Can anybody beat the New York Riverside Church Hawks?
That's is the question as the second annual Nike Peach Jam Invitational Tournament begins today at 9 a.m. at Riverview Park. The 24-team tournament is free to the public.
The defending champion Hawks are led by point guard Erick Barkley. The 6-foot, 180-pounder teammed with Duke-signee Elton Brand to lead the Hawks to last year's title. The Hawks defeated every team they played in last year's tourney by at least 18 points.
"Riverside is still very good and they are capable of winning this tournament again," said Ed Meyers, the NIKE Peach Jam tournament director.
Riverside's competition is expected to come from the CMH 76ers, Illinois Warriors, the Boo Williams (Va.) All-Stars, International Select and the Carolina Warriors.
The CMH 76ers will have three of the most explosive players in the tournament in forwards Korleone Young, Corey Meggette and Jaron Rush. All three are ranked among the nation's top five players and are in the 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-7 height range. They would have to be considered the number one threat to Riverside's reign.
The Boo Williams (Va.) All-Stars are led by the tourney's best backcourt in point guard Ronald Curry and shooting guard Jason Capel. Curry, a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder, is the No. 1 point guard prospect and No. 1 football prospect in the Class of 1998.
As a junior at Hampton (Va.) High, Curry led his school to Group AAA state titles in football and basketball and was named the state's Player of the Year in both sports. The last Virginia player to accomplish that feat was former Boo Williams (Va.) player Allen Iverson, who did it in 1992- 1993 at Bethel (Va.) High in Hampton.
Jason Capel is the younger brother of former Duke guard Jeff Capel and the son of Old Dominion coach Jeff Capel, Sr. The 6-foot-7 guard is also a top 10 prospect and may be the best two-guard at the tournament.
This season at perennial power St. John's Prospect Hall in Frederick, Md., he helped his school to a top 10 national ranking and handed Mount Zion Christian Academy out of Durham, N.C. to one of only two losses.
The International Select team has the same great size as last year but it is also a much more athletic bunch this season. Milan Dozet, a 6-foot-7 guard, is one of the Select's best players. He scored 18 points in the Select's 91-68 exhibition win over the Augusta Metros on Saturday.
The Select had 11 different players to score in the exhibition and they hit 11 3-pointers in the game.
North Carolina signee Brendan Haywood, a 7-foot, 255-pound center, leads the Carolina Warriors out of Durham, N.C. Haywood, 17, will be a freshman in Chapel Hill, N.C. next year and as a junior teamed with Clemson's Vincent Whitt to led Greensboro Dudley to the North Carolina Class AAAA state title.
Other top prospects include 6-foot-7 swingman Vincent Yarbrough of the Tennessee Travelers who may announce his college choice today; 6-foot-10 center Rashard Lewis of the Houston Hoops and Damien Wilkins, a 6-foot-6 swingman who is the son of Orlando Magic guard Gerald Wilkins and the nephew of NBA great and current San Antonio Spur Dominique Wilkins.
Two local players, South Aiken's Tony Kitchings and Westside's Ndu Egekeze, will play with the Georgia Stars. Kitchings, a 6-foot-10 center, is South Carolina's No. 1 rising senior while Egekeze is a 6-foot-8 rising junior.
The Augusta Metros are expected to have 6-foot-10 center Donald Little back tonight. Little, who played at Mount Zion Christian Academy as a junior, was attending an individual camp on Saturday and missed the exhibition loss.