Washington Heels Elite to compete in John Lucas Tournament

Published 10:27 am Friday, January 16, 2015



For years, the Washington Youth Basketball League has operated and sustained itself through a special group of committed volunteers. These people have dedicated hours of their free time as coaches, community organizers and mentors to the youth of Washington and the surrounding area.

Coach John Lampkins has been in the center of it all, a teacher providing local kids with the tools — basketball fundamentals and important life skills — to become sufficient contributors to society down the road. Through the years, he’s used basketball as a vehicle to change lives. Now, Lampkins has the opportunity to take his finished product, a group of local seventh and eighth graders, and expose them to some of the best in the country on a national stage.

This month, Lampkins’ Washington Heels Elite, a team comprised of Beaufort County WYBL All-Stars, along with a handful of other players, was extended an invitation to compete in the John Lucas All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, La., from Feb. 20-22.

“It’s going to bring a lot of notoriety to the town and give hope to the kids — show them they have options. Just because you come from a small town, you can still go somewhere. We don’t believe it was lucky, we believe it was divine,” said J.R. Guilford, an advisor to the team.

The invite-only tournament is in its third year of operation and will host teams from all over the country, including California, New York, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Florida and Maryland, among others. The Heels Elite will match up against the nation’s top travel basketball teams, most of which are from urban areas like New York City and Chicago.

Despite Washington’s humble resume, the Heels will be grouped into the same category as some of the more high profile, elite teams. The players will also receive exposure to basketball scouts and have the opportunity to meet John Lucas, a former Atlantic Coast Conference Athlete of the Year, All-American and first overall NBA draft pick (1976), who also happens to be a North Carolina native.

Tournament director Lynn Meadows saw Washington’s potential and, after a phone conversation with Guilford, decided to extend the Heels a bid, one that will be effective for not just next month’s showcase, but future John Lucas tournaments as well.

Just because you live in a small community doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference in this world,” Meadows said. “I feel like whatever community you come from, there may be that one person out that there may be the one who cures cancer. It takes a good mixture of all types to make the strongest community that you can.”

Like most kids who came through the WYBL, Lampkins has spent not months, but years crafting the attitudes and skillsets of each player. He bases his coaching philosophy around discipline and loyalty, an attribute that led Lampkins to choose mostly local, Beaufort County-bread talent.

“It’s just a whole different world from what you see here in Washington,” Lampkins said. “If we don’t get out of Washington, it’s really going to stunt the growth of our athletes. It’s going to be a major motivation for our kids, some that never leave Washington.”

The opportunity is a special one for the Heels Elite, but they aren’t the first Beaufort County entity to come into contact with a John Lucas event. Northside junior Edrice Adebayo headlined the John Lucas Midwest Elite Camp in 2013. Adebayo’s performance at the showcase garnered enough national attention to transition him from among North Carolina’s best to one of the most highly coveted recruits in the country. The Panthers’ center currently holds the No. 6 overall rank for ESPN’s top 60 recruits in the class of 2016.

Lampkins will take a group of players to Westwego, La., a suburb of New Orleans, next month in hopes of bolstering the reputation of other skilled local ballers, while promoting Beaufort County as an elite basketball hub. But most importantly, Lampkins says, it’s about giving these student athletes a humbling experience, one that they may never experience again.

“When you play on a national level, you represent more than just a city,” Guilford said. “Doors have opened for us that no one else has in eastern North Carolina.”

If you’re interested in helping fund the Washington Heels Elite’s trip to Louisiana, contact J.R. Guilford at 252-258-4336 for more information. The team is also in search of three more players to complete its 11-man roster. Contact Guilford to learn more about the open slots.