Fred Pickett started the Battle of the South Basketball Tournament 16 years ago and has watched it grow over the years.
ALBANY — It has grown over the years, rolling along like a snowball, a little bigger each summer.
And when Fred Pickett looks back he still can’t believe 16 years have passed by or how much his Albany-based summer basketball tournament has grown in size and prestige.
And it’s still free.
That was the idea 16 years ago when Pickett started the Battle of the South basketball tournament, which will be held this weekend at Darton, where 20 teams will converge to play.
The tournament, which features professional players and semi-pros, begins at 9 a.m. today and Sunday and runs continuously. Tonight’s final game is scheduled for 8 p.m., and the championship game will be played at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
“We’re going to have players who played in the NBA and players who play overseas,’’ Pickett said. “There are some current NBA players scheduled to play, and we will have a lot of players who have played overseas. I think we have between 20 and 30 players who have played overseas.’’
Pickett has watched the tournament grow from nine teams to 20 teams.
“Everybody talks about this tournament and it has grown so much,’’ he said. “We’re at the point where we are turning teams away. We really don’t want it to get bigger than 20 teams.’’
The level of basketball is different than anything anyone sees in this part of the state, because of the adult talent. Pickett said Darnell Harvey, a Randolph-Clay legend who played for the Knicks, Mavericks and Suns, will play in the tournament as well as Maurice Speights, who played for the University of Florida’s national championship team in college and later played for the Memphis Grizzlies. Former Georgia Tech star Jarrett Jack, who played for New Orleans, is scheduled to play, and Demetrious Bennett, a Monroe grad who played overseas, will play again this year.
“The level of basketball is first class,’’ Pickett said. “The players know in this tournament if you don’t bring your A game you will get exposed.
“The main thing is that it is free,’’ he added. “The kids will get to see first-class basketball. This will be the closest thing many of them will ever get to the NBA. The kids come out and we have big turnouts every year. The kids enjoy it. The players enjoy it. The fans enjoy it.’’
The growth of the tournament hasn’t hurt Albany, either.
“This tournament has an economic impact on the city of Albany,’’ Pickett said. “We’ve got 20 teams coming in with 15 players on each team, and a lot of them bring their families. They’re staying in hotels and eating at restaurants, and that’s great for the city of Albany.’’
The tournament also has grown in stature, and that’s one reason the field of teams has grown over the years.
“The word has gotten out that this is one of the best tournaments in the south,’’ Pickett said.