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Big-ticket basketball showcase brings Big Baller Brand to Buffalo

Davonte Gaines fulfilled his “Big Ticket” billing to promote this weekend’s Corey Graham Can-Am prep basketball showcase.

“It’s going to be a movie — you can’t miss it,” the All-Western New York selection who has signed with the University of Tennessee said in advance of the two-day, 12-game event at Villa Maria College.

This will be the only local court appearance of the season for Gaines, who is prepping for Tennessee by spending a postgraduate year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia after leading Health Sciences to the Class B state semifinals in 2018.

“I’ve been looking forward to these games all season,” Gaines said. “I want to put on a show.”

The marquee attraction, however, will be 17-year-old Spire Institute point guard LaMelo Ball and his father LaVar, who will bring his Big Baller Brand pop-up shop — and likely a reality-television production crew — to Villa this weekend.

“This is going to be a major event for our city,” said event organizer Ty Parker, the Health Sciences varsity and Corey Graham Elite AAU coach. “To have a player of the caliber of talent of LaMelo Ball and the other talented players coming in, and the opportunity to have LaVar Ball and the Big Baller Brand right here in our backyard, it showcases our city on the national stage.”

Spire’s undefeated high school team, which also features Mark “Rocket” Watts, a four-star recruit who has verbally committed to Michigan State, plays at 7 on Saturday night and 7:30 Sunday night.

“Those are two elite players that bring a lot of hype around them,” said Gaines, whose No. 4-ranked Hargrave team will play at 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 5:30 p.m. Sunday. “It’s going to be exciting for the people coming to watch. Once the information was put out there, I received a lot of texts and phone calls.”

Tickets to watch the big-ticket players are expensive — $40 general admission for each day, or $100 for one of 25 floor seats — and will only be sold at the door, starting at 1 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday. Gym capacity is 500.

“We wanted to make it fair for everybody that wants to come watch and hopefully everyone gets there early enough to get a seat,” Parker said.

Among the other Division I prospects headlining the showcase are: Josh Morgan (Father Henry Carr), Joel Kabimba (Middleburg Academy), Kobe Elvis (Southwest Academy), Shak Pryce (Pine Ridge Secondary) and Okay Djamgouz (London Basketball Academy).

Along with Gaines, Hargrave’s lineup includes Tyson Jackson, a 6-foot-8 power forward who was born in Buffalo but now lives in Atlanta. Jackson will join Canisius High and Corey Graham Elite alum Jayce Johnson at Middle Tennessee next year.

Gaines makes commitment to Tennessee official as he continues to hone skills at prep school

The goal of the showcase is expose local players to college recruiters who might not come to WNY if there weren’t so many top prospects playing in one event.

Last year’s showcase at The Park School featured the prep schools of Buffalo-born stars Dom Welch (Spire) and Joe Jones (Orangeville) and was attended by coaches from Temple, Iona, Columbia, Buffalo, Niagara, Canisius and several junior colleges, Parker said.

“Games like these are very beneficial for our players in Buffalo, a small market,” Parker said. “A lot of Division I colleges don’t come here to look at our guys. We take our kids on the road to tournaments, but that costs a lot of money. So I tried to create an event that will attract coaches to come here.”

While Section VI rules don’t allow area teams to participate in an event with prep schools, Parker has set up a separate showcase on Saturday for Health Sciences and Middle Early College to match up with Canadian high schools. He hopes some college coaches will stop by the games at Enterprise Charter School while they are in town.

"Those are high-level games for our teams," Parker said. "And it will be exciting for our student-athletes in Buffalo to have an event where they can see high school basketball played at the highest level, and how hard they have to work to get to that level."

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