Several area boys teams will be in holiday hoops tournaments across the southeast.
South Aiken (4-0) will get everything started with a matchup with perennial Florida powerhouse Jacksonville Ribault on Friday at 1:30 p.m. in the 17th annual Great Florida Shoot Out at the Kissimmee Civic Center in Kissimmee, Fla.
Ribault, which went 28-3 and advanced to the state championship game before losing to Kathleen, is led by 6-foot-3 guard Al Riley and 6-foot-6 forward Mike Townsend. Junior Harrell Butler, who averaged 10.5 points and 10 rebounds per game as a sophomore, is a third Division I talent on the team. Butler is a 6-foot-5 forward.
The Trojans of Ribault is one of the most successful basketball programs in Florida. They finished the 1996-97 regular-season ranked No. 1 in the state polls.
South Aiken star center Tony Kitchings is considered the top player at the tournament. Kitchings, a 6-foot-10 senior, has scored more than 1,300 points and grabbed more than 1,000 rebounds in his prep career.
Mitchell-Baker led by super guard Ronald Blackshear will also be at the Great Florida Shoot out. Blackshear, one of the top five players in Georgia this year, averaged 21 points per game last season. He and current Georgia freshman Jumaine Jones led Mitchell-Baker to the Class AA state semifinals before losing to eventual state champion Cedar Grove last season. As a sophomore, Blackshear helped Mitchell-Baker reach the Class AA state championship game where it lost to Swainsboro.
Defending Shoot Out champion Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons also returns. Gibbons advanced to the state semifinals last season before losing to Ribault. Daytona Beach Mainland and Lakeland Kathleen are also in the field. Mainland is the school that produced current North Carolina standout Vince Carter while Kathleen is the defending Class AAAA state champions in Florida and winners of 26 games in a row.
The tourney runs through Dec. 23 with the championship game to be held at 8:30 p.m.
In Elizabethton, Tenn., three area teams will compete in the Grindstaff/McDonald's Classic Tournament. North Augusta will open against Knox Fulton at 5:30 p.m. on Friday while Butler and Evans received first-round byes.
Butler will play the David Crockett-Cloudland winner on Saturday at 4 p.m. while Evans will play the winner of the game between Pound (Va.) and the host squad Elizabethton at 8:30 p.m. North Augusta and Butler could meet in the semifinals of the tournament on Monday. Evans is in the opposite bracket.
The Grindstaff/McDonald's Classic will conclude on Dec. 23 at 9 p.m. with the championship game.
Two years ago, Butler defeated South Aiken in the same tournament.
South Aiken will be in the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach from Dec. 26-30. The Thoroughbreds will open the tourney against junior point guard extraordinaire Edward Scott and Lower Richland (7-0) on Dec. 27 at 7 p.m.
Both squads are ranked in the top 10 -- Lower Richland No. 6 and South Aiken No. 9 -- in the South Carolina Coaches Association preseason polls. Other top teams in the Beach Ball include New York powerhouse Bishop Loughlin, ranked No. 16 nationally by Street & Smith, and Cathedral Prep (Pa.). Clifford Strong, a 6-foot-5 forward, and Brian Brown, a 6-foot-3 guard, lead the way for Bishop Loughlin.