The Mission Prep Christmas Classic is billed as “the top holiday basketball tournament in the state of California and is one of the best in the nation.”
With the tournament’s 13th edition beginning today, there is a lot in truth in Mission Prep’s self promotion.
The tournament is broken into two division brackets and features 16 teams from four states and a dozen Division I college-bound players. It also offers multiple storylines, including this one: host Mission Prep, led by Cal Poly signee Zach Allmon, aims to win the Elite Division and continue its unbeaten streak.
“We host a great tournament, we’re excited for a great tournament,” Mission Prep coach Terrance Harris said. “But we don’t want to just be here. We want to be successful in our own tournament.”
“Our goal is to win.”
It’s not going to be simple, with the amount of high-caliber players and teams from across the nation.
Taft of Woodland Hills returns in hopes of its third consecutive title in the National Division — something no other past participant has achieved. Though they have listed two college prospects in forward Brandon Perry (Cal State Northridge) and center Anthony January (UTEP), the Toreadors will be without sophomore guard Shaqquan Aaron, considered one of the top prospects in the 2014 recruiting class and a Mater Dei transfer who has been ruled ineligible by the CIF-City Section.
Even with all that talent, first-year coach Jason Hart said his Toreadors have a different approach after reaching last season’s semifinals in the Southern California regional bracket of the CIF Tournament.
“I don’t think we have a target on our backs,” Hart said in an e-mail. “This is a new team, with a new coach and a new system. Talent is good to have, but teamwork is everything.”
There will be other talented players to watch.
Center Robert Upshaw of San Joaquin Memorial in Fresno is headed to Kansas State, Grant Verhoeven of Central Valley Christian in Visalia has signed with Stanford and Taft isn’t the only school with multiple D-I players, as La Costa Canyon of Carlsbad has Georgia State-bound point guard David Travers and San Diego State-bound guard Matt Shrigley. Seattle Prep forward Mitch Brewe will play at Big West Conference member UC Santa Barbara.
And there’s a slew of others — including Florida’s Dillard forward/center Stephon Blair (Central Florida), Florida’s Cypress Bay point guard Shea Jones (Presbyterian College in South Carolina) and Arizona’s Desert Vista forward Danny Powell (Eastern Washington) — who have signed or committed to Division I schools. There’s also an impressive group of underclassmen who are considered college prospects.
The tournament has separate division brackets: National and Elite. But the divisions will crisscross each other today, when the Mission Prep Christmas Classic presents Challenge Night, which matches National and Elite teams together.
The first game between Dillard and J.W. North of Riverside is scheduled for 11 a.m., while San Luis Obispo (4-0) takes on Washington Prep (4-4) of Los Angeles at 3:30 p.m. and Mission Prep (7-0) faces San Joaquin Memorial (2-3).
The National Division consists of higher caliber teams that are state champions or compete at a higher state level, such as Desert Vista (ranked fourth in Arizona by ESPNHS), Seattle Prep (13th in the West Region), La Costa Canyon (18th in the West Region) and Dillard (ranked 18th in Florida).
That’s not to say the Elite Division is full of pushovers. The group is compromised of teams similar in size but still of a high caliber, such as Mission Prep, San Luis Obispo and Campbell Hall, which has a Nevada-bound forward in Cole Huff. Righetti of the PAC 7 is also in the tournament.
Both division brackets begin Saturday, with both championships scheduled for Tuesday night.
“A lot of teams come to the tournament to get an early season test,” Harris of Mission Prep said. “They can get early season competition. They look forward to that kind of atmosphere in December.”
One of the tournament’s highlights is the dunk contest, scheduled for today at 9:45 p.m.