Power-ful field meets at North

North Gwinnett's annual holiday basketball tournament may have a new name this year, but it figures to have the same old competitiveness that has been its trademark.

The newly re-christened Jared Cook Holiday Classic -- named after the former Bulldog two-sport star and now Tennessee Titans tight end -- tips off Monday featuring eight boys and eight girls teams in what figures to be a wide-open field for each.

"We're really pleased with the teams we were able to get in here," said North boys coach Len Garner, whose team won last year's even when it was known as the Powerade Basketball Festival. "Everyone will be gunning for us. We won the last Powerade, and our goal is to win the first Jared Cook."

Among the group trying to wrest the championship trophy away from the Bulldogs (5-4) will be a lower half of the bracket that feature a strong local flavor.

Berkmar will take on North to close out the first round at 8:10 p.m. Monday, with the winner to meet either Wesleyan or Flowery Branch in the second round on Tuesday.

The other half of the bracket features another Gwinnett team, Dacula, and three returning teams from last year's Powerade Festival -- Augusta area Class AAA power Richmond Academy, Class AAAAA stalwart Newton and Spartanburg from South Carolina's upstate region.

"These games count towards the season record, and we set our goals high," Garner said. "But good competition makes us better. This will be a challenge for us."

The girls bracket figures to be equally challenging, though there will be an entirely different look to the finals with last year's champion (Parkview) and runner-up (Lowndes) playing in other tournaments this year.

Like their boys counterparts, the host Bulldogs square off against Berkmar in the first round, with fellow Gwinnett teams Duluth and Dacula, metro Atlanta teams Hillgrove and Newton, plus visitors from Colquitt County and Spartanburg rounding out the field.

"I think it's a really good field," said North girls coach Tony Watkins, whose Bulldogs finished third in last year's Powerade Festival. "Colquitt's a strong team. Hillgrove's got just about everyone back from last year. Spartanburg's supposed to be pretty good. Berkmar's won something like five in a row.

"We're just trying to take it one game at a time. When you get into a tournament, that's all you can do. You can't look ahead. So, we're just looking at Berkmar right now."