By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
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: email@example.com and follow on Twitter @GaryFauber.
2014 Biddy-Buddy Basketball Results
Buffalo Bison 45, Beckley White 18
Barboursville Pirates 42, Beckley Red 30
Huntington Red 3rd 38, WV Ducks 29
Huntington Red 4th 47, Buffalo Bison 12
WV Dynasty 33, C-K Wonders 31
5th Grade 2
East Warriors 46, Wayne Pioneers 34
WV Elite 45, Buffalo Bison 27
Milton Greyhounds 44, WV Fusion 16
Charleston Caveliers 62, East Warriors 45
WV Elite 52, WV Miners 44
Chesapeake Panthers 43, Beckley All-Stars 20
WV Ice 48, Beckley All-Stars 16
East Warriors 41, Huntington Red 25
Ashland Wildcards 56, Chesapeake Panthers 22
Huntington Heat 47, WV Bulls 21
Charleston Caveliers 60, C-K Wonders 35
WV Generals 61, Winfield Warriors 19
Key Player 54, WV Knights 24
Blue & Gold Storm 51, Green Machine 20
Teays Valley Elite d. Huntington Red
WV Storm SD d. C-K Wonders
WV Midland d. Milton Greyhounds
WV Ice d. Buffalo Bison
Key Player d. WV Storm
Oak Hill 55, Lady Knights 26
WV Ice d. WV Express
WV Wildcats d. Spring Valley
WV Renegades d. JAMBL