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May 1, 2006NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Most of the talk leading up the first annual King of the South tournament surrounded the highly-touted prospects from Georgia and Florida.
Some already had long lines of scholarship offers and coaches planning to watch their every move. This was supposed to be their tourney.
Not much attention was paid to the local teams.
The Nashville Celtics noticed the lack of pub and it helped to fuel their surprising run to the 17-U title on Sunday afternoon.
"I was kind of upset that we weren't getting that much attention," Celtics point guard Gerald Robinson said. "We have a collection of the best players in Middle Tennessee and we feel like we can play with anybody. We wanted to put ourselves on the map."
The Nashville Celtics didn't lose a game, going 3-0 in pool play on Saturday to earn a first-round bye and then beat the Kentucky Shining Stars (73-54), the Saint Louis Falcons (52-46) and the Midwest Storm (68-56) in the title game. The Celtics beat the Storm in the Real Deal on the Hill in Fayetteville, Ark., two weeks ago.
"We really picked up our defensive pressure and wore them down a little bit," Celtics coach Alex Waddey said. "We knew coming in that they had an advantage when it came to the boards, but were able to neutralize it by forcing turnovers and creating easy buckets."
The backcourt of Robinson (6-0) and Jamie Graham (6-0) - who are both juniors - created much of that defensive pressure. Both are excellent on-the-ball defenders.
Robinson, who scored 19 or more in three games, and Graham also provided plenty of offensive highlights, constantly penetrating into the lane and scoring on a variety of floaters and runners. Robinson is extremely fast with the ball in his hands and he blew past defenders on numerous occasions in the title game.
"Their decision making has gotten so much better as the spring has gone on," Waddey said of his guards. "They are much more intelligent. They can get to the bucket against anybody and finish with the best of them."
College coaches apparently agree. Recruiting interest is starting to pick up for both. Ole Miss and Tennessee have begun to inquiry about Robinson. Colorado recently offered Graham a scholarship along with Appalachian State and Furman.
The Celtics' victory was far from a two-man show. Guards Josh Slater (a Lipscomb commit) and Jeremy Anderson made some big shots and small forwards DeMario Williams, a sophomore who is already drawing interest from Tennessee, and G.W. Boon both provided other consistent scoring threats.
"When we first started out we were a team of superstars, but we have learned to play our roles and that has made us so much better," Robinson said.
Most of the highest-ranked prospects in the event were gone by Sunday morning.
The Saint Louis Falcons Blue team upset the Atlanta Celtics 16-U team, which featured Clemson-commit Pierre Jordan and big-name small forward Chris Singleton, in the second round, 52-46.
The Mid-State Ballerz (Tenn.), which went undefeated in what was considered the toughest pool, were also upset in the second round by a hot-shooting Smyrna (Ga.) Stars squad, 72-62.
The Tallahassee (Fla.) Wildcats went winless in pool play, despite having A.J. Stewart, who is ranked the No. 77 prospect in the class of 2007, and highly-recruited junior Adam Allen. The Wildcats were hurt by the absence of one of their top players, Thomasville (Ga.) High shooting guard LaDarius Hall, who did not make the trip.
Singleton revealed that he is considering four schools: Connecticut, Florida, Georgia Tech and South Carolina.
All those schools have offered scholarships, along with Alabama and Clemson.
Singleton said he will be attending South Carolina's team camp this summer.
Graham doesn't have any favorites yet, but said he is big fan of Louisville coach Rick Pitino and he is hoping to grab his attention this summer.
Mid-State Ballerz small forward Deveyon Hunter from Hamilton High in Memphis also has an offer from Colorado, but is hoping to draw interest from the University of Memphis.
Young prospects emerge
The 15-U division was loaded with some talented freshmen.
Point guard Tavarres Johnson led the Tennessee Tigers to the 15-U title. A flashy point guard from Ensworth High in Nashville, he excels at attacking the basket and can make defenders look foolish.
The South Carolina Celtics featured combo guard Tahj Tate from Easly (S.C.) High and small forward Marlin Butler from Mauldin (S.C.) High. Tate is an excellent ball handler that excels at beating defenders off the dribble. Butler, a left-hander, is an explosive athlete that does lots of damage around the basket, but he also possesses a soft shooting touch and range out to 15 feet. Some mid-major programs have already begun to show interest in both players.
The Smyrna Stars captured the 16-U title.