Tipoff Classic a must-see event

When I was in high school and college, I remember making a weekend voyage every June out of the Boston Shootout, a showcase tournament featuring some of the best high school basketball players around the country.

In the seven years I attended (1989-95), I remember seeing such future NBA talent as Grant Hill, Paul Pierce, Juwan Howard and Joe Smith — and Curtis Bostic, who never became a star at Cincinnati but remains one of the most freakishly physical specimens I’ve ever seen in person.

Three days, four games each, plus 3-point and slam dunk prelims and finals. It was a basketball fan’s heaven, capped off by a full Sunday slate at the old Boston Garden.

(Fun fact: The last basketball game ever played in that building was the Shootout championship game between Boston and Los Angeles in 1995, featuring Pierce wearing Laker purple. Few could have guessed then that he’d become a Celtic legend.)

Anyway, the reason I bring all of this up is that Southport High School has found a way to channel similar magic — only instead of meaningless summer all-star games, these high school games actually count.

The annual Forum Tipoff Classic, which took place Saturday in the Cardinals’ 7,500-seat gym (still my favorite in Indiana so far, though I still have quite a few left to see), featured a loaded six-game slate that included several top teams and players from Indiana and beyond.

By the time the main event (New Albany and presumptive 2018 Mr. Basketball Romeo Langford against Fort Wayne North and its junior star Keion Brooks) started a little after 9 p.m., the place was standing-room only. But it was rocking well before that.

There were probably at least five or six thousand on hand for Center Grove’s matinee against Hamilton Southeastern (see page B3), the first of two overtime games on the day, and the media horde was thick. Trojan junior Trayce Jackson-Davis faced roughly a dozen reporters after his impressive 33-point performance, most of them from recruiting websites eager to get some fresh hints about where the 6-foot-9 star might be headed in 2019.

A bevy of college coaches were there, too, hoping to see (and be seen by) the likes of Langford, Brooks and Jackson-Davis.

Southport shuttled more and more food into its expansive hospitality room throughout the day, but it couldn’t keep up with the onslaught of hungry media members, college coaches and various hangers-on out to snatch a sandwich or a burrito between games.

But if you were there to feast on basketball, you couldn’t have drawn the day up much better. Three of Indiana University’s four 2018 recruits were playing (McCutcheon’s Robert Phinisee, South Bend Riley’s Damezi Anderson and Jerome Hunter of Pickerington North in Ohio), and the Hoosier fans who came to see those three stuck around long enough to try wooing Langford — who scored 42 in a surprising blowout — with chants of I-U! I-U! I-U!

It really is a fantastic basketball environment, one that I can only compare to those Boston Shootout trips because of the massive quantities of high-quality ball and the fact that Southport’s gym reminds me at least a little of the old Walter Brown Arena at Boston University.

I went last year to catch an in-person glance of Langford, and I went back to watch the Trojans this past weekend. Chances are I’ll find some excuse to catch at least part of this all-day bonanza every year for as long as Southport keeps putting it together. You should too.

Never know when you might get another chance to check out a legend in the making.

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.