Typically in the course of a high school basketball season, teams play in nonconference tournaments or round-robins around Christmas time. But SJG Greater NC Sports, which operates the NC ProAm in the summer, has built its high school and prep showcase around the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
This year, the MLK Classic featured 16 teams and games on Saturday and Monday at the Durham School of the Arts gymnasium.
“The definition of our organization is grassroots mentoring,” said Donyell Bryant, President of SJG Greater NC Sports and Chairman of the MLK Classic. “We have the NC ProAm in the summer time and we have all these different players play. What we wanted to do was bring some of these local prep schools and show the community that these are the schools in the area and for them to come out and support the kids. That’s what it’s all about. We wanted to give them a little exposure.”
In addition to having high school teams play, the classic also includes a couple of club programs like Bull City Prep and Score Academy Chapel Hill – teams featuring an amalgam of post-grad prep players from the Triangle as well as several players from Africa, Europe and South America.
Bryant said that the Classic used to have division specifically for club teams but the number of private programs has decreased from year to year, and now the Classic only has one or two games between prep clubs.
This year's MLK classic included: NCHSAA boys teams (event host Durham School of Arts, High Point Central, Northern, Panther Creek and Riverside); NCHSAA girls teams (Riverside, Kinston); NCISAA private schools (Cape Fear Christian Academy, Kinston's Arendell Parrott Academy, North Raleigh Christian); and unaffiliated private programs (Bull City, Chapel Hill Score, Faith Assembly Christian of Durham and Winston-Salem Quality Education).
On Saturday, Score Academy and Bull City Prep squared off in the second game of the event and needed two overtime periods to decide a winner. When the final horn sounded, Bull City had a 112-108 victory and Score Academy had just three eligible players left on the court.
While the end of the regulation and each of the overtime periods were tightly contested, the opening portion was not. Bull City jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead behind a couple of impressive alley oop passes from point guard Jamal Smith to Jaymeel Watts and Kyrece Mills, respectively.
Bull City rode that momentum throughout the first half and held onto a 47-39 lead at the halftime break. In the third quarter, Score Academy “woke up” according to head coach Tony Taylor and outscored Bull City 32-18 to take its first lead of the game. Score Academy’s Deangelo Jackson was the catalyst all game long for his team. His aggressive play and nose for the basket provided his team with 35 points, 20 of them in the first half.
“He played with a lot of heart,” Taylor said of Jackson. “He stepped up when our guys were kind of slacking and he picked up the slack. He’s a good basketball player for us and he’s been that way all year long. He’s just being DeAngelo Jackson, playing hard and getting the job done.”
Bull City took the lead back in the fourth quarter thanks to consistent free throw shooting from Watts and Smith. Smith, a player his coaches described as a ”top-level kid” finished the night just one assist shy of a double-double as he had 20 points and 9 assists.
Though Bull City held a lead for most of the final minutes of regulation they couldn’t pull away and Score Academy made them pay for that. With six seconds left in the fourth quarter, Score Academy’s Mike Smith hit a three to tie the score and Bull City failed to get a shot off before the buzzer.
In the first overtime, Bull City again held on to a three-point lead in the final seconds and again Score Academy drained a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded. This time it appeared that the clock had expired before the shot was released but after a meeting between the referees the shot was counted and on the teams went to double-overtime.
Foul trouble caught up with Score Academy in the second overtime and in the final seconds they had just three players on the floor, Bull City took advantage and sealed the win.
“It was a good game,” Taylor said. “The guys played hard – two overtimes – my whole starting five fouled out and we had a jersey issue with blood on a jersey and that eliminated my whole team basically with three players on the floor at the end of the game. But not to make any excuses both teams played hard and played well.”