Chick-Fil-A tourney has a Gamecock feel

The pre-Christmas routine followed by Christ School's boys basketball team the past two years included a trip to Columbia followed by a return trip to North Carolina - with a trophy in tow.

This year, when the nationally ranked Greenies make their third consecutive appearance in the Chick-fil-A Classic at Richland Northeast High, they will have a few more fans, and a few more friends, over the weekend.

The Arden, N.C.-based school seeks its third bracket title in a row at the star-studded, 16-team event, which opens with two games tonight.

This time, though, the Greenies will be tinged by the garnet of the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Christ School features senior guard Eric Smith, a former Mullins High player who has signed to play for coach Darrin Horn and the Gamecocks next season. When he gets to USC, he will join two former Christ School players, guard Lakeem Jackson and forward Malik Cooke.

In addition, Christ School has two other S.C. natives on its roster, junior guard Demarcus Harrison of Greenwood and junior guard Trevonte Dixon of Florence.

Greenies coach David Gaines said this year's tournament schedule, which features a day off on Sunday, will allow his team to hold a luncheon with alumni and friends of the program. He figures Jackson and Cooke will be among the guests.

"It's nice to play three games over four days rather than three games in a row, boom, boom, boom, Gaines said. "This is nice. We have a lot of alumni in the Columbia area. ... We'll have a nice time."

And his team is sure to play some high-quality basketball.

Christ School, ranked No. 21 in the USA Today Super 25 national poll, is 10-1. In addition to Smith, it features future Division I players in seniors Lucas Troutman and Sebastian Koch, who have both signed with Elon.

The most highly touted player is 7-foot junior center Marshall Plumlee, whose older brothers Mason and Miles won Chick-fil-A titles with Christ Church the past two seasons and now play at Duke.

Smith is one of three future USC players in the tournament, joining Demontre Harris from Trinity Christian (Fayetteville, N.C.) and Anthony Gill of Charlotte Christian.

And Christ School isn't the only nationally ranked team that will battle at RNE. Rice High from New York City is ranked No. 17. The two teams will not face off, though, because they are in different brackets.

Rice opens at 6:45 p.m. Saturday against Taft High from Cincinnati, a team that might not be in the best condition for the contest.

Taft will play tonight in Ohio then board a bus at 4 a.m. Saturday for the drive to Columbia in time for tip-off.

Christ School's first game Saturday is against Norfolk (Va.) Christian, which will set up a battle between two of the nation's top juniors. Plumlee will face 6-8 forward James McAdoo, who has committed to North Carolina and is the nephew of former Tar Heels and NBA player Bob McAdoo.

The field also includes something for Clemson fans, as Clemson recruit Marcus Thornton and his Westlake High (Atlanta) team will be playing.

After Sunday's off day, the tournament runs all day Monday and Tuesday, with games beginning at 9 and 9:30 a.m.

Bracket finals are Tuesday night, which is when Christ School has grown accustomed to playing.

But Gaines knows nothing is for sure.

"You don't go to a tournament like this and expect an easy game, Gaines said. "That's why we like coming to Chick-fil-A.

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