaker and Danny Ferry, and Syracuse's Sherman Douglas and Stevie Thompson.
A list of this year's All-Americans: DeMatha's Jarrod Mustaf (6-10), Derrick Chandler (6-9), Ted Jeffries (6-8) and Pete Reece (6-6); Archbishop Molloy's Rob Werdann (6-11) and Kenny Anderson (6-1); Eau Claire's Joe Rhett (6-8); Clay County's Richie Farmer (6-0); Nathan Hale's Kenneth Roarke (6-9); Hillcrest's Everick Sullivan (6-5) and Hal Henderson (6-1); and MacLean.
In a nontournament game Sunday, Lower Richland, from Hopkins, S. C., plays Georgetown, S. C. Lower Richland is led by Stanley Roberts, a 6-11 senior All-American.