By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Some of the local flavor will be missing, but the games must go on, and they will.
The Alpha Natural Resources Holiday Tournament will be tip off at Princeton Senior High School tonight, and will continue through Saturday as long as the weather that is approaching the area allows it happen.
“We are expecting a very good tournament, a very exciting tournament,” Princeton head coach Ernie Gilliard said. “We have added some teams that are very talented and very tough which should pose a great challenge for everybody in the tournament."
In the past, both Bluefield and PikeView have joined James Monroe and Princeton in the annual event, but that isn’t the case this season.
“It has changed tremendously because we have lost some of the local teams and most of the time your holiday tournaments should have a local community flavor,” Gilliard said. “When you have that kind of flavor it is good for every school that is participating so this year we have had to branch out a little bit.”
Bluefield is now hosting its own tournament at the Brushfork Armory over the next two days, while PikeView was invited to Shady Spring for a four-team tourney that has been pushed back from this weekend to January because of the impending weather.
James Monroe has returned and will play Princeton tonight at 7:30 p.m. That game will be preceded by Webster County and Patrick Henry-Roanoke at 5:30 p.m.
Princeton was 2-1 on the season heading into Thursday game with Nitro. The Tigers have wins over Shady Spring and Winfield, and dropped a two-point decision to South Charleston.
The Tigers are led by eight seniors, which is always a good thing for a team with big goals in mind.
“Not only are they seniors, but this is a very cerebral group,” Gilliard said. “These guys have good basketball IQs and that is going to be a plus for us.
“We just have to make sure we cover all the Xs and Os to make sure they are prepared for every possible situation they can face and as a result of that, I think success will speak for itself.”
Princeton will play James Monroe in the finale tonight. The Mavericks, who have been part of this event for many years, is 2-3, with two wins over Giles, and losses to Class AAA Greenbrier East, and to Narrows and Giles.
James Monroe has played Giles in three of its five games. The Jonathan McPherson-coached Mavericks have been led by Micah Deskins, Chord Settle, Garrett Mann and Josh Ganoe.
“We are going to have James Monroe back with us so that helps us keep a little bit of the local community flavor into the holiday tournament,” Gillard said.
A pair of undefeated teams will meet in the opener.
Webster County (3-0), which advanced to the Class AA state tournament last season, has much of that team back. The Highlanders have wins over Pocahontas County (94-45), Richwood (71-56) and Roane County (70-53).
The Highlanders are coached by Jerry Dean and are led on the court by Brett Morris, who was a first team All-Class AA selection last season.
“We have Webster County, which was one of the final four teams last year in Group AA,” Gilliard said. “They have got most of their cast back, a very good team, a high-scoring basketball and have good size.”
The Highlanders will open with Patrick Henry, which is also unbeaten at 6-0. The Group AAA Patriots have scored as many as 111 points in a 67-point win over Martinsville, and also won by margins of 39, 11, 25 and 18. Their closest call was a 69-63 win over Battlefield in the championship game of the Chip Lozinak Memorial Tournament in Dumfries, Va.
Patrick Henry was led in the win over Martinsville by making 17 3s, including seven each from Marcus Banks and Christian Kirchman. Tre Terry, Austin Donithan, Trayvon Crowder and Tyus Esworthy, whose father, Jack Esworthy, is the Patriots’ coach, have also contributed for the top-ranked team in the Timesland.
“They are a AAA team in the Roanoke Virginia area that is going to be very talented,” Gilliard said. “If I am not mistaken I think they were perhaps rated number four in the state of Virginia or in the Roanoke Valley.”
Princeton (2-1), which played Nitro on Thursday and will have played four games in five nights by the time Saturday’s games are played, rallied from a 10-point deficit against South Charleston last Saturday and just fell short to the Black Eagles.
“We saw some things we have got to work on and we have got to shore up from the South Charleston game,” Gilliard said. “We are trying not to be big or hang our hats on morale victories, what we have got to do is get the actual wins.
“There are some things we could have possibly done better that may have given us a win in that game so that is some of the things we are going to work on and continue to grow.”
Princeton has been led by seniors Ryan Meadows, who is averaging 25 points a game, and Hunter Walters, who is tallying 13 points a contest. The Tigers also have other players capable of contributing, including fellow seniors Kyle Caron and 6-foot-7 sophomore Aaron Ferguson.
“Both of those players (Meadows and Walters) are a big plus for us and we have some other kids that are here that are very capable of doing some big things for us and having some big nights also,” said Gilliard, who is excited about the potential of the Tigers.
“Am I proud, am I pleased with these kids?" he said. “Absolutely. It is an outstanding group of young men and we are just going to try and work to get better every day.”
The consolation game will be played on Saturday at 5:30 p.m., followed by the championship game at 7:30.
— Contact Brian Woodson at email@example.com