There will be some significant changes in this year’s Hoophall West basketball tournament as organizers begin preparing for a second year of expansion into the West – more specifically Arizona – for what is expected to become one of the more elite national events in high school hoops.
Initially called the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame High School Invitational, the tournament was begun 14 years ago at Western New England University and last year it stepped out to establish a west-coast presence. The original event draws some of the best boys’ high school teams in the country, and the inaugural event in Phoenix last year debuted with some of the top teams in California and a couple ranked in the top 10 nationally.
Grand Canyon University in west Phoenix offered to host the premier, but this year the tourney will move to Chaparral High School in Scottsdale. GCU remains a lead sponsor and will be joined by MassMutual Financial Group, NABI, Shamrock Farms, and Nike.
The two-day event has become a tournament broken into two sessions over five days, with the Campus Round pool-play games scheduled for the Thanksgiving break, to be held on Nov. 25, 26 and 28. Eight Arizona schools will participate in that portion of the event, and there has also been a change in the line-up since last year.
Three-time defending state champion Corona del Sol High School will headline the group again this year. Last year, the Tempe school played the ‘marquee’ game, the final one of the event, against Shadow Mountain High School in Phoenix and pulled out an 84-75 victory after Shadow Mountain climbed out of a 17-point hole and made a furious push in the final minutes.
Shadow Mountain, the reigning Division II state champion, will be back on the floor again this year — but a couple of other teams will not. Gilbert’s Mesquite High and Millennium High School in Goodyear have opted out and been replaced by Pinnacle High and Chinle High School.
Pinnacle should be able to give the tournament some added excitement, based on its run at last year’s state title. And Chinle should help put a bunch more fannies in the seats at the Chaparral gym.
It was Pinnacle that took Corona del Sol into overtime during last year’s state championship game before getting beat on a Casey Benson basket with 28 seconds left in the OT period, losing 71-70. The Pioneers will no doubt have that in mind if they get a shot at the Aztecs in the Hoophall. Benson has graduated, but Corona is loaded again this year.
And the addition of Chinle marks the first time a ‘rez team’ has been included in the field. The Wildcats will represent the Navajo Nation at the event and are getting the opportunity thanks to a partnership that has been set up between the Naismith Hall of Fame folks and NABI, which is the Native American Basketball Invitational organization. They posted a 26-7 record last season and were the No. 1 team in their division.
And, if you anything about reservations teams, you know they have a huge following. They will help fill the Chaparral gym any day the Wildcats are scheduled to play.
The other returning local teams include Gilbert High, Desert Mountain High, Westview High, and host Chaparral.
But the most significant change takes place during the second session, the national showcase, which will be held Jan. 2-3. That portion of the event is being added this year to give the Arizona teams a chance to match up with the out-of-state teams, which include DeMatha Catholic, the perennial state title holder in Maryland, and California’s Sierra Canyon, a top-25 team nationally. Last year, the local teams competed among themselves and the visitors’ competition was separate.
The slate of outside teams also includes Findlay Prep from Nevada, Our Savior New American from New York, and Riverside Academy from Louisiana.
Corona del Sol will once again close out the tourney by playing the marquee game against Sierra Canyon at 7 p.m. on Jan. 3, preceded by a contest between Shadow Mountain and DeMatha. The rest of the teams will compete in six games over the two-day period.