Indie Tournaments Bring Competition Before The Start of Circuits

By David Cordova

In March 2020, the world was introduced to a disease called COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, which put everything to a halt, including sports for a significant amount of time. In the process, many high schoolers were robbed of a chance to compete in state championships and seniors were robbed of the opportunities to obtain scholarship offers from colleges and universities.

Fast-forward 13 months later: The pandemic is not yet over, but at the same time, the basketball scene is back and players around the nation are ready to compete for scholarships. Throughout the nation, most notably the South, there are events that have been attracting attention for the high level of play for both powerful teams and highly-touted players. Out of the many, there are two that Dave’s Joint has had the pleasure of covering, both of whom also took place throughout last summer in the months of July and August, while the three sneaker circuits were on hiatus:

Tip-Off Classic

In the Atlanta, Georgia metropolitan area, there are always plenty of events taking place outside of the high school season. However, there is one event that stands out above the rest: The Tip-Off Classic.

Since 2016, the event has been a must-see event out in Suwanee, Georgia, as some of the best of the best have competed in the event, including NBA players such as Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans), Collin Sexton (Cleveland Cavaliers), Anthony Edwards (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Nassir Little (Portland Trail Blazers). Some players entering this year’s NBA Draft, such as Scottie Barnes (Florida State University), Sharife Cooper (Auburn University) and Isaiah Todd (NBA G-League, have also stepped foot on the hardwood and have all performed well.

NBA G-League Ignite signee Scoota Henderson handles the ball on the perimeter this spring during the Tip-Off Classic. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

Many of the Atlanta area’s finest grassroots powerhouse squads, such as the Atlanta Celtics (Adidas 3SSB), Game Elite (Adidas 3SSB), Atlanta Xpress (Under Armour Association), Athletes of Tomorrow, most commonly referred to as A.O.T. (Nike EYBL) and the Georgia Stars (Nike EYBL), are frequent visitors to this grand event. And then there are the hungry independent programs such as Team Huncho, named after rapper Quavo, and the Georgia Canes, that come to do battle.

Other powerhouse teams from neighboring states such as Tennessee’s B. Maze Elite (Under Armour Association) and two Florida teams from the Nike EYBL such as Each 1 Teach 1 and Nightrydas Elite also came to battle.

Highly-touted prospect Dillon Mitchell looks to make a play during the Tip-Off Classic this spring. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

Last summer, although there was a pandemic in the midst, teams came out in droves, and the action was insane. However, strict precautions were adhered to, as everyone in the Suwanee Sports Academy facility was advised to keep their masks on and sit six feet apart. Even then, the action was still top-notch. The event was so successful, that CEO/commissioner Jerome Weaver decided to do two different sessions of this year’s Tip-Off Classic, one during Easter Weekend, which recently was a success, and the other during the Fourth of July weekend, which looks to be another great event

But make no mistake, this isn’t a league where teams can just roll in and can come in and have an easy ride. This a league that just like the old adage of the IS8 tournament in Queens, New York, players must show their game and not their name. It’s either they show, prove and amaze or be exposed. There is no “ducking the smoke,” as many in the South like to say. In this classic, only the strong survive.

At the end of the day, it is the reason that the spectators pay the $10-15 fee and mixtape companies such as Ballislife, Overtime and SLAM come out to document the action. Hence the reason that whenever you see the promotion of the event as “the No. 1 Non-Live Event In The Country,” it’s saying that for a reason. It’s saying that to draw the crowds in because there’s definitely going to be next-level action in the building.

Damani Claxton, an unsigned senior throws down an incredible one-handed dunk during the Tip-Off Classic this past spring. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

Back in April, there were the marquee teams in every division, as well as the independent teams such as SOH Elite, which features Hansel Emmanuel, the one-armed Dominican sensation famous for his dunking ability in games, and Team T-Mac, named after retired NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady.

On the middle school scene, you’re likely to see powerhouse programs such as Double Trouble Elite, coached by twin brothers, Charles Pack & Michael Pack, both of whom are renowned trainers & Freebandz Elite, named for the record label owned by platinum-selling artist Future and coached and run by one of the label’s artists, Young Scooter. Both of those programs mentioned are two of the premier middle school programs in the Atlanta metropolitan area basketball scene & have some promising talent coming out in the next couple of years.

On the high school side, one of the premier players that came out to play were Scoota Henderson, a recent high school graduate out of Kell High School, who signed a $1 million deal to play in the NBA G-League, where he will develop for the next two seasons until he is eligible for the 2023 NBA Draft.

Top-10 freshman prospect Jakhi Howard plays defense at the Tip-Off Classic. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

Other heavy hitters to have played at the Tip-Off Classic this past spring was Canada’s own Elijah Fisher (Grassroots Canada), the North Carolina trio of Jaylen Curry, Robert Dillingham and Aden Holloway (Game Changers), Dillon Mitchell (Each 1 Teach 1), Marvel Allen (Each 1 Teach 1), Jakhi Howard (Nightrydas Elite), Jalen Carruth (Atlanta Celtics), Dillon Hunter (Georgia Stars) and Jemahri Hill (Team Huncho).

Because of last year’s success, the event will have another session, also on the Fourth of July Weekend. And there will be a major showcase game taking place between Each 1 Teach 1 (Nike EYBL) and We All Can Go (Adidas 3SSB), which will be taking place on July 3rd at 8:30 PM at an undisclosed location. This game will feature players such as Mitchell & Houston commit Emmanuel Sharp as they will be going up against highly-touted prospects for WACG such as Chris Livingston & Mikey Williams.

On July 3rd, a big-time showcase game as part of the Tip-Off Classic between Each 1 Teach 1 & We All Can Go, will be taking place at 8:30 PM at an undisclosed location. (Photo courtesy of Hoop Hustlers)

If you do get to see the action at the Tip-Off Classic this summer, you will definitely be amazed.

The Circuit League

Also in the summer of 2020, a new league started out of the Drive Nation facility in Irving, Texas called The Circuit League. Now in year two, it has continued to be a success.

Like their counterparts in Georgia, the Circuit League is a haven for teams, whether independent or sneaker-affiliated to do battle. Teams from throughout the state of Texas came and put in work regardless of sneaker affiliation. When you’re in the Lone Star State, you can bet that there won’t be an easy victory & that it’s not just a football state.

In year two of the Circuit League, there has been more stops added to the tour, such as Kansas City, Long Island/New York City, Houston & Las Vegas.

Top-40 junior Jett Howard throws down a one-handed dunk at The Circuit League: Session I in April (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

Some of the major programs that have played in The Circuit have been major programs such as Vegas Elite, Team Thad, Team Trae Young. Liv-On-Fleur de Lis, MoKan Elite, New Heights Lightning, We All Can Go, the New York Jayhawks, Middlesex Magic, Team Rio University and a whole lot more.

Some of the most memorable games in The Circuit League have taken place at Drive Nation this spring. Court 1 has always been the area where many of the big games have been seen. During Session I, it was the Saturday night matchup between Nightrydas Elite and MoKan Elite, which ended up with the Florida-based squad winning in overtime.

Dior Johnson, the No. 15 prospect in the Class of 2022, goes to the basket during The Circuit League: Session IV. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

During Session IV just a couple of weeks ago, there were multiple great matchups on the floor that were standing-room only sessions, such as Team Thad vs. Vegas Elite, Team Thad vs. Trae Young Elite and lastly, Vegas Elite vs. Sourhern Assault, which was a matchup between two top-20 recruits in Dior Johnson and Keyonte George.

July Live Period

Now that the sneaker circuits will be back in action in July and the NCAA Live Period is back in full swing, many college coaches will be able to be out & about looking for the next great prospect. But then again, the teams in question needed the two tournaments as a warm up for the three sneaker circuits and the independent circuits.

Without both the Tip-Off Classic or The Circuit League, who knows where the grassroots scene would be post-pandemic. But now, the game is back, even with COVID-19 protocols & certain events restricting crowds. But the most important thing is everything is slowly getting back to normal.

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