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Loaded Texas tourney awaits Norcross boys

When Norcross head coach Eddie Martin was putting together the 2006-07 schedule, he wanted to make sure his Blue Devils would be challenged throughout the season.

He'll certainly get what he wanted this week in Houston, as the Blue Devils participate in the loaded Academy National Invitational from Thursday through Saturday.

Five of the eight teams in the tournament are ranked nationally by USA Today, including No. 2 St. Patrick (N.J.), who the No. 17 Blue Devils could possibly meet in the second round if both teams win their openers on Thursday.

Other ranked teams in the tournament are Christ the King (N.Y.), Kingwood (Tex.) and DeMatha (Md). Three regional powers - Ranier Beach (Wash.), Rice (N.Y.) and Hastings (Tex.) round out the ultra talented field.

Norcross, whose only loss this year was by eight points to No. 1 Oak Hill Academy in early December, will take on Rice in the first round of the tournament. The Blue Devils (8-1) have won all of their non-Oak Hill games easily, including an impressive 85-48 win over North Gwinnett last Wednesday.

Star forward Gani Lawal has had a terrific start to the season and will have to continue to play well this week if the Blue Devils have any hope of capturing the prestigious tournament championship.

But what Martin has preached from the beginning of last season, when he also orchestrated a difficult out-of-region schedule for his team, was that these types of games would be great preparation for the state tournament.

It worked last season when the Blue Devils (who lost four games in 2005-06) rolled to five straight postseason wins, all by double digits, to capture the school's first Class AAAAA crown.

Norcross can't officially lay claim to another state championship for a few more months. But the Blue Devils definitely hope to start laying the groundwork this week in Houston.