Local basketball fans were entertained by some of the top AAU basketball teams in Georgia in three age groups — 13-under, 15-under and 17-under. Teams participating in the tourney included the Atlanta Celtics, Georgia Champions, Southwest Blue Devils, Atlanta Select (White), Metro Atlanta Vipers, Georgia Big Dawgs, F.O.E., Georgia Chargers, G-Force, Georgia Hawks and of course, the Griffin Grasshoppers.
The tournament began Friday night, with the main event being a showdown between the 17-under Griffin Grasshoppers and another local AAU team, F.O.E. (Family Over Everything), which featured several players who were members of the Spalding High Jaguars basketball team this past season. This was the first meeting of the two local teams and both were playing for bragging rights. The teams traded baskets early in the first half and after a timeout by Richards, the Grasshoppers increased their intensity, played aggressively on defense and took a 31-16 lead into halftime.
F.O.E. didn’t give up, however. F.O.E. came out shooting 3-pointers at the start of the second half, embarking on a 10-0 run to force a Grasshoppers time out. Both teams continued trading baskets, but the Grasshoppers made some key free throws in the waning seconds of the game to defeat F.O.E. by the score of 50-47.
The games continued all day on Saturday and the semi-finals began on Sunday. When the final buzzer sounded Sunday afternoon, three different teams (one from each age group) were crowned champions.
In the 13-under division, the Atlanta Celtics defeated the Metro Atlanta Vipers (Orange) in a thriller, 32-31. In the 15-under division, the Georgia Hawks defeated the 15-under Griffin Grasshoppers 56-50 for the championship. Although the Grasshoppers lost in the championship game, coach Richards’ son Zalan, a freshman at Jonesboro High, had an outstanding game with 31 points, 17 rebounds and two blocked shots. All of this came after he had commited his forth foul mid-way in the first half.
“It was great to see him perform like that,” said coach Richards of his son, who's 6-4 and 190 pounds. “Zalan’s beginning to get a little swagger in his game and that is a good thing. I was mostly impressed that he played with four fouls the entire second half and did't foul out.”
In the 17-under bracket, the Southwest Blue Devils met the Griffin Grasshoppers for a rematch of an earlier tournament game, which the Grasshoppers won 84-74. During the 17-under championship game, both teams came out shooting long treys and making monster dunks to ignite the crowd but in the end, the Southwest Blue Devils got their revenge and defeated the Grasshoppers 65-57.
The Memorial Day weekend event was a special occasion for all veterans. There was a moment of silence before tipoff to remember those fallen and wounded military personnel. Coach Richards, a 24 years United States Marine Corps veteran, stated that this was his way of giving back to the community and helping others understand the true meaning of Memorial Day.
“I would like to make this tournament an annual Memorial Day event because it stands for a powerful purpose,” he said. “I also want to thank Griffin High head basketball coach Prelvis Paster and the school administrators for letting us have this tournament at The House. It was an honor.”