Organizers of the Powerade Basketball Festival have always prided themselves on providing a competitive boys and girls field for their annual tournament.
This year's event should be no different when the tournament tips off today at 9 a.m. at North Gwinnett High School.
Despite the shaky economy affecting many schools' programs travel plans during the holidays, this year's boys and girls brackets will feature quite a few visitors, with only two teams in each bracket - the host Bulldogs and Parkview - coming from inside Gwinnett County.
"We always want a competitive field," North boys coach Len Garner said. "It makes it more exciting. It might not help in terms of bringing crowds, but it's a very strong field."
The boys half of the bracket will welcome back defending champion Spartanburg (S.C.), which stands 5-2 on the season.
Besides the Bulldogs (1-6) and Panthers (2-6), the field also includes two teams currently appearing in the ga.sports.com/GACA state rankings - Newton (8-0, No. 9 in Class AAAAA) and Richmond Academy out of Augusta (10-0, No. 5 in Class AAAA).
In addition, the tournament will welcome a Houston County (7-1) team off to the best start in team history, with the Bears' only loss being a narrow 73-71 loss to Campbell in the finals of the Bear Brawl Tournament earlier this month.
Lakeside-DeKalb and Alpharetta round out the boys field.
The girls bracket figures to be just as competitive, especially with last year's champion, Berkmar, not returning to defend its title.
However, Parkview hopes to bring the title back to Lilburn again and the Panthers enter the tournament 8-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAA.
It won't be easy against a strong field, but that's OK with coach Mike McCoy, who wants his team to receive strong challenges each day, especially coming off a long layoff from exams and with the Region 8-AAAAA set to start just after the New Year.
"Obviously, we want to win our games," McCoy said. "But playing different teams is always good. It gives you a chance to try some things out before you go into region (play). We've had a two-week break, so this give us a chance to see what's good and what's not.
"We need these kind of games - playing close games and playing against teams with different styles. That's what attracted us to staying home this year as opposed to last year, when we went to play in Alabama (for a holiday tournament)."
The Panthers should be pushed by a field that includes a very solid team from host North (6-3), plus state-ranked Gilmer (8-1, No. 8 in Class AAA) and a perennially strong team from Lowndes (7-1).
Other teams set to compete in the girls bracket include East Hall, Westside-Macon, Alpharetta and Wheeler.
SideBar: Powerade Festival
at North Gwinnett High School
9 a.m. - Wheeler girls vs. Lowndes
10:35 a.m. - Parkview boys vs. Lakeside-DeKalb
12:10 p.m. - Parkview girls vs. East Hall
1:45 p.m. - Spartanburg (SC) boys vs. Richmond Academy
3:20 p.m. - Westside-Macon girls vs. Gilmer
5 p.m. - Newton boys vs. Alpharetta
6:35 p.m. - North girls vs. Alpharetta
8:10 p.m. - North boys vs. Houston Co.