St. Mary’s girls headline top field in MLK hoops tourneys

The Martin Luther King holiday has, at least in Arizona, become synonymous with high school basketball since the school holiday is filled with great tournaments across the state.

This year’s MLK Basketball Classic features high school games at three different sites on Monday and a junior college event tomorrow at Mesa Community College.

Arizona State University will host the most high-profile field of high school teams, as six of the eight boys’ teams that will be playing at Wells Fargo Arena are ranked in the Division I top 10.  Add to that three top-10 girls’ teams – including Division I No. 1 St. Mary’s High School.

St. Mary’s, which plays the second of two girls’ games, should be a great draw for fans who want to see the team generally considered the best in the country right now.  The Knights earned that distinction by rolling undefeated and winning the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions, which showcases many of the best teams in the nation.

That win last month in the TofC will go a long way to making an argument that the central Phoenix Catholic school is a top contender for the mythical national champion in girls basketball at season’s end.

The Knights will play Windward Prep from Los Angeles at 12:30.

But on the boys’ side, the biggest fan attraction from last year will be missing this year.  Jahii Carson stole the show in 2011, scoring 31 points to lead his Mesa High School team to a 67-60 win over the No. 1 team in the state, Mountain View High School from Mesa.

Carson, who was a four-star recruit last year and ranked No. 10 nationally at his position, moved on to Arizona State after his senior season.  He was expected to have an impact on that program as early as this year, but has been derailed for this season due to eligibility issues.

But Wells Fargo Arena will not lack for star power.  The No. 1 and No. 2 teams in Division I will be on the floor – although not at the same time.

But they have been saved for the last two games of the day.

No. 2 Basha High School from Chandler will take on No. 8 Gilbert High School in the 5:30 tip-off and then No. 1 Corona del Sol High School from Tempe will play No. 9 Hamilton High School from Chandler in the 7:00 finale.

The other Division I ranked teams at the ASU site include Scottsdale’s Desert Mountain High School at No. 6 and No. 7 Pinnacle High in Phoenix.

A full slate of games are also planned at the University of Arizona in Tucson and Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.

The ranked teams playing at McKale Center are from Division II and include a couple of Tucson entries, No. 6 Salpointe Catholic and No. 8 Amphitheater High, as well as No. 7 Nogales High School.  The field includes eight boys’ teams and four girls’ teams.

Eight more teams will take the floor at Grand Canyon, split evenly between the boys and girls.  Pinnacle High, the No. 5 girls’ team in Division I will be in the field, and so will Division II No. 3 Peoria High School.   Peoria will take on Apollo High (Glendale) in the day’s opener at noon, followed by Pinnacle and Tolleson High.

The boys’ games follow, with three top-10 teams in the mix.  Anthem’s Boulder Creek High School will meet Mountain Ridge High at 3:30, followed by a contest between Laveen rivals Cesar Chavez High School, which is ranked No. 4 in Division I, and Betty Fairfax High, the No. 4 team in Division II.

Four junior colleges will participate in the MLK event at Mesa CC, including the men’s and women’s teams from Chandler-Gilbert CC, Eastern Arizona College, Phoenix College, and Mesa CC.  That tournament will take place tomorrow, beginning at 11 a.m.