In its first 28 years, the Tournament of Champions has brought area fans a chance to see hundreds of future Division One college athletes as well as 41 future NBA players. The tournament, which is also the number one high school event in the country in terms of attendance (22,000 over three days), has become well-known as a chance for the nation's top players to strut their stuff, and the incoming stars know it.
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Take Tyler Hansbrough. As a member of the Poplar Bluff, Missouri high school team, the future North Carolina Tar Heel and Indiana Pacer amazed local fans with an assortment of great plays including a 360-degree dunk he'd never done before. When asked about the jam, Hansbrough said, "It just came to me. I love this place and always play my best here."
John Wall, who came to Springfield in 2009 with Word of Gold Academy, completely blew area fans away with his speed off the dribble and playmaking skills. Wall, who was headed on to the University of Kentucky and the NBA's Washington Wizards, said he knew he had to play well because the expectations were so high and added that he enjoyed playing in Springfield so much that "I wish I was a junior so I could come back again next year."
Back in 1987, Alonzo Mourning came to Springfield with Indian River high school and totally dominated the T of C on both ends of the floor, blocking shots on defense and dunking at-will on offense to the point where it looked like a man playing with boys--except he was just a junior in high school. When asked how many schools were recruiting Mourning, his coach replied "how many schools are there in the country?" Alonzo would go on to Georgetown, the NBA and was a member of the Olympic "Dream Team 2".
One of the best tandems to appear at the Tournament of Champions came in 1988 when Todd Day of Memphis Hamilton and Anthony Peeler of Kansas City Paseo delighted crowds with their athleticism right before heading to the two nearest state universities--Day to Arkansas, Peeler to Mizzou--and area fans packed the old Hammons Center to get a preview of what Razorback and Tigers fans were about to witness.
As the tourney's reputation continued to grow, the future pros just kept on coming. Future NBA players included Anthony Bonner, Jayson Williams, Richard Dumas, Mourning, Allen Watson, Day, Peeler, Jevon Crudup, Khalid Reeves, Derrick Phelps, Fred Burley, Terence Rencheer, Erick Dampier, Cedric Henderson, Troy Hudson, Ryan Robertson, Loren Woods, Chris Carrawell, Jake Voskuhl, Lamar Odom, Craig Claxton, Eric Barkley, Larry Hughes, Ernest Brown, Omar Cook, Wayne Simien, Julius Hodge, Anthony Tolliver, Ebi Ndudi, Blake Ahearn, Steven Hill, Mario Chalmers, Tyler Hansbrough, Stanley Robinson, Ekpe Udho, Greg Monroe, DeMarcus Cousins, and Wall.
So if you go to this year's Tournament of Champions, chances are you'll be seeing at least one player who will be running up and down an NBA court some day.