The name Slam Dunk to the Beach resonates nationally. As one of the preeminent high school basketball showcases in the country — one that played host to stars such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony before they were household names — Slam Dunk to the Beach is a household name in its own right. As much weight as the event may carry from sea to sea, it is exponentially larger in Delaware, where one of the nation’s geographically smaller states, takes incredible pride in hosting an event of such magnitude.
“Slam Dunk to the Beach means a lot to people in this state,” says Kevin Tresolini, who has covered sports in Delaware for more than three decades at The News Journal. “It was a staple of the sports scene each year, and I think there will be a great deal of excitement surrounding its return because it matters to people here.”
It matters most of all to the First State natives who get the opportunity to represent Delaware in the three-day event, held December 27-29 at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes. Five local schools will take the floor amongst the nation’s elite.
For the players at Salesianum, Sanford, St. Georges, Caesar Rodney and Cape Henlopen, there are three days worth of incredible competition, atmosphere and opportunity lying in front of them.
“There’s a lot of pride in representing your home state and in showing that Delaware can produce some great home grown talent,” says Salesianum head coach Brendan Haley, who led his team to a state championship last March. “For many, this will be the biggest stage they get to play on. It’s a great opportunity for them to make an impression on college recruiters and fans from all over. [We are] just excited at the thought of such a high level of competition playing out over three days, and that we get to be a part of it. Salesianum is honored to be invited.”
So are the other programs. Three of the four semifinalists from last season will participate in Slam Dunk to the Beach. It is a group that Haley thinks will represent Delaware with distinction.
“Sanford applies great pressure to the ball all over the floor, and they spread you out real well offensively,” Haley says. “Stan Waterman is as good a coach as the state has ever had. Cape Henlopen does a great job of playing to their strengths each year. [Their head coach] Steve Rea does a great job of adapting his system to whatever talent he has that particular year. Ceasar Rodney mixes their defenses really well. Most importantly, [head coach] Freeman Williams teaches his guys to compete at full capacity every time they’re on the floor. They play the game hard. St. Georges brings back some players with great tournament experience last year. Lamar Hamrick is exceptional, and Rod Griffin does a great job of having players execute their roles and play team basketball.”
Sallies is stacked in its own right, led by Villanova commit Donte DiVincenzo. The defending champs will get a crack at St. Vincent-St. Mary, the Ohio powerhouse that LeBron James put on the map more than a decade ago. This incarnation of the Fightin’ Irish is coming off a trip to the Buckeye State’s Final Four a season ago. They are led by ESPN’s No. 43 point guard in the class of 2015, Josh Williams and Cleveland State commit Jibri Blount.
“We definitely are excited about the chance to play a nationally renowned program,” says Haley. “We know what we’re up against, but you always want to test yourself against the best.”
Sanford also faces a daunting task in Lewes, when it squares off against Christ the King of New York. Waterman’s team will have to contend with Rawle Atkins, ESPN’s 35th-ranked player in the class of 2016. The 6-foot-4 small forward has offers from Louisville, Villanova, Florida and Indiana among others.
“Our kids really look forward to competing against some of the best teams and programs in the region and across the country,” says Waterman. “We always look to challenge ourselves by scheduling regional and nationally renowned programs. Some of our kids have played with and against some of these players in AAU tournaments, summer camps and other showcase events. So [this] is another great opportunity for our kids and teams to compete against some of the best competition from around the country to see how we measure.”
Of course, one of the most anticipated games of the entire event features two First State foes, when Salesianum and Sanford battle on the big stage. The game was originally slated to be played at Sanford, but Waterman said the opportunity to renew the rivalry on this type of stage was too much to pass up.
The Sanford – Sallies match-up has always been a spirited rivalry and a big draw,” explains Waterman. “This was originally a home game for us this year, that we gave up to play it at this venue. The atmosphere should be great. It’s the type of environment that will help prepare you for state tournament play later in the year if we are fortunate.”
Haley agrees about the atmosphere, and also thinks it will be a nice opportunity to show off First State basketball at its best to a broader group of patrons.
“It’s definitely a great thing for the state to be able to put one of its best rivalries on display for a national audience,” says Haley. “The bottom line is that both schools bring a lot of tradition to this rivalry, and it’s going to be intense as always.”
Intensity is a hallmark of Slam Dunk to the Beach, as is excitement, which is probably the emotion its First State participants are feeling the most.
“It’s an exciting time for sure,” Haley says. “I have a lot of good memories of watching some great teams and great players over the years. It’s a great thing for our state to have it back, and it really is a basketball junkie’s delight for those three days.”