ST. LOUIS -- An event annually billed as the nation's best single-day showcase for high school basketball has a twist this year: breakfast competition.
Thursday's 10-game Shootout, featuring some of the top college prospects and top high school teams in the nation, will test the endurance of the most rabid fans. The first teams take the Kiel Center court at 8 a.m. and the action won't cease until close to midnight.
"We just try to make it a little bigger and a little better each year," tournament director Keith Pickett said.
Of the 20-team field, seven teams are from the St. Louis area. The event is often attended by such coaches as Roy Williams of Kansas and Bobby Cremins of Georgia Tech, who are drawn by the high-caliber talent from across the country.
"I think I've been to all of them," Saint Louis coach Charlie Spoonhour said. "So many kids have signed this year, but there's still a reason to go."
Given the prestige of the event, nobody seems to mind dragging players from bed. Paul James of Belleville East, Ill., has his girls' team practicing at 8 a.m. as often as possible to be ready for the big day when they face Spanish Lake Rosary of suburban St. Louis.
"To get up as early as we have to get up to get on the bus and come over here, that'll be new," James said. "But we're excited and we're trying to prepare for it."
The last one-day event, in 1995, drew 15,300 fans. Last year's two-day event drew a total of 17,600. Of course, the early teams might have to bring a lot of their fans to create an atmosphere.
One team this year is Governor Dummer Academy of Byfield, Mass., which has one of the top center prospects in the nation in 6-foot-11 Dan Gadzuric. Bishop Brady of Concord, N.H., has players headed for Rutgers and Boston University. Gibault of Waterloo, Ill., has 6-10 Chris Braun, headed for Saint Louis.
The game between Oak Park Fenwick (Ill.) and Pembroke Hill of Kansas City features two of the nation's top 10 prospects, 6-6 JaRon Rush of Pembroke and 6-6 Corey Maggette of Fenwick. Milwaukee Vincent has a player headed for Colorado.
Guards Keyon Dooling and Clarence Gilbert of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Dillard have committed to Missouri. Their opponent, Whitney Young of Chicago, has DePaul-bound Quentin Richardson and Marquette-bound Cordell Henry.
The final game features 5-9 sharpshooter Ted DuPay of Cape Coral (Fla.) Mariner in a return engagement. DuPay, headed to Florida, set a Shootout record with 43 points last year and opened this season by scoring 54 and 55 points. He made a dozen 3-pointers in the second game.
"He just likes shooting the ball, that's what he does best," coach Frank Morris said.
Over the years, 44 players in the Shootout have been selected McDonald's All-Americans. In the last six years, the event has featured three teams crowned national champion.
Twice in the last four years, the outstanding player in the NCAA Final Four was a Shootout alumnus -- Corliss Williamson of Arkansas in 1994 and Miles Simon of Arizona last year.
Thirty-three players who appeared in the Shootout have made it to the NBA and 21 are still playing. Among the alumni are Penny Hardaway of Orlando, Alonzo Mourning of Miami and Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury of Minnesota.