Lack of coaches, holiday weekend give LakePoint tourney different feel


One of the handful of dead periods on the Division-I basketball recruiting calendar came to an end Friday, but that didn't mean LakePoint's Champions Center was filled with college basketball's top coaches when Saturday's action tipped off in the adidas Memorial Day Classic.

In fact, the state-of-the-art facility had a much different feel than when most of the top travel programs flock to Bartow County for tournaments throughout the year. Between the coaches being absent during a recruiting quiet period, which only allows for on-campus visits, and the holiday weekend, there wasn't quite the wall-to-wall turnout often associated with the major shoe tournaments.

That being said, those in attendance, which mostly included family members or other teams waiting to play, knew exactly where to find the top talent for the 3 p.m. slate of games.

Whether spectators naturally decided to check out Court 1 first or caught wind of the vicious dunks being thrown down there, by far the biggest crowd watched the Atlanta Celtics face the MS Hawks Elite.

"I like it a lot," Celtics point guard Deivon Smith said of the attention. "Everybody wanted to see us play; everybody liked us. We gave them a show, which is good to do."

While other courts — virtually all of them — featured more competitive games, the Celtics put on a breathtaking performance in an absolute men-against-boys matchup. Of the seven players the Celtics ran out on the floor, each scored at least eight points in a dominant 86-42 win.

On a team brimming with high-major talent, Smith was the orchestrator of the Celtics symphony. Despite checking it at just 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, Smith showcased great defensive instincts, insightful passing ability and out-of-the-gym bounce — skying to block shots on one end and soaring to finish off dunks on the other.

The fourth-ranked player in Georgia and No. 43 in the country in the Class of 2020, Smith is currently uncommitted, but the Celtics currently boast Xavier commit Dwon Odom and Mississippi State commit Bayron Matos, along with some other three-star recruits.

"Everybody got the ball, so everybody was having fun, dunking and running," Smith said. "It was pretty fun, everybody was into it."

Smith, who helped Grayson High to a 29-4 record and a spot in the Class 7A Sweet 16 during his junior season, currently holds 14 offers, according to his bio on 247Sports. His interest in Alabama, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Xavier is listed as "warm," while the other 10 schools draw a "cool" designation.

After helping the Celtics take a commanding 51-17 halftime lead, Smith barely played in the second half. He could be seen checking his phone on the bench after being removed for good, finishing with 13 points in probably fewer than 20 minutes of action. He even changed out of his jersey with 5:30 remaining on the clock, although the game ended with three minutes left due to a mercy rule.

Smith admitted playing without college coaches present does change the way teams play. It also probably changes the way players and coaches treat the individual games. He said the ability to play more carefree can both benefit and hurt a team.

"It's different," Smith said. "I guess there's less pressure for everybody. You can just hoop freely. You don't have to worry about making mistakes. So it's good and bad, at the same time."

Meanwhile, the travel coaches get to view the quiet period environment as a chance to get players to focus on the game and not worry as much about making a good impression. It also allows them to emphasize winning and getting better as a team.

"Yeah, the coaches can't come, but with the limited amount of live period that there is this year, it's still good to get your guys to play against good caliber competition," Chattanooga Elite 2020 coach Mark Thomas said.

Speaking prior to his team's easy 50-29 win over Jax Warriors Red, Thomas said he felt like the event, which runs through Monday, had produced a solid turnout — lack of college coaches or holiday weekend notwithstanding.

With his team needing only to travel roughly 90 minutes to reach LakePoint, Thomas couldn't find a single negative thing to say about the classic, which was the first team-sport activity held in the arena on Memorial Day weekend 2016.

"It's perfect for us," Thomas said. "Great caliber players, great facilities, not too far from home — it's a perfect atmosphere. We're able to get our guys to play against some top competition, and that's what we want."