TD Sports eyes national title

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 29, 2003

MURFREESBORO – Walt Disney World in Florida is hailed as one of the top vacation spots in the world. But did you know it’s also one of the top basketball meccas in the United States?

That latter fact will be extremely evident starting later this week when 170, age 14-and-under basketball teams from all over the world will gather in a battle to see who will cut down the nets on Aug. 7 as champions of the National AAU Tournament.

Among those hopefuls is a team from the Roanoke-Chowan area. Coach Chris Towell has assembled the best players the local area has to offer and he likes what he sees in his young troops.

&uot;What we lack in experience at playing at the national level we can make-up for with heart and desire,&uot; said Towell, a former Chowan College baseball standout who now coaches basketball, as well as baseball, at Hertford County Middle School. &uot;I really believe we’ve got just as good of a shot of winning this thing as everybody else does. We’ve just got to go down there and play to our strengths. If we’ll just do that, then the wins will come our way.&uot;

Sponsored by TD Sports of Rich Square, this team of local players will open action in the national event on Friday vs. a team from Cleveland, Ohio. They’ll meet a squad representing Puerto Rico on Saturday and will play again on Sunday against Albany, N.Y.

The top two clubs from this four-team pool will advance into next week’s National Bracket, a double-elimination round that will eventually determine the national champion. The bottom two clubs will go over to the Classic Bracket, a single-elimination event.

&uot;We’ve set a goal of finishing in the top two in our pool, meaning we’ll be among the top 85 teams in the nation&uot; revealed Towell. &uot;From there we’ll just take it one game at the time.&uot;

TD Sports is comprised of 12 players. Macques Daye and Jeff Long are both rising freshmen at Northampton-East. Kenneth Bazemore is preparing for his freshmen year at Bertie High School while Desmond Williams and Brandon Brown both have their eighth-grade year awaiting them at Southwestern Bertie Middle School.

Verkeneo Mann is a rising seventh-grader at Hertford County Middle School and will be joined on that school’s basketball team later this year by local AAU standouts Lamar Monger and Marcus Burnell, both rising eighth-graders. The remainder of the club – Antonio Branch, Danny Dembry, La’Marcius Jenkins and Tydreke Powell – are all rising freshmen at Hertford County High School.

&uot;Even by age 14-and-under standards, we’re a very young team,&uot; stressed coach Towell. &uot;We’ve got one rising seventh-grader, four players going into the eighth grade and seven rising high school freshmen.&uot;

Towell continued, &uot;We’re probably a nobody in the eyes of the other teams in this tournament, but that’s okay with us. The less they know about us, the better off we are. That gives us the element of surprise.&uot;

Another surprise in the corner of TD Sports is where this team actually calls home.

&uot;On the National Tournament program, it states we’re from Murfreesboro, North Carolina,&uot; said Towell. &uot;But I’m already hearing that everybody is thinking we’re from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. That’s okay; they’ll find out that these North Carolina guys can play some basketball.&uot;

Whatever their outcome is at this event, Towell said the exposure his players will receive at this high level of competition far outweighs what the scoreboard reads.

&uot;I hope we don’t get shell-shocked playing our very first game in that 5,000-seat arena at Walt Disney World,&uot; noted Towell. &uot;Plus, there’ll be a lot of college coaches in the crowd, taking notes on all the young players involved in this tournament.&uot;

Towell stressed the point that those college coaches are forbidden to talk with the players. However, by using a tournament booklet, the coaches are afforded certain information – the names and schools of the players. From that information, college coaches are permitted to begin sending mail to the players by their freshman year in high school.

&uot;The only person they are allowed to speak to on an AAU team is the coach and about the only thing they can say to me is, hey,&uot; confirmed Towell. &uot;They can have no personal contact with the players at all.&uot;

While all the attention is focused on the 170 teams at the tournament, Towell stressed that had it not been for the kindness of one man, these local players would have not received the opportunity to step into the national spotlight.

&uot;We have been extremely fortunate in our fundraising efforts, but without Troy Smith (the owner of TD Sports), none of this would have been possible,&uot; stated Towell. &uot;Troy has been so good to us. He’s provided us with two sets of uniforms, practice jerseys and travel bags. I can’t say enough about what he has meant to this team. His generosity will allow these young men to experience the thrill of a lifetime.&uot;

TD Sports, based out of Rich Square, is a sports supply business dealing in silk screen printing, trophies and athletic apparel and equipment.

&uot;I remember the first time I met coach Towell and the impression I had of his coaching style,&uot; recalled Smith. &uot;After I got out of coaching, I started umpiring baseball games. I had a game one afternoon at Hertford County Middle School where I was able to observe the way coach Towell handled his team. I was very impressed. He was more of a teacher than a coach.&uot;

Smith continued, &uot;That’s why I said yes to coach Towell when he approached me about sponsoring an AAU basketball team. He’s put together a mighty fine group of young men who I know will proudly represent our area of the state at the national tournament. I wish them all the best of luck.&uot;

The team qualified for the nationals by placing sixth among the 56 teams involved in the North Carolina AAU Tournament held in April in Mt. Airy.

&uot;We faced some very tough competition at the state level, something we can build on for the nationals,&uot; concluded Towell. &uot;I know my guys haven’t played together all that long, when compared to other teams where their players are together since age eight-to-nine. But it’s like I said before, what we lose in experience, we gain in desire. We’re determined to go to Florida and perform up to the level of competition. That’s all I can ask of these guys – just give me your best.&uot;