For basketball junkies in Nebraska, this is the big one.
Many of the best players from high school on down will be at the River City Hoops Summer Tip Off tournament starting Friday in Omaha.
“It’s essentially a Nebraska state tournament for AAU teams before we hit the road,” tournament director Bob Franzese said. “It’s fun to compete and have bragging rights.”
The tournament serves as a warmup for the state’s top AAU teams that will be traveling to live evaluation period events — where college coaches can be present — that begin the following weekend.
Franzese said it’s the first time in a long time — maybe ever — that the Nebraska Bison, Team Nebraska Express, Nebraska Select and OSA Crusaders programs have all played in the same local event. The tournament was held at UNO until moving to the Omaha Sports Academy five years ago. After 80 teams competed last summer, this year’s event has attracted 105.
Competition will be held for girls and boys teams from fourth grade through high school. All high school games will be played at OSA with the younger teams playing at various sites.
It will be the first competition since April for the Nebraska Bison Red 17-and-under team, which went 5-0 at the Jayhawk Classic to kick off its season.
Coach Brad Feeken said he hopes this weekend will be a step in the right direction as his team gears up for the Mullen’s High Profile tournament in St. Charles, Mo., followed by the Best of Summer event in Anaheim, Calif., and the Adidas Super 64 in Las Vegas.
He’s liked what he’s seen so far from the Bison, who he said have done a good job of sharing the ball and playing hard.
“It’s a good opportunity to shake the rust off a little bit and get back to competing together,” Feeken said. “It’s fun to play the local teams.”
Feeken, who coaches Gretna, expects to see a lot of top talent during the three-day tournament, which ends Sunday with semifinals and finals.
Though the likes of Team Nebraska Express’ Akoy Agau, one of the best players in the state last year, have moved on, there are plenty of others moving up on this year’s U-17 teams.
The U-17 Bison will be led by Mitch Hahn of Fremont and Tyler Hagedorn of Norfolk, both of whom have been attracting some Division I interest. Khyri Thomas of Omaha Benson and Matt Thomas of Elkhorn South are among OSA’s best at that age group.
Nebraska Select’s Adam Moon has been getting a lot of calls from Summit League coaches. Coach Monte Ritchie said the 6-foot-8 post player from O’Neill St. Mary’s is one of the top players in the state, regardless of class.
The U-17 Team Nebraska Express will not be competing because the Omaha Central players on the squad are participating in a team camp. Other Team Nebraska Express squads in younger age groups, however, are participating.
The tournament will highlight the top high school players in each class in Friday night showcase games at 6:25 and 7:30.
The U-17 Bison play Lincoln Supreme at 6:25 p.m. and the Omaha Crusaders meet Nebraska Select at 7:30 p.m. At 6:25 in the under-16 division, Nebraska Bison White plays OSA. The Team Nebraska Express 15s meet Nebraska Bison at the same time. At 7:30, OSA Crusaders 15s take on Nebraska Select. The other game is Nebraska Select 16s vs. Team Nebraska Express.
One of Iowa’s top organizations, All-Iowa Attack, which helped produce players such as Doug McDermott of Creighton and Harrison Barnes of the Golden State Warriors, also has teams in the field. Its under-17 team, however, had other commitments.
Franzene said the tournament gives everyone some great competition before they scatter to tournaments across the country.
“I think everyone is really excited. There is a lot of buzz about it,” Franzese said. “We hope a lot of fans will come out on Friday and watch the best players in Nebraska play.”