Melanie Johnson returned from Pat Summitt's basketball camp at Tennessee, breathlessly excited.
She was picked as one of the top 15 players - out of 300 - at one of the most prestigious girls camps in the country. She and the 14 other selections got to compete against the Lady Volunteers squad. They took a whipping at the hands of one of the top teams in the country, but Johnson took it with a smile - she'll only get better from the experience, she said.
And when she continues her first year of summer basketball at this week's Garden City Roundball Classic, she'll be sure to show her opponents exactly what she learned at camp.
"Summer ball has made a big difference," said Johnson, who averaged 24.2 points, 11 rebounds and 4.4 blocks in leading Barnwell to the South Carolina Class AA state semifinals. "It helps your confidence, and it helps you stay in rhythm all year. If you're just sitting around all summer, when you step back on the court, you're at the same level you were at before. I'm always ready to play."
She'll have to be ready this week, when some of the top club teams in the nation converge on Augusta and North Augusta for the third annual tournament.
Beginning at 7:30 p.m. today at Riverview Park - when Johnson and the GA/LINA Lady 76ers take on Virginia's Boo Williams in an exhibition game - and going through Sunday, the girls tournament will feature 68 teams competing in eight divisions, ranging from 11-and-under to 18-and-under to a 12-team Super Pool.
"The most intriguing thing about the field is that you have roughly eight of the top 15 guards in the country," said Kelvin Powell, the tournament director and the director of the Lady 76ers. "As far as quality, we'd like to get this tournament to the level of the Peach Jam. Our goal is to make it over 100 teams and get it for five to seven days. We want to make it a really big summer event."
The Roundball Classic already has grown exponentially. Three years ago, 32 teams participated. The next summer, six more squads came to town.
But this year, Powell expects 68 teams and about 700 elite players.
"We're looking to compete with these teams," said Powell, whose team lost to Boo Williams in the finals last summer. "It'd be nice to keep that trophy in Augusta."
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.