It’s the tournament that basketball fans from all over the region look forward to every year: The Martin Luther King Basketball Jam at Union High School.
The tournament is sponsored by Four County EMC and is organized by Union’s athletic director, Tim Pope, who is also the varsity boys’ head coach,
Pope started the basketball event four years ago to bring teams together that would never play each other in the regular season, but would make a great match. One of the reasons the tournament has become such a huge success is the fact that Union makes the perfect location, as it is a midway point between the 4A high school teams in Fayetteville and Wilmington.
“This event gives the basketball fans of Sampson County an opportunity to see bigger — 3A and 4A — teams play. Each year we have a wide range of teams that have many college bound players. We’ve had players that are now playing in the ACC, Southern Conference, Big South Conference and many Division II players,” Pope stated.
There are seven match-ups lined up for Monday and the games start at 10 a.m. Admission is $6 and concessions will be sold.
Pope outlined a few of the match-ups. The last game of the basketball jam is the prime time event: Hoke County vs Hoggard. These are two of the top 4A teams in eastern North Carolina, according to the Union coach.
Hoke County High advanced to the 4A regional finals last year and has its entire team back plus a 6 foot 8 inch presence in the center. Hoke is led by Tarique Thompson, who is being recruited heavily by numerous colleges. “He’s a highlight reel waiting to happen, with monster dunks and then stepping out to hit NBA range three pointers,” Pope said.
On the other end of the court, Hoggard is led by 6 foot 7 inch Trevor Singleton and is being recruited by many Division I teams. Hoggard ‘s Joe O’Donnell is a sharp shooter who has already signed a scholarship offer from N.C. State to play baseball next year, according to Pope.
The Dark Horses are pitted against Westover out of Cumberland County. Clinton offers 6 foot 8 inch Thaxter Spruill, who is regarded as one of the top post prospects in the class of 2014.
Westover is a guard oriented team that plays fast paced and recently beat 4A Hoke County. “This matchup with Clinton should be at a pace that will keep the fans on the edge of their seats all game,” Pope offered.
The No. 1 Tri-County team, Wallace-Rose Hill, will go up against Topsail. Pope said this game will be a challenge featuring two different playing styles. Wallace likes to run up and down the court while Topsail tries to keep the game at a slower pace with great outside shooting.
Host team Union will face Goldsboro. The Spartans are an athletic team that’s strong under the basket and Goldsboro is highly ranked in the 1A division.
An addition to the usual all-boys varsity match ups is a girls game. The No. 1 ranked 1A Lakewood Leopards will take on 4A Laney at 10 a.m. “This game will give Lakewood Coach Lofton Kerr an opportunity to have his team tested against an all out full court assault for 32 minutes. Laney presses full court and are athletic. This will help Lakewood prepare for the type of teams they will meet in the state playoffs this year in their run for the championship,” Pope explained.
The other two boys match-ups are Laney vs Jack Britt and New Bern vs. 71st.
Union will be the place to be on Monday for anyone who likes to watch some of the best of the best play high school basketball.