Chick-Fil-A Classic field again a big draw

National powers flock to RNE’s Chick-fil-A Classic

12/18/2012 12:00 AM

12/17/2012 10:34 PM

When planning the 11th annual Chick-fil-A Classic basketball tournament, which tips off Wednesday at Richland Northeast, director Gary Fulmer had to take the long view.

A two-year long view.

The process of getting several of the nation’s top teams into Columbia for one of the nation’s top tournaments began that long ago, Fulmer said.

“Getting commitments from these teams is like the college recruiting process, especially for the first-time teams,” he said.

This year’s first-time entrees include the Deerfield Beach (Fla.) Bucks and Wheeler (Ga.) Wildcats.

Returning to the tournament is Christ the King, a two-time defending New York Catholic-league champion that boasts four Division-I recruits.

The Chick-fil-A Classic features a 16-team bracket and will conclude Saturday with two divisional title games. The smaller Chick-fil-A Challenge tournament bracket features eight teams — including Hammond, Cardinal Newman and North Carolina’s J.F. Webb — and runs through Friday.

“Every year, it seems to get harder and harder to do, but we keep trying to get these top-level teams that will be strong to play and interesting to watch,” Fulmer said. “I’m working on things a year and two ahead — Oak Hill (Virginia) has committed to come back next year — to keep bringing the kind of talent that gives out local players the chance to measure themselves against the best in the nation.”

Mingling with 11 out-of-state teams in the Classic bracket are local leaders Spring Valley, Lower Richland and Keenan, along with host Richland Northeast.

“Every year, it seems like we say this year is the best year. But this year is the best year. I’m just hoping to win one game,” Cavaliers coach Jason Powell said. “It’s exciting especially when you feel like you can compete.”

For South Carolina teams, this tournament takes on a playoff atmosphere, Powell said.

“It’s a midpoint to the season, kind of a climax to the first part of the season, and you go into region season with some great experience,” Powell said.

Added Keenan coach Zach Norris, whose Raiders will meet Richland Northeast on Thursday: “It’s a very important tournament for us as far as working towards the state championship.

“Hopefully, we’ll play better than we did last year.”

The tournament has earned national renown and last year was ranked by CBS Sports affiliate Max Preps as the country’s third best high school basketball tournament.

And although Fulmer has to work hard to get teams into the bracket once, they always want to come back, he said.

As the tournament’s reputation grows, he said, the long view is looking better and better.

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