Aaron Williams has seen many things in his decades spent in basketball and there are certain plays that will forever be stored in his memory bank, like the one that transpired on Dec. 27, 2021, when he was the head coach of the Abingdon High School Falcons.
The event was the Arby’s Classic.
The venue was Viking Hall.
The opponent was the Dorman Cavaliers from South Carolina.
The indelible moment was provided by Noah Clowney.
“Dorman had a free throw that missed at the back of the rim and bounded above the backboard,” Williams said. “I was following the ball and all of a sudden I saw a player’s arm and hand and it seemed like it was above the backboard and Clowney just put his hand above the ball and brought the ball down through the goal.”
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Clowney is indeed a special talent as Williams can attest and after just one season at the University of Alabama was chosen by the Brooklyn Nets with the 21st overall selection in the 2023 NBA Draft.
The 6-foot-10 rim rocker was the first of three guys who once showcased their skills at the annual holiday tournament in Bristol selected in Thursday’s draft.
Kobe Brown of Missouri went 30th overall to the Los Angeles Clippers and Xavier’s Colby Jones was taken 34th by the Charlotte Hornets and was subsequently traded to the Sacramento Kings. Like Clowney, both of those guys also left an impression on those who saw them play at the Arby’s Classic.
Clowney finished with 24 points, eight rebounds, five blocks and three steals in that aforementioned game against Abingdon.
“Entering the game we all knew he was their guy,” said James Whitted, who played for Abingdon. “We had watched film from some of their playoff games, but we had no idea he was going to be that dominant. His length and athleticism were unmatched. I remember him just making the game look so simple. He could get to the bucket whenever he wanted to or he could get to his spot for a pull-up without an issue.”
Dorman built a 52-2 lead on the Falcons en route to a 91-27 win.
“It’s hard to pick out one specific play because that game was an entire highlight reel for him and many other players on that team,” Whitted said. “I was impressed with his defensive ability. He had a countless amount of blocks under the basket and even out to the 3-point line. An offensive play that will forever be engraved in my mind is a two-on-one fastbreak that they had. I was the only man back. He got the ball passed to him on the left side of the basket and I just knew I had to let him go. He took off outside of the lane, two feet and flushed it with two hands.”
Surprisingly, Dorman lost its next two games and did not place in the tournament. Clowney averaged 19 points and 6.7 rebounds in those three games in Bristol.
“It’s been fun seeing his game develop during his time at Alabama,” Whitted said. “His shot has improved tremendously and that will carry over into the NBA. He will be a tough defender in a couple years as long as he stays healthy.”
Kobe Brown wasn’t completely healthy during the 2017 Arby’s Classic as he came down with a touch of the flu, but he still impressed when he was on the court for Lee High School of Huntsville, Alabama. His team also went just 1-2 at the Arby’s Classic.
However, he went for 15 points, five rebounds and three assists in a 55-30 first-round win over Sullivan East and dominated at times.
“I remember that he was just different,” said John Dyer, Sullivan East’s coach at the time. “His athleticism was overwhelming. You could tell that he had a chance to be special. At the same time, they had several players who were very athletic.
“We tried to zone which was a good strategy, but we struggled to keep them off the boards. The Arby’s is a great tournament where you get to play against so many talented teams, and it’s so much fun for the kids. They pulled away from us, but it was a great experience. We came back the next day and had a great effort against a Cincinnati team [in a 54-43 loss to Lakota East].”
Colby Jones left the 2019 Arby’s Classic with the MVP trophy and helped the Mountain Brook Spartans from Alabama defeat Tennessee High (75-56), Fayetteville, Arkansas (79-62), Concord First Assembly of North Carolina (80-77) and North Mecklenburg (77-66) to win it all.
He averaged 24.8 points per game in the tourney and signed hundreds of autographs.
Jones went for 25 points and five steals in the win over THS, the host school.
“He was a very friendly person, I can say that,” said Blake Fauver, a post player for Tennessee High. “We conversed multiple times throughout the week of the Arby’s and he was a very cordial, humble person, unlike a fair bit of other high-ranked recruits I had met throughout my years at THS.”
There were some other guys you might have recognized who had their names called on Thursday.
The Utah Jazz drafted Brice Sensabaugh of Ohio State with the 28th pick and he is related to the famed Sensabaugh families of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee. His cousins include legendary local athletes such as Flipper Sensabaugh (Virginia High), Gerald Sensabaugh and Coty Sensabaugh (Dobyns-Bennett) and Reggie Sensabaugh and Boo Sensabaugh (J.I. Burton) just to name a few.
Kansas State’s Keyontae Johnson went 50th overall to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Chris Livingston of Kentucky was the 58th and final pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. Both of those dudes played at Oak Hill Academy, the tiny boarding school in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, that is a prep powerhouse.
Kentucky post player Oscar Tshiebwe was signed by the Indiana Pacers as an undrafted free agent. He began his high school hoops career at Mountain Mission in Grundy, Virginia.
As for Aaron Williams, he grew up in the basketball hotbed of Indiana and has been the head basketball coach at Castlewood, J.I. Burton and Abingdon in Southwest Virginia.
Currently an assistant coach at Rye Cove, he will never forget the name Noah Clowney.
“Shawn Kemp was the best athlete I personally played against,” Williams said. “And Noah Clowney was the best athlete I coached against.”