Nate Olson: Tomorrow’s Basketball Stars in Arkansas for Real Deal in the Rock

As Louisville star Peyton Siva helped cut down the net Monday night, Bill Ingram reminisced fondly. It wasn’t that long ago that Siva came to Little Rock as a talented, but unproved member of the Seattle Rotary AAU squad. He played in the Real Deal in the Rock Tournament three straight years. It was there that he began to make a name for himself and eventually became a McDonald’s All-American.

“I’m good friends with his (AAU) coach, and I really tried to get (Siva) to come to Arkansas,” Ingram said. “He’s a great player, and he showed it in our tournament. We were hoping he would get the Most Outstanding Player Award because that would have made it four years in a row a player that played in Real Deal won it.”

Siva is just one of many elite players that played in the prestigious tournament. At one point during the NCAA Championship Game nearly every player on the court for Louisville and Michigan was a Real Deal in the Rock alum. NBA stars Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin all appeared in Arkansas as did countless others. Former Kentucky center Anthony Davis earned Outstanding Player Award honors in 2012 and was the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft.

Fans get another chance Friday night to see basketball’s future stars when the three-day event tips for the ninth year.

“Fans will see first-hand some of the greatest youth basketball talent from around the country,” Ingram said. “They can witness the future NCAA and NBA stars right in their backyard.”

The event began in Fayetteville but shifted to Little Rock and is consistently ranked as one of the top tournaments in the country. Ingram works tirelessly with a gang of volunteers to ensure the tournament runs smoothly.

“The first thing that makes Real Deal in the Rock so special is that it is held in the great state of Arkansas.  Coupled with that, Real Deal provides breakfast, lunch, and dinner to all participants, and the final ingredient to the special feel of Real Deal are our volunteers,” Ingram said.

Coaches across the country circle the date early. The popularity of the event has translated to a big boost economically for the Little Rock metro area. Ingram said the tournament pumps more than three million dollars into the economy. That has helped Ingram gain full support from the Little Rock city and tourism officials to enhance the event each year.

It’s great exposure for the city of Little Rock and the state of Arkansas.  It also, has an enormous impact on the economies of Little Rock, North Little Rock, and surrounding areas,” Ingram said.

Fans that turn out this weekend will get an up close look at Top 5 talent and players that Arkansas is courting. Chicago Mac Fire center Jahlil Okafor (6-10) is the consensus No. 1 player in the 2014 class. Okafor’s family is from Arkansas and his strong ties have the Hogs high on his list. The Fire also include point guard Jalen Brunson, who as an offer from Illinois among others, and Josh Cunningham, a 6-foot-8 forward from the 2015 class, who already has offers from Nebraska and Oklahoma.

The Fire play Ingram’s Arkansas Hawks team in the showcase game Friday night at the PARK facility.

In addition to Okafor, the Hogs staff will be watching several other players intently, including New Orleans Elite forward Craig Victor. The 6-foot-8 New Orleans native is the No. 1 player in Louisiana and has offers from Alabama, Baylor, Georgetown, LSU, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, Tulane and UCLA. Belmont Shore (Los Angeles) guard Chris Sandifer’s stock is rising. He has offers from Loyola Marymount and Colorado but could have more after this weekend.

Dallas Mustangs guard Admon Gilder is one of the top players from the 2015 Class in Texas and in the Hogs’ crosshairs. One of the other top sophomores is North Little Rock’s KeVaughn Allen. He helped the Charging Wildcats to the 7A State Title and suits up for the Arkansas Hawks and Arkansas Soldierz this weekend. Ingram predicts Allen will become nationally known after the multitude of media and coaches see him compete against the best.

Other highly ranked national players to watch are Derek Rose All-Stars 7-1 center Cliff Alexander, who is the No. 8 prospect in 2014 according to ESPN and a Kentucky commit, as well as Sports U’s (NY) Karl Towns. ESPN ranks Towns (6-10) as the No. 5 2014 prospect, and the Metuchen, N.J. native is also committed to UK.

Ingram has plenty of talent on his Hawks squad to go with Allen. Forrest City junior Trey Thompson has attracted recruiting attention since he became the first Mustangs player in school history to start as a freshman. The 6-10 Thompson has offers from Arkansas and others. Jonesboro’s Kahron Ross is also receiving interest from the Hogs. NLR senior Thomas Alexander is also playing for the Hawks hoping to find a college home in the fall. Alexander played well for NLR during its title run. Ingram said Alexander, a 6-4 forward could enroll in a prep school or junior college.

Most of the 17U games are played at PARK. Fans can hang out at Keith Jackson’s facility for at-risk kids for the three days and see the players mentioned. For a full schedule and listing of sites go Admission is $10 for Friday, $15 for Saturday and $10 for Sunday.

It’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to see players that, like Siva, will become household names in the NCAA Tournament and NBA.

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