This year’s Beach Ball field stacks up as one of best yet

Like any event that is lucky enough to last 31 years, the Beach Ball Classic has experienced peaks and valleys during its long successful run.

Some years the tournament attracts a bumper crop of high school hoops talent; other years the talent level is down a bit. Just two days into the 2011 Beach Ball, it’s safe to say this year’s tourney is a peak.

But where does it stack up in the annals to Beach Ball history? Like anything in sports when you try to compare different eras, it’s hard to accurately measure exactly which fields are better than others.

But there are a handful of years that stand out in the minds of those who have witnessed them all, many of them coming during the Beach Ball’s heyday of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

And while it’s too early to tell how this year’s Beach Ball field will eventually stack up (they haven’t even had time to play in college or the NBA yet), it’s safe to say this is one of the best Beach Balls in recent memory.

Here’s a look at some of the best years in Beach Ball history, listed chronologically, and how this one compares:

* 1988 – Featured future NBA stars Kenny Anderson, Jimmy Jackson and Grant Hill and a memorable finals matchup between the former two at Socastee High’s “The Wave,” which had to bring in additional seats to accommodate the huge crowds. Anderson led Archbishop Molloy to its third Beach Ball title, then took Georgia Tech to the Final Four the next season.

* 1994 – The Beach Ball’s first year at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center was also a banner year for talent, featuring future NBA Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter and Jermaine O’Neal, who went straight from high school to “the League.” Jamison and Carter went on to star at North Carolina.

* 1995 – This field set the standard by which all other Beach Balls are judged. Future NBA superstar Kobe Bryant put on a show that let fans know they were witnessing greatness, and Mike Bibby put on the two most prolific scoring performances in tournament history that still stand today – his single-game scoring records of 48 and 45 points. Like Bryant, Jermaine O’Neal went on to play in the NBA the next year.

* 2000 – Probably the last year the Beach Ball featured the national talent level like the early days. The 2000 Beach Ball saw its first player go on to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft in Kwame Brown, but Raymond Felton and tiny Latta (S.C.) stole the show by upsetting national powerhouse DeMatha in the first round. Future N.C. State and NBA player Julius Hodge was also in that field.

* 2011: While it’s too soon to tell if this year’s field will produce future results, there’s no question that it ranks right up there with any Beach Ball yet. Bishop Gorman’s Shabazz Muhammad, rated as the No. 1 player in the nation, lived up to the hype Tuesday night, and Prestonwood Christian’s Julius Randle and Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor enter the tourney with similarly lofty credentials.

It remains to be seen where this year’s tourney will rank among the greatest Beach Balls ever, but it’s certainly going to be fun finding out.

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