Everybody wins at Muggsy Bogues’ first middle school basketball tournament

Kelly Hood

Those 400 or so basketball players … the hundreds of spectators, whose vehicles packed the Carolina Courts parking lot and side streets far beyond … they were just filling a niche, Muggsy Bogues said Saturday.

“It always concerned me that middle school teams in the Charlotte area didn’t have a tournament,” said Bogues, who played 14 seasons in the NBA, including 10 with the Charlotte Hornets.

“I had a vision for how it would all work out,” Bogues said.

And did Saturday’s first Muggsy Bogues Middle School Basketball Tournament fit that vision?

“I think so,” Bogues said with a smile, as he watched the scene at the Indian Trail athletic facility. “This is just what I expected.”

For nearly 12 hours Saturday, 36 middle school teams – 22 boys, 14 girls – competed on any of four courts for tournament championships. The field included public and private school teams from Mecklenburg and Union counties.

Bogues said the event served two purposes – give middle school teams the season-ending tournament that they normally don’t get, and raise money for the Muggsy Bogues Family Foundation, which supports at-risk youths and their families in a variety of ways.

“In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the middle school basketball season ended Feb. 2, and there’s nothing after that,” Bogues said. “Now the teams have something additional to play for.”

‘I was so excited’

You can count DeMarcus Sterling, head boys’ basketball coach at Alexander Graham Middle School in Charlotte, among those who were happy to be there Saturday.

“Man, when I found out there was a tournament, I was so excited,” Sterling said. “It gave us a chance to end the season in a big way.”

Sterling’s team finished 5-9 this season, but he said Alexander Graham Middle was a young team that developed as the season progressed.

“So the importance of this event is to give us a few more games to improve,” he said.

Justin Banks, head girls’ coach at Coulwood STEM Academy in Charlotte, concurred.

“I definitely feel like the middle schools deserve a tournament,” he said. “Our team was inexperienced, but we improved. This gives us a chance to show how much we’ve grown.”

Banks said he stopped and thanked Bogues for sponsoring the event.

Some quick planning

In the world of sports tournaments, Saturday’s event was arranged essentially at the last minute.

“We had one month,” Bogues said.

Terry Albanese, executive director of Muggsy Bogue’s foundation, said the organization decided in early January to go ahead with the tournament.

“We made a lot of phone calls and sent out a lot of emails,” Albanese said. “We just worked to get the information out.”

Bogues said management and staff at Carolina Courts played a big role, helping line up scorers and referees and setting up the complex tournament schedule.

Bogues and Albanese said one of their priorities was to have both boys’ and girls’ teams in the event.

“That means a lot to the girls,” said Nikki Milgate, team mom for the Alexander Graham Middle girls’ team. “This tournament is inclusive. It gives the boys’ team a chance to cheer for the girls, and for the girls to cheer on the boys. It puts a bow on the end of the season.”

The soundtrack for the event was a mix of buzzers, referees’ whistles, bouncing basketballs, and cheering.

Athletes enjoyed it

And the middle school student-athletes seemed to enjoy every minute of the event.

“It’s great to have a tournament like this at the end of the season,” said Arilyn Mitchell, of the Alexander Graham Middle team. “This has been a lot of fun.”

Danielle Lunsford, who coached Alexander Graham to a 12-2 regular-season record, called the event “amazing.”

“It gives the middle schoolers a chance to show what they can do in a tournament setting,” she added.

Mitchell stood with teammates Brielle Hopkins, Lily Daniel, Charlotte Marston, Wynn Haglund and Lila Yingling early Saturday afternoon, scouting a potential opponent later in the afternoon.

“After the season we had, it was great to finish it up by playing here,” Yingling said. “It gives us a chance to see some teams that we normally don’t see.”

Throughout the afternoon, parents and coaches stopped Bogues, who was in the midst of the action, and thanked him for sponsoring the event.

“There certainly is an interest in this,” Bogues said, adding that he expects the tournament to expand next year. “The goal was to expand it to two days, and we might be ready to do that next year.”

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle

PHOTOS: Muggsy Bogues’ first middle school tournament