Windermere Prep, Olympia and Dr. Phillips are among the local teams that will participate.
If you’re a fan of high-school hoops, then you know the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year.
Around the Central Florida area and beyond, the arrival of the holidays serves as a time to make your way over to a local high-school gym and binge on basketball.
Some tournaments are intimate and quaint — such as the Windermere Prep Hoopfest held last Saturday — while others, such as the upcoming The City Beautiful Invitational, are multi-day behemoths.
“It was fun (getting) it started last year with the 16-team tournament — I think it’s the first one in a long time, maybe since the Great Florida Shootout,” said TFA head coach Chris Mayberry. “It’s just fun to get these basketball teams — a lot of my friends that coach at different schools in Orlando and then a few from out of the area — all together and have a great four days of basketball.”
Between Wednesday, Dec. 19, and Saturday, Dec. 22, The First Academy will be host to more than 30 games— all of which will be split between Natalie Thomas Gym and Cramer Family Field House.
On the first day alone, eight games are played among the 16-team field, which includes a tip-off game between Dr. Phillips and The Master’s Academy at 1:30 p.m., followed by Olympia/McCallie (4:30 p.m.), TFA/Mariner (7:30 p.m.) and Windermere Prep/Chaminade-Madonna (9:00 p.m.).
“One of the things I’m looking forward to is the competition,” said Windermere Prep head coach Brian Hoff. “They (Chaminade-Madonna) have a Georgia commit on their team, but more than that, they’re a really good team. With our young group, I like that we can face those tough teams to help us down the road.”
The biggest bonus about playing in these types of tournaments for teams is that the competition is truly on another level. It’s also a time for schools to build on their strength of schedule by playing good teams from out of the area.
Those teams include the McCallie Blue Tornado, who will be facing off against Olympia on opening day. The Tornado, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, went 26-6 last year. The year before, they went 29-9 and finished runner-up in the Division II, Class AA state tournament.
Meanwhile, in-state programs such as Mainland (which finished 21-8 last year) and Mariner (which finished 21-9) offer up Florida-based competition Orange County schools don’t often face.
And the selection process is no easy task for the tournament, which started with only eight teams.
“It’s been tough,” Mayberry said. “The first couple of years we’ve been trying to get some out- of-state teams, but as you know, you have to plan a year — sometimes two years — in advance.
“We’re in conversations with teams for next year, and the year after at this point, but you know we get a lot of locals that want to stay home and play in something pretty good, so we’re always going to have a pretty good draw of Orlando teams,” he said. “The goal is to get 12 in-area or Florida teams, and then maybe four from out of the area.”
Despite the growing pains that come with developing a top-tier tournament, there’s a lot that Mayberry and those at TFA are doing right. They have created a tournament filled with talented teams, at their world-class facilities on campus.
“The guys love the tournaments,” Hoff said. “Players love to play in big-time events. Whether it’s the CBI or the Rock (Holiday Classic), any big-time tournament that you’re in, players want to play.”