The Carolina Ballers, a travel basketball squad made up of boys from every middle school in Beaufort County and one student from Japser County, open play Saturday in the AAU 8th Grade Division II Nationals at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla.
The tournament runs through Thursday.
The Ballers, in their first season and coached by Jacob Morrow, qualified for the Nationals with a tournament win earlier this year in Florida. They later won the S.C. State Championship for their grade division.
Morrow, and his wife Jennifer -- the team's director of basketball operations -- claim this team, based out of the Boys & Girls Club of Bluffton, isn't like most AAU programs.
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Counting a retired U.S. Marine (Jacob Morrow) and a Vietnam veteran (Russ Spicer) among the coaches, in addition to basketball fundamentals, the team emphasizes discipline, work ethic and volunteerism. And the coaches stress a commitment to academics.
"Don't just go for a 2.0 (the minimum required to play AAU sports), do better than that," Jacob Morrow said. "If you're on the basketball court and you can understand the game, then you can understand what's going on at school."
And Morrow said the coaches have made themselves available to help the boys in any way needed.
"We don't just care about you on the court, we care about you in the classroom. We care about your conduct outside the classroom. Your day-to-day activities," Jacob Morrow said. "The kids know that, and they grasp it. We have a great group of parents who have bought in, as well. Anything the kids have going on in life, they can talk to us before practice or after practice or they can pick up the phone anytime. The other coaches, we're like mentors to them."
Despite reaching the national tournament, Morrow said his team won't approach the games any differently than their other games this season.
"We told the kids, it doesn't matter what part of the country you come from," Morrow said. "They have to put five guys out there, and we have to put five guys out there. They have to play the way they play, and we have to play the way we play. And as long as we play our game, the advantage is ours.
"We got them here, and they're the ones that have to perform and play like we taught them the past five months, and if they do, they can be successful."
AAU 8th Grade Division II Nationals
Saturday-Thursday, ESPN Wide World of Sports, Orlando, Fla.
Details: www.carolinaballers.org; www.aauboysbasketball.org