Friday, May 23, 2014

GymRat AAU Event on Tap, Draws Top Hoop Talent

If you attended the GymRat Challenge AAU basketball tournament in 1999, it's inaugural appearance, you saw the formative days of Emeka Okafor, who would wind up winning a national championship at UConn and, then, become the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NBA draft.

Okafor credits his strong play in that year's GymRat as self-proof that he could play against anyone. The event has a well-earned reputation as the place where the sport's stars first shine, and Okafor is proof of that.

If you came out in 2004 or 2005 you got to see the player who led the country in scoring in the 2010-11 college basketball season, current NBA guard Jimmer Fredette.

If you came out to watch in in 2006 or 2008, you first saw the drive that propelled two players to become national rebound leaders. Kenneth Faried played in the GymRat in 2006, led the country in rebounding in the 2010-11 season and, now, just completed his third NBA season. Former Siena standout O.D. Anosike, who played in the GymRat in 2008, led the country in rebounding twice.

The latest success story out of the event is UConn guard Shabazz Napier, this year's MVP of the NCAA Tournament after leading the Huskies to a national title. Napier played in the GymRat in 2009.

That year he played at two different age levels. At one point he became so dehydrated that he was treated intravenously to get his fluid levels increased. He then literally jumped off a trainers' table to get back to the court for another game.

Napier knew the AAU circuit is a place, more so than high school competition, to build and polish reputations.

The GymRat is a tournament that attracts the best of the best and if basketball players can be successful there ... well, they can be successful just about anywhere.

The event has produced over two dozen current or former NBA players, close to 500 eventual Division I players and thousands who have played some level of college basketball.

And, the MAAC has been well represented. The past two MAAC scoring champions, Momo Jones and George Beamon, are GymRat alums, as is Anthony Nelson who, three years ago, was the national steals leader.

Billy Baron of Canisius, this past season's MAAC Player of the Year played in the GymRat. So did Sean Armand of Iona, one of the MAAC's all-time great long-range shooters.

Current Siena player Rob Poole was part of a team that won the GymRat's top-division championship four years ago, and Poole was named the event's MVG (Most Valuable GymRat) for his performance that year.

And, so it goes ... truly an impressive list of players have come through the GymRat tournament, players like current NBA standouts Stephen Curry, Joakim Noah and Michael Beasley.

The 15th annual GymRat Challenge tournament takes place this weekend, Saturday and Sunday at various venues throughout the Capital region of upstate New York. Close to 3,600 players from 328 teams in age levels from 12-under through 17-unde will participate.

The event is the third-largest of its kind in North America, and the largest on the east coast.

Surely, there is no better place to be this coming weekend if you're a basketball fan ... a real "gym rat," so to speak.

There are usually several dozen high-major college prospects here annually, and this year looks no different. More than 60 percent of the event's participants over the years have gone on to play some level of college basketball.

The tournament will be played from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Saturday and, then, on Sunday from 8 a.m. until Sunday evening. Championships will be determined at age brackets of 12-under, 13-under, 14-under, 15-under, 16-under and 17-under.

Admission is $10 per day, and $15 for both days and entitles fans to view any game at any venue. Very reasonably priced concessions are also available, as is a tournament program with full rosters.

Your blogger is part of a team of talent evaluators who watch the games and, then, select post-tournament all-star teams. The selections, as well as details about the event, will be posted on the tournament's website ( That site attracts more than 1.2 million hits annually.

The site also includes the full list of game schedules on line right now. For local fans, there are more than 20 Capital Region teams participating with more than 200 players from various local school districts. In all, 13 states and two Canada provinces will also send teams to the GymRat.

Yes, indeed, it is a basketball junkie's paradise.

Upon the event's conclusion, this blog will feature a post-tournament rundown, primarily about players who are being scouted and recruited by MAAC teams.

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