If you follow women’s college basketball, you may recognize some familiar faces roaming the East Valley high school gymnasiums this weekend. It’s time again for the annual Nike Tournament of Champions, which draws some of the best high school teams from around the country.
There are 90 college coaches that have expressed their intent on attending the five-day event that starts today and will be spread among three high school gyms in Gilbert and the Kroc Center in south Phoenix.
That list includes coaches from four of the Pac-12 schools and even reigning national champion UConn – and, of course, many from smaller schools that most fans probably wouldn’t recognize. But they’re an important part of the mix for players looking for a scholarship, or just a program that will provide them a landing spot after high school.
With limited travel and recruiting budgets, a tournament like the Nike TOC is a godsend. Those smaller programs get an opportunity to see many of the top players in the country competing in a field of 90 teams by just moving from one gym to another.
For the most part, these multi-day tourneys are attended by assistant coaches and recruiting coordinators, but it’s not uncommon to find a head coach sitting in the stands. One of those should be especially recognizable to Arizona fans. Joan Bonvicini, who spent 17 seasons as the head coach of the University of Arizona program and is now the head coach at Seattle University, is on the list of those planning to attend.
It’s a great experience for players, parents, and visiting coaches. The event is hosted at the AAA Four-Diamond hotel, the Arizona Grand Resort. As the official hotel for the tournament, those attending can take advantage of a special room rate and enjoy the top-drawer amenities and beautiful winter climate Arizona offers.
Nothing like the old days when we booked our teams into the nearest Economy Lodge and ate our meals at Subway.
The teams, of course, are there for the competition. It’s an opportunity to match up against some of the top teams in the nation, in this case from 21 states – not just those within the Arizona borders. Players can test their skills against the best as they get caught up in the hoops mania that comes from more than 1,100 athletes competing in 192 games, with six different division titles at stake.
Arizona has 14 teams among the field of 90 and they have generally done a good job of representing their state. But that’s down considerably from the 22 local teams that were entered in the 2014 event.
Last year, Hamilton High, Desert Vista High, and Millennium High all played in the Joe Smith Division, the bracket where the country’s top teams play. That top bracket includes St. Mary’s High School of Stockton, CA, the national pre-season No. 1. However, Arizona is not represented among the 16 teams entered in the Joe Smith.
Many teams return every year. Some, like Mountain View High School from Meridian, Idaho, are appearing for the first time. After winning the 5A state championship, they decided it was time to undertake a major fund-raising effort to earn the money to make the trip. Unfortunately, a lack of finances is a major factor that keeps the field from growing even bigger each year.
This is the 18th year for the tournament, which has been hosted in this state since 2001, when Chandler High School and the Chandler School District stepped up to take on the responsibility of putting it together.
Hamilton is the only returning school from among the three that played in the Joe Smith Division last year. The Chandler school will be competing in the Desper Division, which also includes Mesquite High School from Gilbert.