It's not quite the NBA on Christmas Day, but the Arizona high school hoopsfest on Martin Luther King Day is becoming one of the season's highly anticipated events.
"I think it is an honor for our team to be a part of a classic that honors a man that had such a profound impact on equal rights for all people," Corona del Sol (Tempe) boys coach Sam Duane Jr. said.
So, yeah, it has become a pretty big deal.
"Who doesn't want to play at big arena in front of a lot of people?" Desert Vista (Phoenix) girls guard Emily Wolph said.
"It should be a good, exciting game."
The Thunder, ranked No. 18 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25, are playing neighborhood rival Mountain Pointe (Phoenix, Ariz.) at noon to kick off the five games in the event.
"Speaking on behalf of the committee, we're excited for the schedule of games this year as the MLK Basketball Classic continues to progress with competitive games involving solid programs," said Co-Director and Mesa Public School District Athletic Director Steve Hogen. "With the Grand Canyon University hosting high school games for the third-consecutive year, the event is now a mainstay on the high school athletic calendar in the state of Arizona. Overall, we're proud of that accomplishment as we continue to create educational opportunities for students, involve student organizations and raise awareness for MLK/Civil Rights Day."
Seton Catholic (Chandler) girls vs. Saguaro (Scottsdale) at 1:30 p.m. before the boys action starts with Phoenix Pinnacle (Phoenix), led by Stanford recruit Dorian Pickens, vs. Mesa at 3 p.m.
It will be followed by Sunnyslope (Phoenix) and Stanford recruit Michael Humphrey against Cesar Chavez (Laveen) at 4:30 p.m.
The nightcap is a highly anticipated rematch between Division I power Corona del Sol, which is attempting to win its third-straight title, against Division III favorite Shadow Mountain (Phoenix), which is powered by three super sophomores including Michael Bibby, at 6 p.m.
They played on Dec. 14 with Corona del Sol coming out victorious 84-75 at GCU in the finals of the Hoophall West.
"The first game was a good game that was up-tempo," Duane said. "Shadow is a very good team that presents some challenges for us. They shoot the 3 really well and they are very athletic. It will be a good challenge for us."
Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothill News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-272-2449.