The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 8, 2014

Annual Biddy-Buddy tournament gives the chance to grow as players and friends

BECKLEY — As good as they are, Tamar Slay and O.J. Mayo didn’t just pick up a basketball and get drafted into the NBA. Levi Cook didn’t just happen into his commitment to West Virginia University.

Those players, and several others, all practiced, traveled and played in tournaments all over the East Coast to get to where they are today. Among those tournaments is the Wendy’s/YMCA Biddy-Buddy All-Star Tournament, the 42nd edition of which tipped off Friday at four venues across Beckley.

The extravaganza annually attracts teams from West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. There occasionally are new faces, but there are more than a few familiar friends. And it’s certainly not rare to see teams grow through the Biddy-Buddy.

One example of that is the WV Ice, which won the sixth-grade title in 2012 and seventh-grade last year. They would like to go out on top Sunday by winning the eighth-grade championship.

“This tournament is very important,” said Ice coach James Green. “It is a great tournament opener for AAU. You get all the local kids from the surrounding areas (and) they come down and they compete.”

Several of the 59 teams at this year’s tournament feature not only Beckley residents, but a mix of players from Beckley, Shady Spring, Charleston and Bluefield. In some cases, that can make for a difficult transition from teaming with your classmates in elementary school to meshing with others a player might now know well.

Green knows that all too well. Getting to a championship level wasn’t always easy.

“It was hard for us at first, because there were a lot of local kids from Beckley — Beckley All-Stars, and the YMCA teams — they were pretty good, and we were just starting,” Green said. “(Teams) kind of took it to us back then. Then we kept playing together and we knew each other, and we have grown and become a team. So I think it’s been very important to us. I love this tournament.”

Other times, coaches have been fortunate that their players hit it off immediately. Arnyst Lilly has his WV Elite team — made up of players in Shady Spring and Beckley — in the fifth-grade bracket after making its debut last year with a third-place finish at the fourth-grade level.

“That was the surprising thing about this team. They hit it off extremely quickly,” Lilly said before the Elite’s quarterfinal win over the WV Miners. “It really wasn’t a challenge. I just went to all the local elementary school basketball games, went up to the parents and said, ‘I’m starting up a travel basketball team. Would you like to join us?’ Most people said yes.”

Like Green, Lilly believes tournaments like the Biddy-Buddy help with camaraderie.

“We try to build a sense of family,” he said. “Even though there’s different grade schools, or they go to different junior highs, still we try to build that sense of family. We try to make them better players, no matter where they are from.”

The bad thing for Biddy-Buddy veterans is that it eventually comes to an end. That’s the issue facing Green, who said — maybe half-jokingly — he may start a new program next year.

“We’ve been here since (the players were) in fourth grade, and it has been a wonderful tournament (with a) wonderful staff,” Green said. “And it’s been a great fundamentals tournament for us. The kids can come in and work on things, then when they go home they know what they need to work on to improve their game. I love the Biddy-Buddy. It’s been a great tournament for me for the last four or five years, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

For more information on the tournament, including brackets and results, go to www.ymcaswv.com.

— E-mail: gfauber@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @GaryFauber.

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