January 18th, 2017

Basketball bounces into the New Year


By Submitted Article on January 11, 2017.

This week’s ‘High School Notebook’ column by Dave Wells

There’s a Golden Anniversary celebration this weekend as the LCI Green & Gold Boys Basketball Tournament makes its 50th appearance. The number makes me feel rather ancient, since I clearly recall the event’s debut.

There are no Alberta Schools Athletic Association basketball rankings out yet, but it certainly appears this event has by far the deepest and best visiting contingent of teams any local boys hoop invitational has attracted in 2016-17. As a departure from the area norm there are only two teams from Lethbridge and environs in the chase, LCI and age-old hardcourt rivals Raymond. In terms of additional Southern Alberta High School 4A Boys Basketball League content, Medicine Hat High are also on board.

Visitors include Calgary Bishop Grandin, Calgary Father Lacombe, Calgary Notre Dame, Calgary Bishop McNally and Edmonton Jasper Place. It would surprise me if at least four teams in the tourney are not provincially ranked on the first nice list due out next week. Up to seven are plausible.

Event action tips off Friday at 11:30 a.m. in front of what seems likely to be a packed student house as LCI entertains Grandin. The 3:30 p.m. game sees Raymond and Calgary Notre Dame meeting on the hardcourt for the first time since last season’s provincial 4A championship final game, where the Cowtown crew emerged underdog victors. The schools have a built an intense football rivalry over the past decade, which should add to the drama.

I suspect the main reason LCI has been able to attract such a stellar visiting field is because there is much less competition from elite Calgary and Edmonton tourneys in January as opposed to December. As well, at least this season, Calgary teams were blacked out from playing in the Raymond Sugar Bowl due to the dates. In addition, with 4A basketball provincials set for this area come March 16-18, I imagine a number of top teams look at the LCI hoopfest as a hoped-for dress rehearsal of sorts.

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Cross town Friday and Saturday it’s the Chinook Senior Varsity Girls Basketball Invitational.

Host Chinook are joined by LCI, Cardston, Medicine Hat McCoy, Okotoks Foothills, Chestermere, Red Deer Hunting Hills and the perennial road warrior Cranbrook Mt. Baker program.

It’s an interesting mixture of entrants, including multiple teams sure to be ranked in 4A, along with 3A power McCoy, who host both genders of 3A provincials and South Zones this season.

One note that I find interesting this season is Chestermere, long a 3A provincial basketball boys and girls stronghold, are now automatically 4A (800-plus ASAA eligible Grade 10-12 students). Same holds true for Okotoks Holy Trinity who are not in this event.

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Basketball league regular season action has returned, too. In terms of the Southern Alberta High School Girls Basketball League (www.SouthHoops.ca) I see a very interesting encounter tonight in Taber as W.R. Myers entertains Raymond.

WELLSIE’S WORLD – Golden Anniversary celebrations are a theme in this space. The University of Lethbridge is celebrating that mark all year long with multiple events. Friday and Saturday have been declared Founder’s Day Weekend. Pronghorn athletics are a major portion of the public pie.

Friday and Saturday the hosts entertain the University of Saskatchewan basketball teams at 1st Choice Savings Centre. Friday the women tip off at 6 p.m., with men to follow at 8 p.m. Starts are set for 5/7 p.m. Saturday, with women again taking the spotlight first.

Meanwhile, a few blocks off campus at Nicholas Sheran Arena, it’s a weekend of hockey action featuring Mount Royal University in the figurative black hats. U of L women are the home team Friday, with the Horns men defending institutional pride Saturday. Game time is set for 7 p.m. each evening.

It’s a battle of Original Six Canada West institutions in hoops, while MRU is a regional CW newcomer. I think both scenarios have the potential to draw well at the gate.

The basketball games have a value-added feature. There will be an Indoor Tailgate Party on the 1st Choice Savings Centre track, which hovers about the playing surface, from 4-9 p.m. both days.

The Saskatchewan women’s team is the defending national university (now called U Sports) champion. The Sled Dogs head coach is veteran national team bench boss Lisa Thomaidis, who is coming off a seventh-place finish at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The U of S and U of L men appear very evenly matched, indeed. These are kind of games where high decibel crowd support could surely help the home boys. Frankly, while 1st Choice Savings Centre is a great, comfortable venue for a jacked-up, large crowd, it suffers as compared to the old nuclear bomb shelter U of L barn in terms of home court advantage atmosphere if the throng is smaller and docile.

So, I certainly hope there’s a jacked-up, large crowd on hand this weekend. Time to make the visitors uncomfortable.

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