Annual MLK tournament brings out best in Europe
Heidelberg Lady Generals Kerry-Ann Raney (10) outpaces a Naples player during the Martin Luther King Jr. basketball tournament held Friday-Monday on Patton Barracks in Heidelberg. Naples beat Heidelberg 48-47.

HEIDELBERG, GERMANY - Some of Europe's best ballers made their way to Patton Barrack's fitness center for the 14th annual Martin Luther King Jr. basketball tournament held in Heidelberg Jan.14-17.

A combined total of 19 male and female teams played but only two won the coveted championship trophies.

Top honors went to Grafenwoehr's men's team and Spangdahlem's women's team.

The Grizzlies secured a 75-66 win over Schweinfurt while Spangdahlem shut down the Stuttgart ladies in a 39-30 victory.

The Martin Luther King Jr. tournament is one of the oldest in Europe and Michael Criswell, U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Wuerttemberg chief of sports and fitness, explained why community support for the event has remained so strong. "It gathers the top basketball athletes from all around Europe and top athletes like to play top athletes. They come and they know they're going to play the best in Europe," he said.

Criswell added the tournament has now become more important than ever for the teams and for the community. "Because of the draw-down, there's less bases and there's less funding and to have an outlet for the Soldiers and Airmen and service members to participate is enormous," he said.

As transformation efforts pick up, communities like Mannheim are feeling the effects directly. USAG Mannheim is slated to deactivate in May.

"It's safe to say that this will be Mannheim's last time here," said Theodus Green, USAG Mannheim chief of sports and fitness. Green has been coaching the Mustangs since 2005 and said there are talks of merging the Heidelberg and Mannheim teams into one but nothing has been officially decided. "It's really sad. We've talked about it and a lot of the guys are sad about it but life goes on and I think the camaraderie between the Heidelberg Generals and the Mannheim Mustangs, becoming one team would be a smooth transition and we'll be stronger and move forward," he added.

As for his own future plans, Green admitted this would probably be his last year coaching but he does plan to continue on as chief of sports and fitness and do "whatever God has for me to do."

This year's tournament kicked off with the unveiling of the brand new center-court logo designed by U.S. Army garrison Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg employee and Web master Brandon Spragins.

The orange, yellow and blue court logo, featuring stars, a basketball and the city of Heidelberg was just one of several improvements made to the basketball gym during its recent remodeling.

The entire gym floor and lighting system were also replaced and the walls and lines on the court were repainted.

The tournament was the first chance for the public to see the new additions and for players to christen the brand-new hardwood.

Spragins' design will also be featured on the basketball court at the Campbell Barrack's fitness center.

Members of the U.S. Army Europe band entertained the crowd as spectators awaited the first tip-off.

Heidelberg Family and MWR gave away prizes each day.

The MLK tournament is held each year on the long weekend accompanying the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Named the event's most valuable player among the women was Javita Cotton from Spangdahlem; and Sean Johnson from Grafenwoehr among the men.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16