AND 1 High School Basketball Championship Preview

Many of the country's best high school teams will face off this month for the chance to play in the AND 1 High School Basketball Championship in Philadelphia.

It's as inevitable as a trip to the beach or a night full of television re-runs. During the summer, basketball coaches have to deal with their teams splitting up.

Some hit the playground, some hit the AAU circuit and some of the less ambitious just hit the couch. Regardless, it's always been tough for a hoops coach to keep his squad in game shape while school is out.

So what happens? Teams return to school in the fall and by the time basketball season rolls around coaches have to start nearly from scratch. Teammates haven't played in competitive games in nearly a year and it takes time to get back into rhythm.

But that might be changing.

For the fourth year in a row, AND 1 and The Hoop Group have joined up to keep teams on the court while participating in the AND 1 High School Basketball Championship (HBC). The tournament, which features 10 preliminary regional brackets in May and June, will end with the national finals the weekend of June 23-26 in Philadelphia. The championship game will be broadcast live on CSTV on Sunday, June 26 at 2 p.m.

And for a tournament in only its fourth year, this one has already gotten quite a following. Once again, this year's lineup is power-packed. Last year's champ, Dunwoody (Ga.) returns, as does Ohio giant McKinley (Canton), a team that has won its Midwest region two years in a row.

Dunwoody used the momentum from its AND 1 to win a Georgia high school state title.

"We use this tournament as a building block," Dunwoody coach Scott Bracco said. "We went into this season with a lot of confidence and said that if we wanted to win the state championship, we were going to have to work as hard as we did at AND 1."

McKinley has been just as successful. David Hoover's squad won the 2005 Division I Ohio state title and has earned a free trip to Philadelphia the past two years and is looking to make it a three in a row.

"In Ohio, you're only allowed 10 coaching days in the summer," Hoover said. "And at the AND 1 tourney, you're guaranteed two or three games a day, whereas at most AAU tournaments, you only play one game, so it's kind of a waste of a coaching day."

The players love it too. In the regional tournaments, they get to play against the best teams in their area, with a potential free trip to Philadelphia dangling in front of them.

They're not the only ones. College coaches love it because they can see future recruits in their natural environments. Rather than seeing a group of players thrown together, as often happens on the AAU circuit, the AND 1 tourney allows coaches to see how players perform within the team concept.

Therefore, it's not surprise that in just four years that tournament has grown from just 120 teams in its inaugural 2002 year to 400 this year.

"It's not a surprise at all to me at how well its taken off," Hoover said. "Things like camp and shootouts, a lot of interest comes by word-of-mouth and anyone who talks to me about the AND 1 tournament… I can't do anything but rave about the way it's run."

But for Hoover and his Bulldogs, the best part of the AND 1 tournament is the challenge that it presents and the ability to face that challenge as a team. It's clear from glancing at McKinley's schedule that Hoover is a fan of challenges: next year's team will face Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) and O.J. Mayo-led North College Hill (Cincinnati).

And what better way to prepare for such a treacherous schedule than by heading to the AND 1 tournament with the same group that he will go to battle with next winter?

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