LeBron James emerged in Akron over a decade ago as a basketball phenom.
First, there were youth championships and state titles. Then, there was much more.
His talents have transcended him from an area standout to a worldwide superstar with Olympic gold medals, NBA championships and MVP awards.
Thousands of basketball players from the United States and Canada took to courts in Akron and surrounding communities this weekend in the ninth annual King James Shooting Stars Classic with hopes of one day living out their basketball dreams.
The reality is a majority will peak in either high school or college, and this AAU tournament helps youngsters hone their skills and talent with additional games.
Eighth-grade students Scott Walter, Jordan Jennings and Pete Nance were among the crowd of players. The trio, teammates since third grade, helped the Akron Bobcats post a 2-1 record with victories at Copley Middle School on Friday night and Saturday morning, and a loss at the Twinsburg Recreational Center on Saturday afternoon.
“It is definitely different playing teams from all over because we are used to playing local teams,” Jennings said. “It is a good change for us. I think we have gotten a lot better over the past week with our hustle, and our boxing out defensively for rebounds is improved.”
Jennings and Walter are both Akron residents and students at St. Sebastian Parish School.
“It feels great to play in this uniform,” Walter said. “I am happy that we get to represent Akron and play in this tournament. I like to play against good kids and new competition. It makes me better as a player and it makes us better as a team.”
Nance, a student at Revere Middle School, is the youngest child of Larry and Jaynee Nance. Larry played in the NBA for the Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers. The family’s two oldest children, daughter Casey and son Larry, were standouts at Revere High School. Casey played at the University of Dayton and Larry is playing at Wyoming.
Pete said he enjoys playing with friends from different communities, such as Akron, Wadsworth, Copley and Medina, and playing against players from out of state.
“This was a great experience,” Pete Nance said. “Playing against new people and tough competition, I think was good for us and for our team.”
The King James Shooting Stars Classic featured 533 teams, and players ranged in age from second grade through 11th grade. A total of 45 venues were utilized, and the event allowed high school players the chance to showcase their skills to college coaches.
Archbishop Hoban sophomore Anthony Christian and St. Vincent-St. Mary sophomore Henry Baddley were part of a large contingent of area players who competed in the older ages. Both play on the King James Shooting Stars 16-U team that has players from Akron, Wadsworth, Cleveland, Dayton, Athens, Cincinnati and Lima.
“We are working more as a team,” Christian said. “We played up last year and won the 16-U championship. We had to work very hard to get the win. We are coming together as brothers. We are bonding like brothers.”
Baddley and Christian helped their team win another 16-U title Sunday. The team went 6-0 with four wins at Green High School (one Friday, three Saturday) and two wins Sunday at the Tallmadge Recreation Center.
Christian, an Akron resident, has been playing AAU basketball since third grade. He is receiving interest from Akron, Cleveland State, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Dayton, Cincinnati, Xavier and Virginia Tech.
“It’s a great experience because we get to play against the best of the best from all around the country,” Christian said.
Baddley, a Wadsworth resident who formerly lived in Akron, started playing AAU basketball in eighth grade. He is garnering interest from Virginia Tech, Akron, Cleveland State, Kent State, Dayton and Toledo.
“It helps you play harder, faster and stronger with some of the bigger guys,” Baddley said. “You do what you have to do to rebound against the bigger guys. You have to box out and get physical. I think it carries over to the high school season.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the high school blog at www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.