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No easy games at Powerade tournament

While the Deep South Classic has been perhaps the best known high school basketball holiday tournament throughout Gwinnett County over the years, there is another tournament on the other end of the county with just as much tradition.

The two different draws of the this year's Powerade Basketball Festival, which tips off Thursday at North Gwinnett High and runs through Saturday's championship round, features a study in contrasts.

The boys' bracket will see the host Bulldogs (5-5) represent Gwinnett against seven other teams from outside the county. The girls' draw will sport a more local flavor, with area teams making up half of the field.

"We send out about 60 or 70 letters (to try to fill out the field) each year," North boys coach Len Garner, whose team will open up play against Ringgold at 8:10 p.m. in Thursday's last game. "Because (Gwinnett) is divided (primarily into two Class AAAAA regions), a lot of teams want to go outside to play in (holiday) tournaments.

"But this is a good field. We're using this as a test. We've got to play tough competition to get better."

If the Bulldogs are going to win their own tournament, they will have to beat three tough opponents.

This year's boys' field includes undefeated and state-ranked (Class AAAA) Lithia Springs (9-0) and AA powerhouse Decatur (8-2), which open up the boys' bracket against each other at 10:35 a.m. Thursday, plus another strong team in Spartanburg (S.C.).

The girls' bracket will be much more familiar to Gwinnett fans, with Region 7-AAAAA rival Duluth, plus Central Gwinnett and Berkmar from neighboring Region 8-AAAAA joining the host Bulldogs.

The Wildcats (7-2) open the tournament at 9 a.m. Thursday to play Class AAAA power Cherokee (8-2). The Black Knights (5-2) and Patriots (7-1) meet each other at 3:20 p.m. and North (8-3) closes out the first round against Centennial at 6:35 p.m.

"The field's strong," North girls coach Tony Watkins said. "I don't think there are going to be any easy (games). We just need to go out there and try to get better with each game."