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Champs headline Parkview hoops tourney
Wesleyan girls, boys part of tough field in annual basketball tournament

The Wesleyan girls - ranked ninth by USA Today - will get their big national challenge at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona before Christmas.

Their top in-state test this season might come even earlier.

Shooting for their sixth state basketball title in eight seasons, the Wolves headline an extremely strong field for the 12th annual Parkview Tip-Off Classic sponsored by Lee Sports that begins Saturday in Lilburn.

"Parkview always brings in some good teams, but this year it looks tougher than ever," Wesleyan girls coach Jan Azar said. "It will be a real good test. I'm excited."

Six of the eight girls teams were ranked in the GaSports.com/GACA preseason coaches poll and four are coming of state tournament appearances. The boys side is strong as well, with Miller Grove, ranked No. 3 in Class AAAA, and Greater Atlanta Christian, the preseason No. 1 in AA.

A lot of individual talent will also be on display during the three-day event.

The girls bracket features three of the state's best seniors - Wesleyan's Anne Marie Armstrong (Georgia), Sandy Creek's Morgan Toles (Auburn) and Norcross' Tiffany Clarke (Vanderbilt). Miller Grove's Mfon Udofia (Georgia Tech) is one of the top boys players in the state.

Highlighting Saturday's opening round is the noon girls game between Norcross and Sandy Creek, which reached the Class AAA quarterfinals last season. Toles is considered one of the top point guards in the country and she will face a ranked AAAAA team in Norcross bolstered by a trio of transfers led by guard Briana Jordan.

Wesleyan will play the Norcross-Sandy Creek winner in Monday's semifinals if it gets by Miller Grove on Saturday in its opening game. Likely looming in the Tuesday championship game is host Parkview, which reached the AAAAA state quarterfinals last season. The Panthers opened the season Tuesday with a victory at state-ranked Duluth.

Defending Class AA state champion Wesleyan knows how tough the Parkview Tip-Off Classic can be, suffering one of its three losses there last season. Mill Creek, which reached the Class AAAA semifinals, beat them in the Parkview title game.

Wesleyan, which has dropped back down to Class A, is a preseason No. 1 in the state and ranked nationally for the first time. The Wolves are No. 22 in the ESPN.com rankings in addition to being No. 9 in USA Today.

"We're excited to be ranked," Azar said. "But what counts is what we do at the end of the season. The Parkview tournament will help get us ready for Arizona and the Tournament of Champions will get us ready for the rest of the season."

Wesleyan returns almost everyone from last season's 30-win team. Armstrong, the reigning Miss Georgia Basketball, is joined in the starting lineup by fellow senior Chantel Kennedy (Colorado State), juniors Erin Hall and Aysia McKenzie, and sophomore Grace Leah Baughn.

Wesleyan also has a deep bench, with Holli Wilkins a promising freshman. She is the daughter of former NBA player Gerald Wilkins and the niece of Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins.

"Are goal, as hard as that might sometimes be, is to be better every year," Azar said. "We're a K through 12th school, so we can start players early in our system and have them ready by the ninth grade. Holli is one of those ready to step right in."

The Wesleyan boys also won a state title last season, but coach Skip Matherly must rebuild after losing his top six players. The Wolves will play Parkview in the first round Saturday. The Panthers won the Region 8-AAAAA title last, but have only one returning starter.

The top first-round boys game features GAC against Sandy Creek, a Class AAA state tournament team a year ago. GAC, which reached the second round of the AA state tournament last season, won its opener at Dacula in Eddie Martin's first game as Spartans coach after leading the Norcross boys to three consecutive Class AAAAA state titles.

SideBar: PARKVIEW TIP-OFF CLASSIC

Parkview's 12th annual pre-Thanksgiving basketball tournament sponsored by Lee Sports begins Saturday and runs through Tuesday, using both of the Panthers' gyms. Each team will play three games, including consolation games.

Saturday

Boys First Round

1:45 p.m. - East Coweta vs. Miller Grove

2:45 p.m. - Tri-Cities vs. Loganville

5:15 p.m. - GAC vs. Sandy Creek

6:15 p.m. - Wesleyan vs. Parkview

Girls First Round

Noon - Norcross vs. Sandy Creek

1 p.m. - GAC vs. Loganville

3:30 p.m. - Wesleyan vs. Miller Grove

4:30 p.m. - Parkview vs. Tri-Cities

Monday

Boys Semifinals

4:30 p.m. - East Coweta/Miller Grove vs. GAC/Loganville

7:30 p.m Tri-Cities/Loganville vs. Wesleyan/Parkview

Girls Semifinals

3 p.m. -Norcross/Sandy Creek vs. Wesleyan/Miller Grove

6 p.m. - GAC/Loganville vs. Parkview/Tri-Cities

Tuesday

Girls Championship

7 p.m. - Semifinal winners

Boys Championship

8:30 p.m. - Semifinal winners