Out-of-state programs flocking to tournament

Out-of-state programs flocking to tournament

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Out-of-state programs flocking to tournament

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A boys basketball showcase that has grown since its inception six years ago, the VisitMesa.com Challenge has its biggest out-of-state contingent with seven teams competing against nine of the state’s top teams Wednesday through Saturdayat Mesa Mountain View High.

Last year, five out-of-state teams were invited to play in the 16-team showcase that doesn’t have a true championship game. That was the most out-of-state teams it had. Usually, it would bring in four top out-of-state teams with 12 in-state teams. It hopes to have eight out-of-state and eight in-state in the future.

Without a major sponsor like Nike, which allows the biggest national girls high school basketball tournament to be played in Chandler every year, the VisitMesa.com Invitational has what tournament director Marc Beasley calls “a small-town feel with big-time ball.”

“I feel it has a national reach, as well,” Beasley said. “I don’t know if there is an ultimate goal. It takes a lot of money and sponsors.”

But Beasley and Steve Hogen, who put the showcase together six years ago, take pride in the talent that has come through each year.

This year’s out-of-state teams are Waterloo Collegiate Institute in Canada, San Diego Hoover, Lexington (S.C.), West Hollywood Pacific Hills, Mercer Island (Wash.), Churchill (Oregon) and Toledo (Ohio) St. John’s Jesuit.

St. John’s Jesuit is led by 6-foot-7 wing Marc Loving, who has signed with Ohio State.

He is among five players in the showcase who have signed with Division I colleges.

Others are Mesa Dobson’s Jaron Hopkins (Colorado), Pacific Hills’ Marcus Taylor (Rice), Phoenix Pinnacle’s Drew Bender (Rice) and Mesa Red Mountain’s Travis Meeker (Northern Arizona).

The top underclassmen who are playing include Mountain View forward Payton Dastrup, Pinnacle guard Dorian Pickens, Pacific Hills guard Namon Wright, Dobson guard Kodi Justice, Tempe Corona del Sol guard Casey Benson, Gilbert Christian swingman Sam Jones, and Dobson swingman Ryan Richardson.

Top Arizona teams include defending Division I champion Corona del Sol, Dobson, Mountain View, Gilbert, Pinnacle and defending Division III champion Gilbert Christian.

Wednesday’s top matchup appears to be Corona del Sol against Waterloo Collegiate Institute at 7 p.m. Corona del Sol (9-1) plays Gilbert Christian (10-0) on Thursday at 11:30 a.m.

There has been growing sentiment within the showcase committee to have a bracket with a true champion crowned. That could happen next year, Beasley said, if the Arizona Interscholastic Association decides during the next two-year alignment block to count holiday tournament games for power points.

“With success of the Christian Cup, the (summer) Prime Time, there is a growing call within the committee to go bracket play next year,” Beasley said. “It would be good timing with the beginning of the two-year block.”

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