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Bring your game: Local teams battle at the B&G Club Summer Basketball Jam
Statesboro's Mario Jackson, center left, dishes off to teammate Martaveous Smith, right, while driving around Portal's Michael Reese during Saturday's Statesboro Boys & Girls Club Summer Basketball Jam.
    Summertime is usually a down time in the sporting world, but that changed Saturday when the Boys and  Girls Club of Bulloch County gave everybody something to cheer for.
    Six teams, three from Bulloch County and three from Georgia and South Carolina, came together for a double-elimination basketball tournament that featured some of the South’s top talent. And that wasn’t the only reason behind the festivities.
    “We started looking at ways to raise money, a fundraiser, and also incorporate the kids,” said Mike Backus, the coordinator of the event, “so (we said), ‘let’s have a tournament.’ The (first-annual Summer Basketball Jam) was born that way.”
    Two Portal teams and a team consisting of Statesboro Blue Devils represented Bulloch County, and they were joined by two other Georgia teams (the Coastal Crew and Middle Georgia) and South Carolina’s Carolina Cougars.
    The teams all saw the tournament as an opportunity not only to get in some summer workouts but to give back to the organization that gives so much to the kids.
    “The Boys and Girls Club has really been a lifesaver for a lot of young men and women,” said Alfonzo Hall, who put together the Portal teams consisting of players from Bulloch and Screven Counties for the tournament. “The kids need some time to play in a good, safe environment, and that’s what the Club offers.”
    Added Statesboro Blue Devils coach Lee Hill: “It’s a great thing that they’re doing, the Boys and Girls Club. That’s one of the reasons we came out. They’re doing a great job out here, they’ve got great facilities, and it’s great for Statesboro and the community.”
    Backus used some connections to bring in one of the highlights of the tournament, sophomore Damien Leonard — a forward from J.L. Mann in South Carolina — who is one of the most sought-after young recruits in the country. Backus set up the tournament to accommodate everybody.
    “I wanted to make it a one-day tournament, and I wanted to make it easy so kids could come in one day and leave,” Backus said. “The team from South Carolina probably came the farthest. (It’s coach is) one of my former players, Willis Holliday, so he’s doing me a favor. But I think it’s a chance to showcase the local talent in front of some coaches. We’ve got some colleges here, so I think it’s a win/win for everybody.”
    Leonard wasn’t the only player lighting up the scoreboard on the day. Both the Portal and Statesboro teams showcased players from the teams’ respective region championship teams, as well as some stars from the Screven County Gamecocks.
    Portal guard David Buchannon was happy to get to play with his piers one more time before heading south to continue his career at Florida A&M.
    “This is my last time being out here with all of my teammates,” said Buchannon. “We’re just out here trying to have fun. I’m going to try and put on a show, because it’s the last time I’m playing in front of everybody.”
    Backus was pleased with the way the event played out and was glad to see everybody having a good time. Halfway through the competition, he realized that they may just have to plan on accommodating more fans at next year’s event.
    “In order to have a real good tournament,” said Backus, “you’ve got to have good officials and good food. By the fact that all the food’s sold out and it’s not even 12 o’clock yet, I think it’s going good. The officials have been good, but the response of the people says we should be doing this again.”

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.