County's basketball players head out of state, primarily to South Carolina, for showcase tournaments

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 8/26/20

Even with 40,000 made shots under his belt this summer, Northwood’s Tucker Morgan found himself a bit rusty last month. Could you blame him?

When Morgan stepped onto a court at the Rock Hill …

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County's basketball players head out of state, primarily to South Carolina, for showcase tournaments

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Even with 40,000 made shots under his belt this summer, Northwood’s Tucker Morgan found himself a bit rusty last month. Could you blame him?

When Morgan stepped onto a court at the Rock Hill Sports & Event Center in South Carolina on July 31, it marked his first live, five-on-five basketball action since early March. For someone who’s played the sport as long he can remember, those four months were a striking sabbatical.

But with his temperature checked and his waivers signed, he had a chance to get back in his groove with the Durham Hurricanes, his AAU team, which traveled just below state lines for a Phenom Hoop Report showcase event one state under during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was a little rough trying to get back into the flow of it,” Morgan said. “At the end, I started to get more comfortable.”

In the Hurricanes’ second game, the 6-foot-4 senior went for 15 points. He scored 12 in another. He got plenty of film for a highlight clip — a good balance of the stretch forward making 3-pointers and finishing layups — which he posted to his personal YouTube.

And, Morgan said, he felt “very safe.” Outside of pre-event waivers and at-the-door temperature checks, Phenom Hoops enforced an extensive list of guidelines, including one-way foot traffic, distanced benches and bleachers and a mask requirement for everyone inside not playing or refereeing.

“It was a great feeling to be back out there,” Morgan said.

He’s not the only Chatham County basketball player who’s taken advantage of such events, which have ramped up since South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed an executive order allowing indoor and outdoor youth sports to resume in mid-June under COVID-19 safety protocols.

Hoopers from Northwood, Chatham Central and Chatham Charter alike have gotten their reps in at AAU events in Rock Hill, Spartanburg and Myrtle Beach.

In North Carolina, indoor youth sport events aren’t banned but must adhere to a 10-person mass gathering limit, which makes large tournaments illogical. NCHSAA schools may now share basketballs within “pods” of five to 10 athletes at their voluntary workouts, but physical contact isn’t allowed.

“It’s a weird time,” Northwood men’s coach Matt Brown said. “It’s personal preference. Some guys want to go out, and some don’t.”

For Adam Harvey, that decision was a no-brainer. The Chatham Charter sophomore was on an even longer drought than Morgan — he hadn’t seen action since the fall, when a back injury kept him from contributing to the Knights’ record-setting 2019-20 season.

“I was really anxious to play” Harvey said. “I could have played in April or May, but COVID-19 held me back — which was probably better” for his rehab.

His return came the weekend of Aug. 7 at a Big Shots Basketball event in Myrtle Beach. Playing for the Chatham Knights, a local AAU team, Harvey scored 23 points and earned a MVP award in his first game. The 6-foot-2 forward had 21 points in a later outing.

“It was really fun, really exciting,” Harvey said. “I feel like the competition was harder, because there weren’t a lot of tournaments going on.”

Others agreed. With more stalwart events canceled or postponed — think of Nike’s Peach Jam in North Augusta, Georgia — elite teams are flocking to whatever states will take them. Harvey’s younger brother, a seventh grader, ended up in the same tournament as five-star 2023 prospect Mikey Williams.

“Even the shoe company teams are playing these tournaments” Brown said. “Usually, they’re in Vegas.”

Men’s tournaments in South Carolina have gotten plenty of attention and local participation. Along with Morgan, Northwood senior Aidan McLandsborough and freshmen Ashton Elliott and Gus Ritchey have played. As have Harvey’s fellow sophomores at Chatham Charter: Aamir Mapp, Jackson Brown and Darrius Taylor.

But there have been plenty of opportunities for women’s teams, too.

At Chatham Central, seniors and reigning all-conference picks Mary Grace Murchison and Danielle Vaughn have played. Northwood star sophomore Gianna McManaman has traveled as far as Hoover, Alabama, with her Carolina Elite AAU team, and Chatham Charter senior Rebecca McGaughnea has also gotten reps.

Tamaya Walden, a Chatham Charter sophomore, said she’s used showcase events with her Carolina Lynx AAU team in Myrtle Beach and Spartanburg to improve her ball-handling and get more comfortable as a point guard, which she ran last season for the Knights while averaging 13.1 points and 3.9 assists.

She, too, used the events to get some updated game film on her YouTube channel for recruiting purposes. In her most recent video, uploaded last week, you can watch her wreak havoc on opponents at the top of the Lynx’s zone defense with steals and deflections, glide in for lefty layups and break one defender’s ankles before stepping into and swishing a three.

“We were fine with it,” she said of her team’s decision to play in such events. “We would see them clean balls. We would use hand sanitizer.”

Among the basketball community, that’s a common theme. The tournaments are largely uncontroversial. Players enjoy them, coaches encourage them and organizers stress safety guidelines. (The large Rock Hill events, though, have worried at least one York County councilman, who told the local Herald it “sends a mixed message” about the danger of the coronavirus.)

For players like Morgan, who averaged 1.5 points for Northwood’s senior-heavy 2019-20 roster, the showcase events are also a crucial development opportunity.

He played at another Rock Hill tournament with the Hurricanes last weekend, logging 19 points in one of his games. And he’s betting it’ll pay off for him and the Chargers down the road.

“If you’re playing in these tournaments you’re ahead of (other teams),” he said, “because they haven’t played in months.”

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.

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