Some of the top junior and sophomore high school basketball players in the country will be in Pittsburgh this weekend, playing in a big AAU event.
The Pittsburgh Jam Fest, sponsored by Under Armour and Hoop Group, is tonight through Sunday at a number of schools in the Pittsburgh region. Four-hundred teams will play in the event and North Hills High School and North Hills Middle School (across the street from each other) will serve as the tournament headquarters. Many of the top games in the 17-and-under and 16-and-under divisions will be played at North Hills.
Besides including top players, the event also brings out a couple hundred college coaches, both head coaches and assistants. They will come from big-time programs and from as far away as Florida, Texas and Oregon. At North Hills tonight and tomorrow night, it won't be uncommon to see 100 college coaches in the stands.
The tournament director is Mike Rice, who also is vice president of Hoop Group, a New Jersey-based company that runs tournaments and camps for high school players. Yes, it's that Mike Rice who was a coach at Robert Morris and Rutgers. Rice used to work for Hoop Group before he got into coaching and said he is working for the company again while decides what he wants to do in the future.
"The thing about this year is that this is the only weekend in the spring that is a 'live' recruiting period for college coaches," said Mike Rice, tournament director and vice president of Hoop Group. "I think players will be playing hard to maybe land that scholarship offer, or maybe to enhance their already national reputation."
Going from experience, this Jam Fest brings out all types, and not just players and coaches. There will probably some "interesting" fans. You can see fans with square pieces of linoleum flooring, asking for college coaches to sign the floor. Seriously.
And it won't be unusual to hear a college coach politely complain about the price of refreshments to the boosters that run the concession stand.
And then there is the coaching. Watching and hearing some AAU coaches can be a real treat and let's leave it at that. I won't forget two years ago when an assistant coach for a team that had the Harrison twins (now at the University of Kentucky) was trying to fill out the scorebook with names and numbers. He had to ask players on his own team their names.
But aif you like seeing some top players, the Jam Fest has plenty of them. Yes, the Harrison twins were here two years ago as John Calipari watched. Pitt recruit Mustapha Heron of West Haven, Conn., is playing for New Heights (N.Y.) in this tournament and will play tonight at 6 at North Hills.
We have received word that Josh Jackson, ranked the top sophomore in the country, is not playing the tournament after all. Neither is Diamond Stone, the No. 3-ranked junior.
Eight of the top teams in the event will play in the Under Armour Challenge Friday night at North Hills. Many of the playoff games will be Saturday night and Sunday at North Hills.
Games also are being played at such places as Mt. Lebanon, Pine-Richland and Mars.
There are some Pittsburgh-area teams in the event. One is Team Bounce, which will play at South Fayette tonight at 7:15. Team Bounce has Hempfield's Cason Harrell (Post-Gazette Fabulous 5), Chartiers Valley's Matty McConnell and Jeannette's Julian Batts. Jeannette coach Adrian Batts is the coach.
For a complete schedule, go to www.hoopgroup.com and then go to "team tournaments."