All the time, Terrance Harris said, he and former Mission Prep boys basketball players point at NBA and college stars and play a game of “Remember when?”
“We sit and watch college and NBA games saying, ‘I remember playing against DeMar DeRozan. I remember playing against the Lopez twins,’” said Harris, in his fourth year as the Royals’ head coach. “We talk about it over the years.”
He was referring to his players’ experiences at the annual Mission Prep Christmas Classic, a nationally renowned basketball tournament held in San Luis Obispo since 1999.
Nine current NBA players — including the Toronto Raptors’ DeRozan, as well as Brooke Lopez and Robin Lopez of the New Jersey Nets and Phoenix Suns, respectively — have played in the tournament.
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“One of the big draws for us personally at Mission Prep is to give our student athletes an opportunity to play against the best,” Harris said. “These are opportunities and memories you can’t get back. We want to challenge ourselves. We say, ‘Hey, let’s give our kids an opportunity to step up to some dominant players and see what they can do.’”
As in recent years, the Classic — held at Mission Prep’s Cowitz Court — will have a national bracket, featuring the highest level of competition, and more of a California-based elite bracket, featuring local challengers in Mission Prep, San Luis Obispo, Pioneer Valley and St. Joseph. The elite teams will have a chance to take on the national teams Friday during “Challenge Night.”
Mission Prep will open against Cathedral of Los Angeles at 10:30 a.m. Friday before resuming action against Campbell Hall of North Hollywood at 8:15 p.m. San Luis Obispo will play Sylmar at 1:30 p.m.
Taft of Woodland Hills headlines this year’s group of nationally acclaimed teams. Taft is ranked No. 15 in the nation by MaxPreps, No. 20 by USA Today and No. 22 by ESPN Rise. The Toreadors are led by Bryce Jones, a 6-foot-5 guard committed to USC, and DeAndre Daniels, a 6-8 forward headed to Texas.
A team Harris said is expected to bring a more contrasting, slower and physical style of play is Ballou of Washington D.C. Another contender in the national bracket should be Campbell Hall of North Hollywood, which is led by Louisiana Tech-bound forward Deuce Johnson. Meanwhile, Edison of Fresno, which recently edged Arroyo Grande 71-66, features 6-11 Robert Upshaw, who ESPN.com evaluates as potentially the top sophomore center prospect on the West Coast.
The tournament — which used to be played in Cal Poly’s Mott Gym — was founded by former Mission Prep coach Tom Mott, now at St. Joseph. Since its inception, it has become a staple among the country’s most high-profile holiday-season tournaments that serve as college basketball recruiting hotbeds.
Last year, UCLA coach Ben Howland attended. In November, highly touted Kentwood of Covington, Wash. center Josh Smith — who played at the Classic as a junior a year ago — committed to the Bruins.
“Definitely, the tournament has grown in national recognition,” Harris said. “People realize it’s a competitive tournament with a good atmosphere.”
This year’s Classic will run through Tuesday. Saturday play in the elite bracket will include a 4:30 p.m. matchup between San Luis Obispo and St. Joseph, and a 6 p.m. contest between Mission Prep and Rio Americano. A dunk contest will follow Saturday night’s games, approximately after 9 p.m.