Inaugural Battle for Georgia to bring top hoops talent to LakePoint

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Having a basketball tournament for Georgia-based travel teams in hopes of determining the top program in the Peach State is a fantasy that will become a reality Sunday.

The Battle for Georgia, as the event is aptly named, will take place at LakePoint's Champions Center with two eight-team brackets — a 17-and-under and a 16-and-under — and games starting at 1 p.m. Admission is $10 with no parking fee.

It's the first time LakePoint has attempted to put together an all-Georgia bragging rights tourney, but tournament director Dan McDonald hopes it isn't the last.

"This was an idea that a lot of people in the Atlanta/Georgia basketball community have been talking about doing for a long time," he said. "It's just hard to get all the teams together, because there's Nike teams, there's Under Armour teams, there's adidas teams [and] there's non-shoe company teams. With all of their different schedules, it's kind of hard to find a date that makes everybody want to get on board.

"This is the first year, and we hope it's a big success and something we can keep doing going forward."

McDonald, a contributor to Rivals.com who's in his first year with LakePoint, said the event wasn't too difficult to get set up. The combination of outstanding facility with great relationships with most of the amateur coaches in the state immensely helped the process.

The hardest part seemed to be finding a date that would work for the vast majority of teams. McDonald believes they found the perfect time, as evidenced by the number of top teams they managed to land for the inaugural event.

"It wasn't terribly hard getting everybody together," McDonald said. "With it coming off a holiday week, where Fourth of July was on Wednesday, a lot of coaches had to make sure all their kids would be in town. With the way the recruiting calendar works, it's kind of the perfect time, because July is a month where kids can't take recruiting visits. ...

"We didn't get every single team we wanted. There were a couple that were going to be missing a guy or two, and there was one team that had a prior engagement that they couldn't get out of. But I feel really good about the field we put together."

Some would say the champion this year, at least in the 17U division, should have an asterisk next to their name. That's because arguably the top team in Georgia and the No. 1-ranked player in the state for the Class of 2019, according to 247sports.com, won't be in attendance.

"The best team in the state this year has been AOT," McDonald said of Powder Springs-based Athletes of Tomorrow. "They couldn't come, because Isaac Okoro, who is one of their best players, is playing with Team USA right now. They would be down one of their best players, and the other thing with them is that they also qualified to play in the 17-and-under division of the Peach Jam. ...

"Between those two things, they just didn't feel like it was the best move for them to play this week, and I respect that."

Even without Okoro and his AOT teammates, including dynamic Class of 2020 point guard Sharife Cooper, some of the top players to call Georgia home will be on hand Sunday.

The No. 2 player in the 2019 class, just behind Okoro, Jaylin Williams will lace them up for Game Elite Gold. A power forward with 25-plus offers, Williams will be joined on the team by Josh Nickelberry, a Louisville commit out of North Carolina.

The Atlanta Celtics boast three of the top nine rising seniors in the state in Marcus Watson, Brendan Tucker and Rodney Howard. Watson, of Buford High, holds offers from Georgia and Georgia Tech; Tucker recently picked up offers from Northwestern and Virginia Tech; and Howard, a 6-foot-10 center, is committed to Ole Miss.

There's even a five-star football recruit, Travon Walker, scheduled to mix it up for Team Georgia Magic on the courts at the Champions Center. Walker, the second-ranked defensive tackle in the nation, has offers from virtually every major program east of the Mississippi River.

However, the cream of the crop is undoubtedly Anthony Edwards, a five-star shooting guard, currently ranked as the top rising junior in the state. Rivals recently vaulted him into the No. 6 spot in the country for his class, and McDonald said he feels as though Edwards should be even higher.

"Between the 16-and-under and 17-and-under divisions, we have 21 kids who already have a high-major offer," McDonald said. "The best one in the field — and I don't really think it's that close — is a kid named Anthony Edwards. He plays at Holy Spirit Prep down in Atlanta. ... I think he's a no-brainer future NBA guy."

While his job description includes handling any potential issues that will arise during the single-elimination tournaments, McDonald has his fingers crossed that everything runs smoothly. First and foremost it would signal a well-planned event, but it would also allow McDonald to do his favorite thing unencumbered — watch top players compete on the court.

"That's what I've spent the last week trying to do, just making sure there's nothing that's going to come up during the day that takes me away from watching it," McDonald said. "I'm like everybody else. I want to sit there and watch these teams all day. ...

"The thing I'm really looking forward to seeing is how seriously and how competitive do these games get. How much pride do the kids take in trying to win a championship here? That's the thing I'm most anxious and excited to see."