Howard Hoffman and Buddy Valinsky both graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School. Both men played on its varsity basketball team. Both remain loyal to the program — Valinksy is coach of Allderdice’s varsity boys basketball team, Hoffman a supportive fan. Six weeks from now and 675 miles from Pittsburgh, Hoffman and Valinsky will achieve something larger than any game.
On Jan. 23, Allderdice’s boys varsity basketball team will compete in the Peachtree Corners Invitational. Held in Norcross, Ga., the invitational is self-described as “one of the top [high school basketball] showcases in the nation” and billed as “the Southeast’s premiere January showcase.”
“It’s not just a bunch of kids getting together at the Jewish Community Center to pass the time,” said Hoffman of the experience.
The invitational, which features nationally ranked talent, will attract 4,000 to 6,000 spectators and nearly 20,000 online views, said Hoffman.
Competing in the prestigious showcase is a result of Allderdice’s regional dominance. The Dragons finished last season 26-3 with a loss to Philadelphia’s Martin Luther King in the PIAA Class AAAA boys basketball semifinals. Currently ranked 17th in the state, and having returned most of last year’s squad, the Dragons seemed poised for another late-season run.
Participating in the invitational should ready the Dragons for state, said Valinsky, but traveling to Norcross is about more than basketball.
“The traveling experience with these kids is first and foremost. Of the 12 kids going, seven or eight have never been on a plane.”
“I think it will be really good for them to get out and see a part of the country that they have never been to,” said Jesse McMillan, coach of the Norcross varsity boys basketball team.
“Educationally we’re going to do some different things other than basketball. We’re going to a civil rights museum in Atlanta; also [there’s] bonding of the team traveling together and staying in the hotel,” said Valinsky.
Inclusion in the prestigious Peachtree Corners Invitational is a credit both to the Dragons’ successful play as well as Hoffman’s push to take the team south.
Throughout last year, and in seasons past, Hoffman followed Allderdice from afar. For over 35 years, the former Pittsburgher has called Atlanta home. Yet, during that time, without wavering allegiance to his alma mater, Hoffman developed an affinity for another program. For the past six years, he has been president of the boosters club for Norcross High School’s basketball team.
After the Dragons won last year’s City League championship and advanced to state, Hoffman phoned Allderdice to wish the team well.
“He had called one day and left a message to wish us good luck,” said Valinsky.
Upon returning the call, Valinsky discovered that Hoffman had played basketball at Allderdice in 1963 and desired to see the Dragons play locally. He had this dream to see his former team come to Atlanta to play in its one-day showcase and play against Norcross, said Valinsky of Hoffman.
For the dream to materialize, certain criteria needed to be met. There would be considerable costs to take the team from Pittsburgh to Atlanta, and the Dragons needed to be invited to the prestigious showcase.
Shortly after the Dragons won the City League Championship, Hoffman called Norcross’ coach, Jesse McMillan, and proposed the idea of including Allderdice in the showcase.
Ironically, 48 hours earlier, McMillan had been told of Allderdice’s team.
“It was kind of a little bit of a coincidence,” said McMillan, who explained that each year he monitors different high schools and reaches out to colleagues in the hopes of finding teams unknown to Norcross’ fans.
“I will normally have some conversations with Donnie Wilkie (the City of Palms Classic, Fort Myers, Fla., tournament director). I will ask him if he knows of any teams that are under the radar. I spoke to him late last year, and he mentioned Allderdice.”
So when Hoffman called McMillan and began making a case for Allderdice’s inclusion in the invitational, McMillan was already on board.
“It’s a small world because they have a lot of people who think pretty highly of them,” said McMillan of Allderdice’s team.
Once the invitation was made, Hoffman began raising money. He reached out to fellow Allderdice alums, both in Atlanta and nationally.
“I started calling Allderdice graduates, and almost without exception they decided to help,” said Hoffman.
Some gave $25 dollars, others much more.
“There were close to 40 people in all who decided to contribute.”
In the end, Hoffman raised nearly $5,000. The money will cover the team’s travel, lodging, meals and touring.
And just to sweeten the experience, during the third game of the invitational, Norcross will play Allderdice. The opportunity is something both sides relish.
“What we liked is that they are going to give us a great test; [Allderdice] is experienced, been playing together for two to three years, has great guard play,” said McMillan. “We’re going to have to play against a veteran team that isn’t going to get rattled; they will have to play against a team that’s a little bigger.”
“A little bigger” might be a bit of an understatement. Norcross features Rayshaun Hammonds, a 6-foot-8 small forward, and Lance Thomas, a 6-foot-9 power forward. Both Hammonds and Thomas have received multiple scholarship offers — something not uncommon for Norcross players and quite consistent with the program’s recent history. Over the past decade, Norcross has won five state championships, graduated multiple Division I college players and produced four NBA players: Jodie Meeks, Gani Lawal, Al-Farouq Aminu and Jeremy Lamb.
When asked about Hammonds, Thomas and Norcross’ decorated history, Valinsky remained unfazed.
“We have seven seniors out of the 12; these guys have been playing for me for the last three or four years. Our motto is fear nobody, and they really don’t.”
“It will be a very tough task, but the basketball is secondary,” said Valinsky.
First and foremost is the experience, he maintained. And regarding history, Valinsky noted, “This is the first time Allderdice high school has taken a plane for a national event. I think that’s pretty historic, and it’s not costing the school a penny, [it was] all done through fundraising.”
Modest about its history, Norcross’ aim is to look forward.
“If Buddy and Allderdice can come down and, win or lose, speak highly of us and our event, we consider it a win,” said McMillan. “We get to showcase our community, our program and kind of build our reputation around the country, because we want to be able to expand our visibility as well. We want people to learn more about Norcross High School and Norcross, Ga.”
For all involved, the invitational is about more than just suiting up and shooting hoops.
“We wanted to make it a total experience for them, not just a basketball event,” said Hoffman.
“We think this will be a great experience that they will reflect on as they move throughout their lives.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.