Deep South Classic tips off

When the first games tip off this morning at the Deep South Classic, Les Witmer can breathe a sigh of relief.

"When I hear that first whistle blow I can relax and watch some basketball," Witmer said.

As the tournament director for the Deep South Classic, Witmer has been organizing and planning to make this year's tournament as much as a success as the previous years.

For the past 15 seasons the Deep South Classic has assembled plenty of talented teams for its annual tournament

This year's field looks to be no different.

The 16th annual Deep South Classic tips off today at Brookwood and South Gwinnett High Schools with some of the top teams from Georgia and around the South competing in the tournament.

The tournament features 21 teams from Georgia, including 18 from Metro Atlanta, and teams from six other states.

"It makes for a nice mix and coaches like it because they can see teams from other states," Witmer said.

Witmer estimates about 70-100 teams showed interest in the tournament before the selection committee, which is comprised of Witmer and the Brookwood and South Gwinnett coaches, dwindled it to the 32 teams.

The girls bracket appears to feature more talented teams this year than the boys. Fourteen of the 16 girls teams had winning records last season, including two 2006 state runner-ups in South Gwinnett and Greater Atlanta Christian.

Redondo Union (Redondo Beach, Calif.) is making the longest trip of any team in the tournament and are one of the favorites on the girls side.

"They are a very good team," Witmer said.

Redondo Union played in the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix last week and is considered one of the top teams in California.

"It's very, very strong on the girls side. But for several years it was strong on the girls and then it flipped and the boys were very strong," Witmer said. "Don't count out the boys, they have some very good competition with Peachtree Ridge locally and South Dade (Fla.) from out of town. They're both very good teams."

Peachtree Ridge has two of the top players in the state in Ole Miss signee Zach Graham and Division I prospect Cameron Heyward.

Four local schools will feature boys and girls teams, including co-hosts Brookwood and South Gwinnett, Mill Creek and Peachtree Ridge. The Central Gwinnett and Collins Hill boys will be participating as well.

Games begin today and conclude on Saturday afternoon with the girls and boys championship contests. For the last two years, the Deep South Classic has held its championship games at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, but this year due to a scheduling conflict the titles games will be held at Brookwood.