Vince Overholt talks Lighthouse Tuesday with Corinth Kiwanis. (brandonspeck)
If people stood stomach-to-back at the entrance of New Albany’s Memorial Gym to see previous Hotbed Classics, they should be climbing the roof or Spiderman-ing the walls of the Corinth gym to get a sneak peak of the second annual Lighthouse Thanksgiving Classic.
The Nov. 28-29 tournament has rocketed to one of the nation’s top prep hoop events, this year’s the biggest tournament in Mississippi, maybe Southeast history.
Organizers Vince Overholt and Gary Caveness again went after great players, then great teams. The sum is a mixture of both.
“I don’t know which is better, Velma Jackson or Callaway, but I’ll tell ya, both are really good and both have marquee players,” Overholt said.
Those are likely the two best teams in Mississippi – and that’s just Mississippi.
There are champions, including six-time defending Georgia champ Miller Grove (5A), scheduled for a Saturday finale showdown with three-time MHSAA 5A champ Callaway and Malik Newman.
Newman is ranked the third best player in America by ESPN, second by others, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound 5-star prospect. He’s the top shooting guard in the country. In six years, Miller Grove has gone 170-27. Junior point guard Alterique Gilbert is ranked Georgia’s second-best prospect by ESPN for the 2016 class and No. 81 junior in the country.
There is local flare, this year all four Alcorn schools playing. Kossuth and Baldwyn both face Mt. Pleasant (Tenn.). Baldwyn has been to four of the last five Class 2A title games. Corinth has been to three of the last four in 4A and is playing two prime games against Bolton (Tenn.) and Lausanne Collegiate (Tenn.). Tupelo and Antonio Green faces Provine and Jerekius Davis.
Lee (Huntsville, Ala.) has a trio of Division I prospects and faces Louisiana’s Madison Prep and ESPN’s No. 38 prospect for 2015, SG Brandon Sampson (6-foot-4, 175).
That just scratches the surface of the 14-game schedule. When Sampson and Newman face off at 8 p.m. Friday, the country’s two best unsigned guards will try and get the best of each other.
“I want people to be able to say … people many not remember the team, but they’ll remember the player when they’re in college or maybe the NBA,” Overholt said. “In five years, I want people saying, ‘I saw Newman play in Corinth.’”
Attendees of last year’s inaugural Classic will have the chance to say that, with White Station’s Leron Black at Illinois and Chris Chiozza at Florida and Moss Point’s Devin Booker already making noise at Kentucky.
Newman’s offers include Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State, North Carolina State and Ole Miss. Velma shooting guard Quinndary Weatherspoon (6-foot-5, 170) is Mississippi’s second-ranked player, a Mississippi State commit.
“I can’t imagine what it will be like when this all comes about,” Caveness said, “knowing Newman is not committing until at least December and him in that first matchup Friday and Miller Grove Saturday. I can’t imagine what the hype is going to be. Every college on his top five will be there if they’re not playing.”
On Friday, Velma is playing Tennessee’s Haywood County, a team featuring Jordon Varnado, brother of former Mississippi swatter Jarvis. Velma has won back-to-back 3A titles and Haywood went 27-2 last season. On Saturday, Velma plays Southwind, featuring 3-star shooting guard Donte Fitzpatrick, who committed to Ole Miss Tuesday.
Three of Memphis’ best are on the docket: Southwind, Bolton and Lausanne. Bolton boasts 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher, according to 247Sports the No. 10 junior in the country. Lausanne has Isaac Stokes. The brother of Grizzlies rookie Jarnell is rated by 247 as the country’s No. 3 strong-side defensive end. On the court, he’s Tennessee’s top-rated sophomore and by ESPN the country’s No. 14 sophomore prospect.
Lausanne may also then have Skal Labissiere, a 6-foot-10, 5-star center in the process of transferring from ECS. If Labissiere is approved by the TSSAA, then two of the top four players in the country according to Future150 will be in one gym.
The 2013 crowds were solid, more than 5,500 fans making it the biggest basketball event ever in Northeast Mississippi, but so were the coaches.
“Our best selling thing from year one was the coaches who came in,” Caveness said. “They’re well-known in the nation and especially the Southeast. Apparently we did something right. They really sold this event to other coaches. They’re calling us now.”
Overholt added: “Nothing but positive, of the ones we did not invite back, we had almost all of them calling me saying ‘Can we come back?’ They spread the word to other coaches. Coaches have called out of the blue. They’ve been told, ‘If you only get in two of these deals, this has got to be one of them.’”
THE REAL REASON
“Ultimately it’s all about the Lighthouse Foundation,” said Overholt, Lighthouse president.
Overholt said for the first time in four years, the Christian nonprofit foundation didn’t have to solicit funds with a begging letter. The Classic was the missing revenue the foundation needed, plus a basketball tournament Mississippi needed.
“It’s probably been faster growth than we thought it would be,” Lighthouse executive director Caveness said. “We really thought we could get a lot of great talent here, but I don’t know if we imagined what happened. We really did think there was a niche.”
Lighthouse will go against the Egg Bowl. That game time is yet to be announced. But the 8 p.m. game is announced and there won’t be a better one in America – maybe all year – when Miller Grove and Callaway go at it.
Crowds should be bigger this year, despite the Egg Bowl. Overholt said some may have been hesitant last season, unsure about the new event or maybe unsure about cramming into Corinth’s gym, but it took only one Classic to prove its worth.
Caveness says the key to the tournament’s success is to get a year ahead. That’s where they are now, already planning a bigger 2015, while this one should be a Top 10 national event for the hoops season.
“Once, we had to convince coaches it was a top-notch tournament. Now, they’re begging to come,” Caveness said.
And it’s only year two.
It started as a dream idea to raise money for Lighthouse’s numerous youth programs. Now it’s taken on national legs, given by two AAU guys with a heart for the foundation and a heart for the game.
“I didn’t think I’d ever meet anyone who loved basketball more than me, but he does,” Caveness said. “For him, this is just a dream.”
Future 150 Rank
Class of 2015
No. 2 Malik Newman (6’3, 180), 5-star SG, Callaway – Uncommitted
Offers include: Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State, North Carolina State, Ole Miss
No. 41 Brandon Sampson (6’4, 185), 4-star SG, Madison Prep – Uncommitted
Offers include: California, LSU, Oklahoma State, St. John’s, Texas A&M, UCLA
No. 99 Quinndary Weatherspoon (6’4, 175), 4-star SG, Velma Jackson – Mississippi State commit
Offers include: Mississippi State, Middle Tennessee State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Wake Forest
No. 117 Donte Fitzpatrick (6’5, 180), 3-star SG, Southwind, Ole Miss commit
Offers include: Ole Miss, Alabama, Tennessee
No. 135 Jordon Varnado (6’6, 200) 3-star SF, Haywood County (Tenn.) – Uncommitted
Offers include: Western Kentucky
Class of 2016
No. 21 Jaylen Fisher (6’2, 170), 5-star PG, Bolton – Uncommitted
Offers include: Arkansas, Baylor, Connecticut, Florida, Memphis, Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Southern Cal
Class of 2017
No. 25 Isaiah Stokes (6’6, 220), 4-star PF, Lausannae Collegiate – Uncommitted
Kendall Stafford (6’3, 190), G/F Corinth, Class of 2015
Antonio Green (6’2, 165), SG, Tupelo, Class of 2015
Conner McKay (5’11, 155), PG, Baldwyn, Class of 2016
Felix Hayes,(6’1, 170), SG, Baldwyn, Class of 2017
11 a.m. Alcorn Central vs. Middleton (Tenn.)
12:30 p.m. Kossuth vs. Mt. Pleasant (Tenn.)
2 Marshall Academy vs. Shannon
3:30 Haywood (Tenn.) vs. Velma Jackson
5 Bolton (Tenn.) vs. Corinth
6:30 Lee (Huntsville, Ala.) vs. Provine
8 Callaway vs. Madison Prep (La.)
11 a.m. Adamsville (Tenn.) vs. Biggersville
12:30 p.m. Baldwyn vs. Mt. Pleasant (Tenn.)
2 Provine vs. Tupelo
3:30 Lee (Huntsville, Ala.) vs. Madison Prep (La.)
5 Southwind (Tenn.) vs. Velma Jackson
6:30 Corinth vs. Lausanne Collegiate (Tenn.)
8 Callaway vs. Miller Grove (Ga.)