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Preview: Myrtle Beach's Beach Ball Classic

The Beach Ball Classic kicks off today with another star-studded lineup of teams and players from across North America.

The 28th-annual event runs today through New Year's Eve after taking Sunday off. All 28 games will be at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

The tournament favorite is St. Patrick (N.J.), which is widely ranked in the top five nationally and features one of the nation's top-20 players, North Carolina signee Dexter Strickland.

But the Celtics are certainly not the only team of significance in a field that includes four teams that are ranked nationally - Paterson Catholic (N.J.), Wheeler (Ga.) and Arlington Country Day (Fla.) are the others. Several other participants are on the cusp of the national polls or have already spent time in them this season.

Tournament director John Rhodes believes there are several other schools that aren't drawing national attention capable of competing for the championship.

"What we've been able to do over the years is find teams that can put on a show, but who are also very strong teams and very talented," Rhodes said. "We've been able to find that one team that sometimes has been overlooked.

"Our fans like seeing a team that's a good basketball team that may be classified as an underdog."

This year, Elliott County, a small-school Kentucky powerhouse, could be the school to fill that underdog role. Hailing from tiny Sandy Hook, Ky., the Lions boast three dangerous scorers, including senior twins Ethan and Evan Faulkner.

If Elliott County is able to win a game or two in the winner's bracket, this modern-day version of "Hoosiers" could become a big fan favorite.

"Keep an eye on Elliott County," Rhodes said. "They play hard-core Kentucky basketball.

"Teams like Martin Luther King (Calif.) or Cedar Hill (Texas) or Elliott County are not looked at or respected in the [national] polls. You have to look at who they play.

"When you play in Kentucky, you have to get ready to play every night. You don't have a lot of cakewalks."

This Beach Ball won't include many cakewalks either.

Powerhouse Wheeler (Ga.), fresh off a top-four finish at the prestigious City of Palms Classic, returns four starters from 2007, including Wake Forest-bound forward Ari Stewart and N.C. State-bound forward Richard Howell. Both of them are ranked among the top 60 senior prospects in the nation.

Wheeler lost to Duncanville (Texas) in the final of last year's Beach Ball. That serves as motivation for coach Doug Lipscomb's Wildcats, although they are focused on improving each game.

"We are trying to take one game at a time," he said. "Our schedule has been tremendous. We are playing the best teams in the country, and then we'll see them there at the [Beach Ball]."

Today

Game 1 | Arlington Country Day (Fla.) vs Southside, 3:30 p.m.Game 2 | Fayette County (Ga.) vs Pennsbury (Pa.), 5:15 p.m.Game 3 | St. Patrick (N.J.) vs Mullins, 7 p.m.Game 4 | Paterson Catholic (N.J.) vs Socastee, 8:45 p.m.

Saturday

Game 6 | Pickering (Canada) vs Wheeler (Ga.), 1:45 p.m.Game 7 | Boys & Girls (N.Y.) vs J.L. Mann, 3:30 p.m.Game 8 | Cedar Hill (Texas) vs Elliott County (Ky.), 5:15 p.m.Game 9 | Martin Luther King (Calif.) vs Myrtle Beach, 7 p.m.

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