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Dates, economy force Deep South changes

The Deep South Classic, one of metro Atlanta's top holiday basketball tournaments for nearly two decades, is scaling back.

The field for the girls and boys tournament is being cut in half and out-of-state teams eliminated.

The Deep South Classic, which will still have a very solid field, was impacted by this year's calendar and the economy.

The 18th annual tournament will be held only at Brookwood High School and have 16 teams - eight girls and eight boys - rather than the usual 32. The dates are Dec. 27, 29 and 30.

Tournament director Les Witmer said that sponsorship and travel issues, worsened by having a Sunday fall in the middle of the schedule, made the changes necessary.

"We regret having to cut the number of teams and not having schools from around the country," Witmer said. "But we felt this was what we had to do. Sponsors are harder and harder to get, and travel costs are a problem.

"We'll look at it after this year's tournament, but I really don't see us going back to 32 teams. Cutting back is something we've been looking at for several years now."

Six schools - Brookwood, Grayson, Greater Atlanta Christian, Loganville, North Cobb and Peachtree Ridge - will have girls and boys teams in the tournament. The Buford and Northwest Whitfield girls, and the South Cobb and South Forsyth boys round out the field.

All of the schools are from metro Atlanta except for Northwest Whitfield, located outside Dalton.

Schools from 19 states other than Georgia have participated in the Deep South Classic, but the event has been dominated by Georgia teams in the past five years. The only out-of-state team to win a title during that span was the Briarcrest Christian girls from Tennessee in 2005.

Wesleyan swept the championships last year, with the girls beating Marietta and the boys downing Collins Hill.

The Deep South Classic began in 1991 at Brookwood and expanded from 16 to 32 teams in 1998, with games also being played at South Gwinnett.

The finals were held at the Gwinnett Arena for three years through 2005, with large crowds coming out to see South Gwinnett's Louis Williams the first two seasons. The Philadephia 76ers guard shared MVP honors with teammate Mike Mercer as the Comets won back-to-back boys titles.

South Gwinnett is not involved in the tournament this year. All the games can be played at Brookwood by using both of the school's gyms. With no need for morning or late-night games, start times will be 2 p.m., 3:45 p.m., 5:15 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Each team will play three times, with the finals and consolation games on Dec. 30.

This year's tournament will feature the return of former Broncos coach Eddie Martin to Brookwood. Martin takes over as boys coach at Greater Atlanta Christian this season after winning three consecutive Class AAAAA state championships at Norcross.

GAC, which reached the Deep South semifinals last year, should be one of the top boys teams again. GAC reached the AA state tournament last year, while Peachtree Ridge and South Forsyth made it in AAAAA.

Five girls teams in the Deep South field are coming off state tournament appearances. North Cobb and Peachtree Ridge made it in AAAAA, Northwest Whitfield in AAAA, and Buford and GAC in AA.

"We have a strong field for both boys and girls," Whitmer said. "We'll still have teams that don't usually play each other and also teams from different classifications. That always makes it interesting."

SideBar: DEEP SOUTH CLASSIC

· What: Girls and boys high school basketball tournament

· When: Dec. 27, 29 and 30

· Where: Brookwood

· Teams: Brookwood, Buford (girls only), Grayson, Greater Atlanta Christian, Loganville, North Cobb, Northwest Whitfield (girls only), Peachtree Ridge, South Cobb (boys only) and South Forsyth (boys only)

· Game times: 2 p.m., 3:45 p.m., 5:15 p.m. and 7 p.m., using both gyms