After the inaugural Arizona Cactus Classic in 2006, national scouts, coaches and players all raved about the AAU event held at the McKale Center at the University of Arizona.
"You'd never know it was their first tourney, everything was first class, info, tournament and hospitality," said national scout Van Coleman.
"The tournament was a smashing success," said fellow national scout Clark Francis.
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"Everything about the event was first class, and it was one of the best evaluating experiences I have had," said Rivals.com national recruiting expert Jerry Meyer. "A great event in a great location that will only draw better teams from across the country in the years to come."
Meyer was right.
In the Cactus Classic's first year, tournament director Jim Storey didn't exactly have AAU teams begging to travel from all over the country to play in Tucson.
"I was asking teams to come," Storey said.
This year, over 250 teams applied and Storey eventually narrowed down the field to 32 of the premier AAU squads in the country to play in the 2008 Arizona Cactus Classic, which will tip off at 6:00pm on Friday at McKale Center.
With the #1 players in the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes all in attendance – depending on the scouting service you use – it might be tougher to find a better AAU tournament in the country, in terms of quality from the top to bottom.
There's no doubt that it's the most loaded Cactus Classic yet.
"From 1 to 32 it's the strongest field that we've ever had," Storey said. "To my knowledge, it's the best field from 1 to 32 that's ever been assembled."
Quality over quantity isn't exactly a slogan when it comes to most AAU events, as games are usually all over large cities, forcing teams and media to spend as much time driving as they do in the gym.
The fact that all of the games are either in McKale Center or nearby Bear Down Gym is just one of several aspects that make the tournament unique.
"I think the key to the Cactus Classic is the organizational level that is put into the tournament and the hospitality and location, as the gyms are in close proximity in two locations with the accommodations all being within a mile of each other," said Storey. Unlike other tournaments, they're not driving all over the city.
"We also have the best in the business from the media of the scouting world in attendance, as well as dedicated sponsors, volunteers and staff that makes this thing happen."
Any recruiting service that takes itself seriously will likely be in Tucson this weekend for the Cactus Classic. Many of the best AAU teams in the country put calls into Storey to get accepted into the tournament.
The result was a field that includes a who's who of AAU basketball, both in terms of teams and players. The New York Gauchos, Houston Hoops, Pump N'Run Elite, D-One Sports and Boo Williams would be among the first AAU squads named if you asked any scout who the best programs in the country are.
Those are just five of the elite teams that will be in attendance this weekend and while those names might not mean much for the casual recruiting fan, the prospects they bring with them will.
Renardo Sidney, the nation's #1 prospect in 2009, will suit up for the L.A. Dream Team. 2010's top prospect, Jeremy Tyler, headlines California Supreme. Some scouts rank Seattle Rotary Select's Anthony Wroten Jr. as the top player in 2011 and J'Mychal Reese of the Houston Hoops is considered the premier prospect in 2012.
The tournament will feature commitments from UCLA (Pump N'Run Elite's Reeves Nelson and Kendall Williams), North Carolina (Franchize All-Stars' John Henson and Boo Williams' Kendall Marshall), Kansas (Arizona Magic Elite's Royce Woolridge), Georgetown (California Supreme's Hollis Thompson) and Michigan State (REACH Legends' Derrick Nix).
If you're a University of Arizona basketball fan, as a good percentage of the spectators usually are, you'll once again get to see a future Wildcat in action.
The Northwest Panthers' Abdul Gaddy, rated as the nation's second best 2009 point guard, will start his tournament off against the top point guard in the country in D-One Sports' John Wall.
Gaddy will also play at least three times on Saturday, and maybe on Sunday depending on how his team performs in the tournament.
If you're in Tucson, watching Gaddy isn't the only reason to come to the Arizona Cactus Classic.
"I consider Tucson a basketball community and the Arizona Cactus Classic gives the basketball community the opportunity to watch the best players in America," Storey said. "In many instances they get to watch the future of the University of Arizona, the Pac-10 and every major conference.
"It brings Tucson into a national spotlight with youth basketball in the basketball community, ranging from media, scouting services and shoe company executives. Everyone takes notice of this event."
It also gives players the opportunity to prove themselves against the best prospects in the country.
In 2006, Pump N'Run Elite's James Harden took the MVP award, as he showed himself as one of the premier talents in the nation while leading his team to the tournament title.
In 2007, the New York Gauchos' Kemba Walker entered the tournament as a fringe Top 100 player. By the end of the tournament he was the MVP and seen as one of the best point guards in the country.
Both players significantly bolstered their reputations at the Arizona Cactus Classic and it helped earn them invitations into the McDonald's All-American game.
With this being the Arizona Cactus Classic's most loaded field yet, this year's champion will no doubt earn it, likely putting at least one of its players in the national spotlight in the process.
A $10 ticket, which can be purchased at the front gate of McKale Center, gets entrance into all 79 games from Friday to Sunday.
If you're a basketball fan in Tucson, McKale Center will be the place to be all weekend long.
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