While the Arkansas high school basketball season ends Saturday in Hot Springs, AAU practice starts on Sunday.
At least for an ultra-talented Arkansas Wings squad that is expected to once again draw Razorback head coach John Pelphrey and a plethora of other college basketball coaches this spring and summer.
“These kids went out and earned respect nationally last season, but they will have to re-do that this spring and summer as they step up to play in the top level of AAU basketball,” Wings assistant coach Ron Crawford said. “They will play the other best sophomores and juniors in the country and it will be a true test of just what impact players they could be on the next level.”
The Wings were certainly a dominate 16-and-under team last spring and summer under head coach Tim Loring and assistants Crawford and Lee Allen.
“We either won or got to the final four in all of the tournaments we played except for the AAU Nationals in Florida,” Crawford said.
The Wings roster will include 6-7 Razorback commit Aaron Ross of Little Rock Parkview, 6-10 Jonesboro Westside forward Hunter Mickelson and 6-5 point guard Ky Madden of East Poinsett County.
There’s also 6-5 Little Rock Hall guard David Rivers, 6-5 Dumas power forward Darion Griswold, 6-11 Van Buren center Hooper Vint, 6-4 Clark (Mo.) Willow Lake standout Derrick Daniels and 6-1 guard Isaac McCoy of Alma.
“It is a group that loves to play basketball, loves to play together and really shares the ball,” Crawford said. “They’ve been a joy to coach.”
The Wings will get things started with an exhibition game in Jonesboro on April 3 and head to the Boo Williams Invitational the following weekend.
Then there’s the Real Deal in the Rock on April 16, where the Wings will open the Little Rock event against Team Final of Philadelphia.
“We thought that because the fans in the state of Arkansas want to see these guys play and how the mayor and the city have really gotten behind this, it would be a great thing to play in the Real Deal,” Crawford said.
The Wings are sponsored by Nike, which is making a change this year.
The 56 Nike teams will go to different events and play league games – with a new rule of no more than five games played on any one weekend.
Those sites will include Hampton, Virginia, Los Angeles and Houston with a goal of being one of the 16 teams to qualify for the Nike Peach Jam in July.
“It’s a new plan from Nike and really is a little bit more traveling than we wanted to do, but we want to give these kids the shot to develop as best they can as players this spring and summer,” Crawford said. “What we are all trying to do is be one of those select teams left standing for the Peach Jam, which is the best even because of just being the 16 games.”
The roster certainly has talent that the Razorbacks would love to add – having already got the commit from Ross, offering both Mickelson and Madden and evaluating Rivers, Vint and Griswold among others.
“They all have great talent, but the biggest thing for all of them this year is that have got to add strength and get stronger,” Crawford said. “That is all they need to do to take it up even another level.”
Mickelson and Rivers are both playing for state championships this weekend.
Mickelson's Westside plays Huntsville at 4:15 p.m. on Friday for the Class 4A crown.
Rivers’ Little Rock Hall squad plays West Memphis for the 6A title on Saturday at 7:45.
“Rivers also had a very good high school season and coaches really like his length,” Crawford said. “I think this is really going to be his breakout year.”
Griswold is a guy who could play either basketball or football in college.
“He is 6-5 right now and has great size, especially for a quarterback,” Crawford said. “I would say that if he gets to 6-7 he should go to basketball and that he could be a player like (Arkansas freshman) Marshawn Powell.”
Vint will be the tallest and most improved player on the squad.
“He played a little with us late in the summer last year, but didn’t really get the chance to develop,” Crawford said. “But he really came on this high school season and is easily the most improved player in the state from scoring just a few points last season to 18 or so this season.
“Like Mickelson, he can really run that floor, but is just not as far along yet because of experience of playing in the summer,” Crawford said.
McCoy would be playing his first season with the Wings while Daniels played some last season with the squad.
There will also likely be a few other additions to the team, but Conway’s Micha Delph is not playing this summer.
“We think we will have a great group of kids that really love the game of basketball,” Crawford said. “That makes it fun for all of us.”