March Madness is still a few months away.
But for area boys and girls basketball teams, Dynamic December is upon them.
It’s 30 days of whirlwind travel that keeps teams moving from games and tournaments throughout the region and, in a few cases, out of state.
By the time league play rolls around in January, many will have played half their regular-season schedule.
No fewer than 50 area boys and girls tournaments or showcase events are scheduled locally in the next four weeks. Area teams will travel to many more tournaments in the Bay Area, Southern California and Arizona.
It’s the time of year players love and coaches, well, tolerate.
“It’s a blur,” said Monterey Trail boys coach Ken Manfredi. “With all the technology today, coaches are doing a lot more. It’s a tornado, but it’s fun, too.”
Players like it because there are more games than practices, a chance to travel to new locales and play teams they’ve never seen before and might never see again.
Elite teams sometimes get an even bigger treat.
Those with a star player or a plethora of Division I talent are invited to prestigious national events.
Last year’s Sheldon boys’ team that featured four D-I players competed in high-profile tournaments in Las Vegas, San Diego and New Orleans. This year, Capital Christian, The Bee’s preseason No. 1, has already won a tournament in Chicago.
The top-ranked Sacramento High girls, with five D-I scholarship players this season, are regular participants in the Nike Tournament of Champions, Dec. 19-21 in Phoenix.
“December is my favorite month because we get to go to Arizona and play against some of the best teams in the nation,” said Sac High senior post Ayanna Edwards, headed to Arizona State. “It’s competition we can’t get at home and gives us a feel for what we’re going to face in the playoffs. But it’s fun, too.”
It doesn’t hurt that headquarters for the event is the 330-acre, four-diamond Arizona Grand Resort.
“My freshman year I was such a nerd, I was so in awe,” said Edwards. “I was, ‘Oh, my gosh! Look at that pool. Oh, my gosh! Look at that plant. That costs $500.’” My teammates had fun recording that.”
While the paid-for resort is a nice perk, Dragons coach Michele Massari said playing in such challenging tournaments is a must for programs like hers that aspire to CIF Northern California Regional and state championships.
In addition to the Dragons’ own St. Hope Classic on Dec. 12-14, the charter school will play some of the nation’s best in the West Coast Jamboree, Dec. 27-30 in Antioch.
“The only downfall is when you play so many tournaments, there’s a lot of back-to-back games, so there isn’t a lot of teaching time to correct mistakes,” Massari said. “It’s exciting and the kids love it, but you’ve got to do a lot of things on the fly. If you’re winning, it’s easier, but if you are struggling in certain areas, it’s hard to fix on a dry erase board.”
While Edwards enjoys playing unknown teams, it’s a challenge, too.
“I’m one of those persons who likes to know every little detail about who I’m playing,” she said. “So it’s weird when you’re playing a team from Kansas and you have an hour to prepare. But it’s good because you have to think fast.”
Antelope boys coach Rob Richards had a talented team last season that featured several college-level players. So he thought a long trip to play in the MaxPreps Holiday Classic in Palm Springs after Christmas was a nice reward. The Titans competed in the elite division against some of the nation’s best teams.
“We wanted to do that because we had a veteran team, and we knew it would be a great test for them,” Richards said. “But you don’t want to do it every year because the novelty will wear off, and unlike the private schools, we don’t get that influx of talent to play that type of schedule every year.”
Even with an inexperienced team this season, Richards has the Titans playing 14 games in 25 days, starting tonight against Rio Linda in the West Campus Tournament.
Richards said the section’s last realignment four years ago that led to the formation of a number of six-team leagues like the Capital Athletic League – Antelope’s home league – forced him to schedule even more December games.
“It was a perfect storm,” Richards said. “Now you had 10 league games and that meant having to schedule 17 nonleague games between Thanksgiving and the first week of January.”
That will change with next year’s realignment.
Many leagues will now have eight teams, which means four fewer nonleague games. And with league finish instead of the now-abandoned computer power-rating formula determining playoff teams and seedings, it puts even more importance on league games.
“Maybe I’m old-school, but growing up it was all about winning league,” Manfredi said.
But realignment also could have a downside for the plethora of area tournaments that serve as primary fundraisers for their basketball programs.
Richards said some tournaments already are having trouble filling their eight-team fields. Those could face downsizing or even extinction.
That is why Richards hopes to make his Dec. 12-15 Titans Holiday Classic boys tournament a stronger draw. The Titans are bringing in an Australian team to play this season, and Richards hopes to attract some out-of -area powers in future years.
Sac High boys coach Derek Swafford already is in the second year of operating the St. Hope Elite Classic, Dec. 17-21. Last year’s event drew 16 teams, including four from Southern California.
This year’s event has been trimmed to 12 teams because of an illness to Swafford’s co-director. But three Southern California teams, including 2009 D-II state champion Eisenhower of Rialto, will compete.
Swafford said the plan is to expand next year to 24 teams and play at Sac High, Memorial Auditorium and another site to be determined.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it to bring some good teams here,” Swafford said. “Our goal is to make this a national event.”
While Manfredi offers kudos to Richards and Swafford for trying to expand the reach of their events, he still thinks there is room for well-run tournaments with area teams only.
His father, Al Manfredi, started the Jack Scott Tournament 39 years ago at Rio Americano. Ken was a ballboy for Al’s Rio Americano teams before playing for his father. Now his Monterey Trail team is in the tournament every year, one weekend before Manfredi puts on his own Mark Macres Memorial Tournament at Monterey Trail.
“I grew up watching my dad run a real good event,” Ken Manfredi said. “That’s what I try to replicate in my tournament, and I think that’s true of tournaments like the Jack Scott, the Mel Goode (at Yuba City), the Father Barry (at Jesuit) and the Kendall Arnett (at Placer).”
The latter three have been running 40 years or more.
For a schedule of area boys and girls high school basketball tournaments, go to www.sacbee.com/preps