Michael Greenman didn't know much about basketball when he was 5 and 6 years old.

But he knew that Battle by the Bay games weren't just run-of-the-mill contests.

Greenman would watch his older brother, Scott, play for St. Augustine Prep in the weekend high school tournament in Atlantic City.

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"I just remember it always being so crowded," said Michael Greenman, now a St. Augustine Prep senior guard. "It was an event I always looked forward to as a kid, seeing my brother play on the big stage in front of everyone. You could tell the stakes were a little higher."

The 19th annual Battle by the Bay will be held today through Sunday at Atlantic City High School. Current New York Knicks star J.R. Smith is among the professionals who have played in the showcase event.

This year, the featured game matches Atlantic City (14-1), No. 1 in The Press Elite 11, against No. 3 ranked St. Augustine (15-1) at 7:30 p.m. today. The event concludes with the traditional finale between the Atlantic City and the Pleasantville boys (8-8) on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

Greenman, 17, watched his older brother play in four Battle by the Bay games from 1999-2002. Scott is now director of basketball operations at Georgetown University.

Like Michael Greenman, Middle Township senior forward Tom Feraco also remembers the showcase event.

Feraco's father, also named Tom, coaches Middle. The elder Feraco coached Middle in several Battle by the Bay games in the 1990s and 2000s.

Middle Township (13-3 and No. 4 in the Elite 11) will play this year against George Washington of Philadelphia on Saturday at 2 p.m.

The younger Feraco remembers Middle playing in the 2002 tournament. The Panthers beat Toms River East 61-52. Middle won the state Group II title that year and Feraco said the only games he remembers are the Battle by the Bay and the state playoff contests.

"The (Battle by the Bay) was the first time I got to understand how serious high school basketball is," Feraco, 18, said. "A lot of people came to the game. That's the first time I saw how serious my dad's job was to be a high school coach."

Greenman and Feraco will both be playing in their first Battle by the Bay games this weekend. The two are among the region's top players. The 5-foot-9 Greenman, who lives in Linwood, averages 14.6 points. Feraco, a 6-2 senior, leads Middle in scoring (13.9 points per game) and assists (4.4 assists per game).

"We're real excited to play," Feraco said. "It's a big tournament like the PrimeTime Shootout (in North Jersey), but it's closer to home, so your community can come out and support you."

While St. Augustine plays a familiar opponent in Atlantic City, Middle will face George Washington, an opponent it knows little about. The Philadelphia school is 13-6.

"It's fun to play teams you don't know a lot about," Feraco said. "It gets your adrenalin pumping. You don't know how the game is going to exactly play out. It gives you a different perspective."

It's not just the schools and the talent that makes the Battle by the Bay special. It's also the setting.

Atlantic City has hosted numerous big games since the school opened in 1994. The gym is one of the area's largest, but there's a buzz for highly anticipated games. The fans know the sport, and the crowd isn't shy about letting the players know how it feels.

"It gets extremely loud," Greenman said. "It's not one of those big gyms where the noise doesn't get as loud. It's big, but it has a small-gym kind of atmosphere."

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