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By LARRY VAUGHT
The Marshall County Hoop Fest can boast that it had two members of the gold-medal USA basketball team — Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony — participate in its event. It has also add current NBA star Derrick Rose, who would have been on the Olympic team if not for a knee injury.
Now the event Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in western Kentucky could have its next future star — Andrew Wiggins. He’ll play both days in the event with his Huntington (W.Va.) teammates and based on the way high school and college recruiting analysts rave about his talent, he could be the next NBA player to have been at the Marshall County Hoop Fest.
Wiggins is a huge Kentucky recruiting target. Currently he’s in the 2014 class, but the 6-8 Wiggins is considering reclassifying to 2013. Either way, he’s the nation’s top-ranked high school player.
However, he won’t be the only big-time talent in the field. Memphis Briarcrest Christian has 6-8 forward Austin Nichols, who has offers from Duke, Tennessee, Auburn, Butler, Cincinnati, Clemson, Kansas, Louisville, Memphis, North Carolina, Ohio State, Texas and Vanderbilt. He runs the floor well for a big man and is a solid rebounder.
Memphis Southwind will be bringing 6-8 Jonathan Williams, another big-time prospect,and 6-4 guard Jajuan Johnson, who is being pursued by Miami, Alabama and Texas. He’s also received interest from Louisville.
Wiggins’ teammate, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, has a scholarship offer from Kentucky and numerous other schools.
Bullitt East will bring 6-9 Derek Willis, a UK commit, to the tourney. Oak Hill Academy, annually one of the nation’s top prep teams, will play both days in the event.
Other Kentucky teams scheduled to play include Madison Central, Ballard, Hopkinsville, Warren Central, Calloway County and host Marshall.
But the biggest draw for the Hoop Fest could be the team from Richmond, Texas, that features two of the nations’ best players — twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison. Both are rated as top 10 players, and both have UK on their list of four schools that they will choose from to make a decision in late October.
“The plan is for us to play two games,” said Travis High School coach Craig Brownson. “We have to get the paper work finalized, but that’s the plan. It’s a great opportunity. Andrew and Aaron will be playing in front of big crowds in college, and most likely the NBA. This won’t be unfamiliar for them, but for our other kids to experience this is one big reason we want to do things like this. Last year we played in front of 13,000 or 14,000 in the state tourney. Playing in front of big crowds could be valuable when we get in a big playoff game. They won’t be as nervous. They will have been there and done that.”
If the Harrison commit to Kentucky as most recruiting analysts seem to think, Kentucky fans will swarm to Marshall County even if UK plays at Notre Dame Nov. 29 and hosts Baylor Dec. 1. Fans who can’t get to those games will find a way to Benton, Ky., to see the Harrisons, Wiggins and the other stars. And why not? Great basketball in a facility that has been deemed one of the 10 best venues nationally for high school basketball.
And don’t be stunned if the Marshall County Hoop Fest adds Chicago center Cliff Alexander, one of the top players in the 2014 recruiting class and another big-time UK target.
It has all the makings of one of the nation’s premier in-season high school basketball events and one that UK fans likely will not want to miss.