Displaced from Big Easy, hoops event lands in Ark.

Published 7:12 pm Friday, July 7, 2006

The college recruiters who come to the basketball tournament in Little Rock this week won’t be allowed to talk to the teenage players, tournament director Henry Forrest said.

But he said he’s heard of some who stretch the NCAA recruiting rules, sending frequent text messages to players or even sending pizzas to players’ hotel rooms. “Coaches do all kinds of stuff,” he said.

Thousands of visitors, and millions of their dollars, are expected to flow into Little Rock for the Amateur Athletic Union’s Division I and Division II national championships for boys 16 and younger. The two tournaments will run at the same time and feature more than 100 teams. Play starts Sunday and continues through July 15.

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Little Rock was already scheduled to host the Division II tournament this year, then got the Division I event after Hurricane Katrina knocked New Orleans out of its host spot. Other cities were invited to make proposals, and Little Rock’s beat out those from Boston, Detroit and Washington, Forrest said.

He said the city was successful because of its southern hospitality and its experience hosting the AAU Division II 15 and 16-year-old tournaments last year.

This year, college recruiters are particularly interested in the Division I category, a high-level league that includes college and even NBA prospects, Forrest said.

He expects representatives from several schools, including North Carolina, Illinois, Maryland, and Texas Christian. “The phone has not stopped ringing since we were awarded this tournament,” he said.

It’s not that he minds the presence of recruiters — Forrest said he pleaded with the NCAA to grant special permission to allow college coaches to attend.

“Most of the kids want to play in front of college coaches,” he said. “And it increases your number of teams that participate.”

College representatives who attend the games at gymnasiums throughout the city must sit apart from other spectators, he said.