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Powerade Hardtop Challenge Has New Name But Same Ideas

August 12, 2010 Columns No Comments

ROXBURY, Mass. – The first weekend in August was a busy one in the world of basketball in the Boston area. Two grassroots events, a team camp and an individual camp dotted the landscape. Included in that was the ninth annual Powerade Hardtop Challenge, held at the Reggie Lewis Center and with a change in the name.

For the first eight years, the tournament was known in local circles as the Sprite Tournament, though it was officially called the Sprite Hardtop Challenge. Now it carries the Powerade name but has the same parent company behind it, and the vision behind it hasn’t changed as well.

The event has always been held in August. John Hall, a commercial operations manager at Coca-Cola and the primary person behind the event, said he thought about having it in mid-June, but having it just after July made the most sense. Normally at that time, there’s not as much basketball as at other times of the year, so it wouldn’t easily get buried amidst many other events and it also meant better teams and players could participate.

Hall said he gets sponsorship requests for the event, but almost always turns them down. Aided by Steve Drayton from DYC and Claude Pritchard from ESkillz Academy, he has a way he wants to do this en route to potentially making it a major August event not unlike IS8 in New York and the Sonny Hill Tournament that has been a staple of summer basketball in Philadelphia. In particular, the younger kids are part of his vision for this in getting opportunities they might not get.

“My goal was to make sure kids who don’t play against elite teams get the chance to do it,” Hall said.

There’s also a goal of keeping it in the community. That’s why the event has always been held at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury, and why Hall has delegated a good deal of the event’s operations management to people like Drayton and Pritchard that have numerous connections in the city.

The tournament featured four age divisions: 12-under, 14-under, 16-under and 18-under. Over 30 teams from the northeast region, mostly from New England, competed in the two-day event. Hall has kept it to being a Saturday and Sunday event for logistics simplicity, which allows out-of-town teams to come in on Friday night in most cases and then get time to see some of the city as the games on Saturday end before sunset.

The 12-under championship was won by MABC, as they pulled out a close win over Hartford 300. MABC also took home the 14-under championship in a barn-burner over the Boston Spartans. The 16-under was won by the Boston Tigers, who knocked off Team New York in the final behind the powerful guard tandem of Ramon Gibbons and Wayne Selden, both of whom are coming off a good month of July.

The 18-under championship game had some drama, as the game came right down to the end. Robinson Vilmont first hit a game-tying three-pointer with less than a minute to go, then hit the game-winner as time expired to give the New England Ballas a one-point win over the Brockton All-Stars. Vilmont carried the new program into the 17-under state AAU title game a few months ago, then had a nice run in July that saw his recruitment pick up, so his play here was just a continuation of what he’s done lately.

Next year will be the tenth annual event. Hall and his support staff were happy with the turnout of this one, and that surely has them ready to make next year’s better as it reaches a milestone.

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