Since the late 1990s, the Mission Prep Christmas Classic basketball tournament has brought future college stars and NBA talent to San Luis Obispo.
This year’s edition starts today and runs through Tuesday at Cowitz Court.
Headlining this year’s 16-team field is Taft High of Woodland Hills, which is ranked No. 21 in the nation by both MaxPreps and ESPN RISE, and No. 23 by USA Today. Taft features point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who has signed with Colorado, as well as 6-foot-10, 260-pound center Kevin Johnson, who reportedly has an offer from Illinois.
“They have national recognition,” Mission Prep coach Terrance Harris said. “We’re definitely looking forward to watching them play, and they’ll be a tough team to beat.”
Another contender figures to be Price of Los Angeles, which is led by 6-10 post presence Norvel Pelle, a St. John’s commit rated by Rivals.
com as the No. 2 center recruit in the nation this year, and the No. 19 prospect in the country regardless of position.
“Norvel Pelle is definitely a very talented kid,” Harris said. “They have a team that traditionally is one of the best in the state. They’re definitely going to be an exciting and high-flying team.”
Price also has Skylar Spencer, Rivals’ 18th-best power forward nationally among juniors.
Campbell Hall of North Hollywood, meanwhile, boasts another Division I recruit in San Diego State-bound junior small forward Cole Huff.
Current NBA players who’ve played at tournaments in recent years include Brook Lopez (of the New Jersey Nets), James Harden (Oklahoma City Thunder), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors), Ty Lawson (Denver Nuggets) and Jrue Holiday (Philadelphia 76ers).
San Luis Obispo will again join Mission Prep as a local representative this year.
The Tigers (2-3) will tip off at 2 p.m. today against Sylmar, and the host Royals (4-2) will open at 8:15 against Marin Catholic.
Taft will take on Mission Hills of San Diego at 6:45 p.m.
Mission Prep and San Luis Obispo will compete in the elite bracket on Saturday, with San Luis Obispo playing Granite Bay at noon and Mission Prep playing Santa Clara of Oxnard at 6:30 p.m.
The Royals transitioned to the CIF-Southern Section this past offseason, and are competing as an independent a year after advancing to the Central Section Division V championship game.
As a freelance program, Mission Prep needs to win at least 50 percent of its games to be eligible for an at-large playoff berth, and 80 percent to guarantee itself a postseason bid.
“I told my guys it’s kind of like the BCS,” Harris said. “All we can do is go out and play as hard as we can and let the rest take care of itself.”
The Royals have been led by versatile forward Art Lane, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds in a 47-32 win over Paso Robles on Tuesday, as well as point guard Sam Cowitz.
“We have some good pieces,” Harris said. “It’ll be a continued work-in-progress getting to the point where we want to be, but I definitely like the talent and potential of this team.”
Guards Mike Hansen and Matt Moore have led the way for fast-paced San Luis Obispo.
Hansen is averaging 15.7 points per game and Moore 15.