It’s not as good as it used to be, but that’s a good thing. Slam Dunk to the Beach is no longer the three-ring circus it was in the early years, and there won’t be as many nationally-ranked teams or future NBA stars running up and down the court at Cape Henlopen High this year.
But there will still be plenty of them and more than enough to satisfy even the most hard-core hoops junkie. And the most important thing is that this holiday basketball tournament is back and thriving.
This year’s tournament, which runs from Dec. 27-29, will feature five of the top 25 boys high school teams in the country, and for a little ‘ol state like Delaware, which has never had a real basketball superstar except for Elena Delle Donne, that’s pretty impressive. It doesn’t matter that only one of those teams is in the Top 10 (No. 10 Patrick School of Elizabeth, N.J.). It’s still great basketball, and it’s all under one roof.
The tournament field also includes four teams from Delaware, and what a great opportunity it is for those kids to go against big-time competition from other states. Those teams – Smyrna, Cape Henlopen, Mount Pleasant and Sanford — may not win many games, but the experiences they’ll have will be priceless.
The credit for this goes to the Delaware Sports Commission, which revived the tournament two years ago after a five-year hiatus.
You probably know the controversial history of Slam Dunk. It was started in 1990 by Bobby Jacobs and quickly became one of the top tournaments in the country, drawing hundreds of blue-chip players – including LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard – and thousands of enthusiastic fans who traveled to Lewes in December long after the summer beach crowd has packed up and gone home.
But then local officials began to hear reports that Jacobs wasn’t paying the merchants and businesses with which he had contracts and that he was using Slam Dunk money for personal use. Jacobs eventually pleaded no contest to a felony count of misappropriation of property and was sentenced to two years in prison.
Anyhow, everyone figured that Slam Dunk went to the slammer with Jacobs and would become just a pleasant memory that somehow became a nightmare. But in 2008 a group of political, business and athletic leaders got together to form the Delaware Sports Commission in order to promote sports in Delaware and, of course, to reap money from the events they sponsor and promote. And from that Slam Dunk to the Beach was reborn, and in the last two years the tournament brought 20,000 visitors to Delaware and pumped more than $2 million into the local economy.
Other nationally-ranked teams in this year’s tournament are No. 11 Westtown (Pa.), No. 16 Gray Collegiate of Columbia, S.C., No. 17 St. Benedict’s Prep of Newark, N.J., and No. 25 Neumann-Gorretti of Philadelphia. The new Slam Dunk doesn’t attract teams from all over the country like the old one did, and that was an intentional decision by the Delaware Sports Commission to make sure that this tournament doesn’t get too big for its britches like it did under Jacobs. So, all the teams are located just a couple of hundred miles away in the Mid-Atlantic region, with the exception of Sagemont High of Weston, Fla., and St. Michael’s of Toronto, Ontario.
The blue-chip players this year include Mohamed Bamba of Westtown, a 6-foot-10 center who is ranked by ESPN as the fourth-best high school player in America. Westtown also has 6-7 Cameron Reddish, who is ranked nationally as the top small forward in the junior class. That makes Westtown the only school in the nation with two players ranked in the top five in their respective classes.
“Slam Dunk is one of the best events Westtown plays in all year,’’ Westtown coach Seth Berger said. “The gym is beautiful, it’s run like a professional event and the competition is great. We are really thankful to be invited.”
Even though bringing in money for the local economy is part of Slam Dunk to the Beach, those once-in-a-lifetime experiences are what this tournament is supposed to be about and finally is.
For the complete schedule and ticket information go to www.slamdunktothebeach.com.