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Deep South field still strong after date changes

That Alaska team just couldn't make it.

With Christmas falling on a Tuesday this year, organizers of the Deep South Classic basketball tournament had to move up the start date a day to avoid playing the championships on New Year's Eve.

"We usually start on the 27th and that gives people the day after Christmas to travel," said tournament director Les Witmer. "We basically eliminated teams from far away. We had requests from teams in Alaska and California. So, consequently we looked at closer teams."

Moving the tipoff from Wednesday to today may have eliminated out of state teams from far away from traveling to Snellville for the annual tournament, but it didn't diminish the strength of the field on the boys' or girls' side.

"We have one of the strongest fields, top to bottom, that we've had in a long time," Witmer said. "On the boys' and girls' side, this is one of the most balanced we've had."

The four-day tournament, hosted at Brookwood and South Gwinnett, features 32 teams, this year all from the Southeast, including West Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and Virginia.

Local Gwinnett teams include South Gwinnett (boys and girls), Brookwood (boys and girls), Dacula (boys), Wesleyan (boys and girls), Peachtree Ridge (boys), Shiloh (boys), GAC (boys and girls) and Collins Hill (boys and girls).

Other North Georgia teams playing in the tournament are the boys teams from Thomson, Chattahoochee and Milton, and girls teams from Northwest Whitfield, Etowah, Dunwoody, Summit Christian, Chattahoochee and Marietta.

Getting the out-of-state teams is important to the tournament, but Witmer said there is also an emphasis on including strong Atlanta-based teams to improve the crowd sizes and generate interest beyond just the players' parents.

"We are in the business of making a little bit of money for the tip-off clubs," Witmer said.

"To run a 54-game tournament takes some revenue, so at the same time we are looking to put people in the seats. The kids want to hear someone cheering, not just a couple of parents."

And there should be some interest in the tournament on both sides of the bracket. The boys' side features a strong Dacula team, a state tournament team in Peachtree Ridge, defending Deep South champion Milton, as well as a Northridge (Ala.) team that is off to its best start in school history at 12-2.

On the girls' side, there are two defending champions in the brackets with last year's champion and Class AAAAA state runner-up South Gwinnett in the bracket with last year's state and national champion Collins Hill. Collins Hill last played in the Deep South Classic in 2003 and won the tournament.

"And it always turns out that some team surprises us," Witmer said.

Play begins at 9:30 a.m. today with the Northwest Whitfield girls taking on Etowah at Brookwood and the Chattahoochee girls playing Marietta at South.

SideBar: DEEP SOUTH CLASSIC

When: Today to Saturday

Where: Brookwood and South Gwinnett

Web site: www.deepsouthclassic.com

Schedule:

Today

At Brookwood

' 9:30 a.m. - Northwest Whitfield girls vs. Etowah

' 11 a.m. - Thomson boys vs. Etowah

' 12:30 p.m. - Cookeville (Tenn.) girls vs. Wesleyan

' 2 p.m. - Northridge (Ala.) boys vs. Wesleyan

' 4 p.m. - Osbourn (Va.) girls vs. Dunwoody

' 5:30 p.m. - Osbourn (Va.) boys vs. Dacula

' 7 p.m. - Summit Christian girls vs. Brookwood

' 8:30 p.m. - Annadale (Va.) boys vs. Brookwood

Today

At South Gwinnett

' 9:30 a.m. - Chattahoochee girls vs. Marietta

' 11 a.m. - Peachtree Ridge boys vs. Chattahoochee

' 12:30 p.m. - Orangeburg (S.C.) girls vs. GAC

' 2 p.m. - Shiloh boys vs. GAC

' 4 p.m. - Nitro (W. Va.) girls vs. Collins Hill

' 5:30 p.m. - Milton boys vs. Collins Hill

' 7 p.m. - Christ

Presbyterian (Tenn.) girls vs. South Gwinnett

' 8:30 p.m. - Christ

Presbyterian (Tenn.) boys vs. South Gwinnett