Top prep tourneys played in Avery Co.



  AVERY COUNTY--Some fans who ventured over Roan Mountain to watch area high school hoops teams play in the High Country Prep Girls Classic (at Lees-McRae in Banner Elk) and Golden Corral Classic (Avery High in Newland) were treated to a surprise upon their arrival.
  Four of the finest boys' teams in the nation had arrived in the high country of North Carolina to participate in a special invitational intermingled with the other tournaments.
  The first annual U.S. Prep Basketball Foundation Classic featured nationally-known powerhouses Laurinburg Institute and Statesville Christian of North Carolina, Canadian juggernaut Eduardo Mont Petit of Monreal, and West Caldwell of Lenoir NC, perhaps one of the strongest public school cage teams in the United States.
  According to various prep polls, Laurinburg is ranked among the nation's top 15 teams, and Statesville Christian was a preseason No. 9 in the country.
  Eduardo Mont Petit is considered one of the five best basketball teams in all of Canada and West Caldwell is, according to tournament director Wayne Otto, "the odds-on favorite to win the North Carolina 2A state championship."
  "We have a four team field that is really strong," stated Otto emphatically. "It is one of the strongest, actually, in the southeast United States and probably in the country."
  "These four teams could play anywhere in America," he continued, noting that Laurinburg Institute had recently returned from a trip to Los Angeles where they defeated West Coast heavyweights Dominguez and Westchester, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time, ahead of even legendary Oak Hill Academy.
  The talent level showcased in the tournament is almost frightening, with young phenoms routinely defying gravity to slam the ball or grab rebounds above the rim as roars of amazement and appreciation rise from the crowds who witness them.
  Big, strong kids display lightning quickness, long-range shooting touches and athleticism more often associated with top colleges rather than the level of play typically found in high school gyms.
  In fact, many of the players present in Avery County this week will soon be taking their acts to the hardwoods of the ACC, SEC and other major college basketball conferences across America in the coming years.
  "Of the 12 teams we have (in both boys' tourneys), we've probably got 20 Division I college prospects," said Otto. "So you're looking at kids who could play at the highest level of college ball, and some who could possibly play in the NBA someday."
  Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting, called Otto's office early in the week for a schedule, indicating an interest in sending a representative to watch Laurinburg's 6-7 junior sensation Kiwan Smith.
  Bob Gibbons, the top college recruiting analyst in the nation, showed up with his notepad to watch the tournament's opening night action.
  "When Bob Gibbons shows up, you know that you've got a good event," remarked Otto with the smile of one who knows he has undertaken a major task and finished a job well done.
  "This is the first year we've done this, so the people up here in the high country don't really know the level of competition we have here," Otto concluded. "So when all the local schools play here, they can go home and talk to people and hopefully they'll come back next year."
  Local teams playing their special brand of Carter County basketball, excellent food from Golden Corral served at concession stands, and the opportunity to watch some of America's finest prep squads battle in first-rate facilities located in the beautiful highlands of North Carolina - it is definitely worth the trip, folks.