One Newport man returned from Florida Tuesday with enough memories to last a lifetime - as well as something real special, a National Championship ring.
"This is the first time to earn a National Championship ring in AAU and it was really a lot of fun," Newport High School basketball coach Leighton McCrary said Wednesday. He was referring to the Arkansas Wings 17-U National Championship which they earned Monday afternoon with a 54-29 dismantling of Chicago NLP in the National finals in Orlando, Fla. "I was with Ron (Crawford) when we got AAU off the ground in the state and he's got nine rings now. He was joking around that he had one thumb left," McCrary said laughingly, "but this was really a lot of fun." "This was one of the best TEAMS I've ever been around," he added. "They were completely unselfish, always pulling for each other and not worried about playing time or shots or anything else." This comes from a man who has seen the best not only Arkansas has had to offer over the years, but the nation. "I coached teams with Corliss (Williamson), (Derek) Fisher, Keith Jackson and this was as good a team as I've ever been around." This is McCrary's second stint with the AAU program, his first coming in the 1980's highlighted not by a National Championship but being selected as the head coach of an AAU National Select team that toured Russia. "We had guys like Kenny Smith, Ricky Blanton, Tommy Amaker," he said, "we practiced in Boston and places like that and then we got to spend two weeks in Russia and Sweden and play basketball. It was really cool." McCrary returned to the AAU sidelines last summer finishing 8-1 in Nationals and in 10th place out of 208 teams. This year's 9-0 record and National Championship pushed his two year total to 17-1. "He (Crawford) told me that I would be the head coach and whatever I said would go but he has such a passion and a great offensive basketball mind that when he decided he wanted to do something, I just let him have it." McCrary added, "But I was real proud of the defense that we played. It wasn't full-court pressure defense, we just played real hard, fundamental defense and we did it well. I think our opponents averaged right at 40 points per game on us." Bobby Portis, a 6'10" commit to the University of Arkansas, led the way for the Wings with 18 points and 10 rebounds while Moses Kingsley tossed in eight points and 12 rebounds.