Ready or not, the 60th Annual St. Francis Borgia Pepsi Cola Thanksgiving Tournament is here and starts Wednesday night.
The four-day event, marking its 60th playing, will run through Saturday evening at the Ray DeGreeff Memorial Gymnasium.
Eight teams are playing in this year’s event, an increase of two from last season. That means the tournament will go back to being a full bracket with winners moving forward while losers are relegated to a consolation bracket.
Two first-round games are scheduled for Wednesday night with two more set for Thursday night.
Friday will feature all four second-round games while all four event finals are scheduled for Saturday.
There are four local teams and four St. Louis city or county teams in this year’s event.
The tournament features two defending state champions, three district winners and a conference champion in the field.
The tournament tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with top-seeded McCluer North taking on No. 8 seed St. Clair.
McCluer North-St. Clair
Randy Reed’s McCluer North squad comes into the event having won the past two Class 5 state championships. The Stars were 28-1 last season with the lone loss coming to Borgia in the championship of the 59th Annual St. Francis Borgia Pepsi Cola Thanksgiving Tournament.
“I expect, as every year, that we will be very good,” Reed said. “We have some size, athleticism and skills to be as good as last year.”
Hit hard by graduation, McCluer North receives a big pickup in transfer Rashad Lindsey, a 5-11 junior point guard who moves over from MICDS. He averaged 12.7 points for the Rams last season.
Other key returners include junior swing player Dorian Holland, junior point guard Jordan Boone, junior forward Chris Busbee and senior guard Terrance Bush.
The Stars last won the Turkey Tournament title in 2010.
St. Clair features a new coach and a veteran lineup.
The Bulldogs went 9-19 last season, but return most of their depth from last season.
Casey Korn, a Northwest High School graduate, takes over as St. Clair’s head coach this season.
“We have to shoot the ball better than we did last year and find a way to win close games,” Korn said. “I think we have a great chance to be competitive this season with eight returning seniors, four returning starters and two all-conference players returning. Most of our scoring is back and our key injury from last year is healthy this season.”
Seniors Neyko Dominguez, Adam Brott, Brandon York and Evan Murphy are returning starters. Dominguez and Brott were the team’s leading scorers at 14.8 and 9.9 points per game, respectively. York missed much of last season due to injury.
Reno Jones, a junior guard, is expected to be a key newcomer to the team this season.
The Bulldogs have never won a Turkey Tournament title, but have finished second five times, most recently in the 2007 Gold Division (the last year of two divisions) to Washington.
St. Clair also finished second to Borgia in the inaugural tournament in 1953
Wednesday’s second game features a 7:30 p.m. start between tournament newcomer Cardinal Ritter, the fourth seed, and fifth-seeded Washington.
A team with a lot of basketball tradition, Cardinal Ritter is new to the Turkey Tournament this season.
The Lions have won six MSHSAA state titles and won their district this past season while going 21-6.
Head Coach Marvin Neals has coached Cardinal Ritter to four of those state championships and a runner-up finish during his career.
“We will be small, but competitive,” Neals said. “We feature a pressing and fastbreak style of basketball.”
Junior forward Charles Jones and sophomore point guard Jahmouri Robinson are top returning players.
Another player to watch is junior forward Sean Clancey.
Chip Sodemann’s Washington Blue Jays are seeded fifth for this year’s event.
Washington went 10-15 last season, but return four starters for this year’s squad.
“We are looking for a competitive season,” Sodemann said. “We play a tough schedule and hope to keep improving heading into district play.”
Luke Schroepfer, a 6-3 swing player who has signed with Colorado School of Mines, is one of the team’s top returning players.
Junior swing player Ronnie Suggs has played varsity ball since his freshman season. Junior guard Brad Carpenter had an impressive 2011 tournament from the perimeter.
Senior Jared Walde has starting experience inside the paint. Additionally Sodemann has others with considerable playing experience including senior guard Luke Hasenjaeger and senior forward Trevor Lampkin.
Thursday’s action starts at 6 p.m. with second-seeded Borgia playing seventh-seeded Carnahan School of the Future.
The host Knights open the tournament against Carnahan at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
Borgia went 22-6 last season, winning a district title. The Knights also are the defending Turkey Tournament winners.
“The group has a chance to be a very strong team,” Borgia Head Coach Dave Neier stated.
Three seniors with starting experience, guards Jordan Miller and John Baumstark and forward Casey Kuchem, are back this season. They will be supplemented by a number of others, including some with varsity experience and some who move up from last year’s JV team.
Neier said the Knights will be a little smaller than last season with the tallest player being 6-5, but will have a solid squad.
Borgia has won a Turkey Tournament title 29 times, including last year over McCluer North, 48-46, and the first-ever tournament in 1953 over St. Clair, 48-39.
Neier is two wins away from reaching 600 victories for his career. The Missouri Basketball Coaches Association hall of fame member has won all of his head coaching victories at Borgia, his alma mater.
Carnahan School of the Future, the seventh seed, returns after a one-year hiatus.
The Cougars were 14-8 in 2011-12, including going 7-2 in the Public High League in St. Louis.
Head Coach Jonathan Griffin expects big things from his team this season.
“I believe my team can go all the way to state,” Griffin said. “The state of mind is we must work hard and intelligent every day when we get an opportunity.”
After upsetting Maplewood-Richmond Heights, Carnahan lost to Cardinal Ritter in the district championship game.
Griffin feels Steven Baynham, Kendall Brinson, Raymond Holmes, Matt Dobson, Imani Reid, Trevor Roberts, Dejon Shelton and Eric Williams are players who should lead the team. Of those Reid, Roberts and Baynham are expected to be key players.
“In comparison to last year’s team, I believe this team has a chance to be deeper and more talented,” Griffin said. “The reason is because we should have a rotation of players who can come in and have immediate impact off the bench. I believe because I have a year under my belt, I can prepare these players even better than I did last year.”
Brinson, Martez Joseph, Kortez Nobles, Emmanuel Primer and Mico Polk are newcomers expected to make an impact.
St. Louis Christian (not to be confused with Archdiocesan Athletic Association member O’Fallon Christian) enters the tournament as a two-time Missouri Christian Schools Athletic Association state champion.
The Cougars were 19-11 last season while playing as a MSHSAA affiliate member. That included the consolation title at the Owensville Tournament.
Casey Autenrieth, a Christian graduate, is the team’s head coach.
“Our team this year is young,” Autenrieth said. “We have a lot of size and athleticism that I think if we can harness in the right way, will pay off as we get into the meat of our schedule. I expect to see a lot of growth from our young guys. We will play hard on both ends of the court. As they get more comfortable with each other and our system, I expect us to be a real force. We will need to be as our schedule has us going up against some of the top teams in the nation. Our hope is we can compete at the level we know we are capable.”
His team returns one starter, senior guard James Keaton.
Junior center Ikenna Okwanzarbi, senior forward Javier Martinez, sophomore forward Anthony Pratt and freshman point guard Jehvaun Faulder are players expected to step up this season.
Christian faces a team it didn’t see at the Owensville Tournament last year, event champion Pacific, in the first round at Borgia.
Pacific, last year’s Four Rivers Conference champion, is looking to improve upon last season’s 17-9 record.
The Indians are led by veteran Head Coach John VanLeer, who also played in the Turkey Tournament as a member of the Union Wildcats.
“We will be fairly athletic,” said VanLeer. “We should be a good defensive team that can score in a variety of ways.”
Pacific returns three varsity starters in 6-2 sophomore point guard Cullen VanLeer, 6-3 senior forward Zeth Boyer and 6-2 junior forward Jeffrey Hinkle.
VanLeer is expected to be the point of attack again. He led the Indians in scoring last year and made the all-tournament team at Borgia as a freshman.
Players expected to make bigger contributions this year include senior guards Neil DeBold and Brendan Jett-Kell and juniors Logan Armstrong, Tanner Brown and Zach Kraus. Armstrong is a forward and the other two are guards.