Despite changes, Jared Cook Invitational remains competitive

Staff Photo: John Bohn North Gwinnett's Kwesi Abakah (12) controls the ball under the basket during the Bulldogs' recent game against Peachtree Ridge.

Staff Photo: John Bohn North Gwinnett's Kwesi Abakah (12) controls the ball under the basket during the Bulldogs' recent game against Peachtree Ridge.

There have been many constants over the years that North Gwinnett has hosted a holiday basketball tournament, but there will be a few changes in store when the 2011 Jared Cook Classic tips off this morning.

The most visible change is the timing, with the three-day boys and girls tournaments commencing the week of Christmas instead of its traditional spot in the week between the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

"That gave both our girls and boys teams a chance to play in tournaments after Christmas as well," said North boys coach Zach Smith, whose Bulldogs will play in the McDonald's Invitational in Tifton next week, while the North girls play in the Holiday Inn Invitational at Holy Innocents' Episcopal School in Sandy Springs. "That was the whole idea. There are a lot more tournaments post-Christmas than pre-Christmas. I think the switch will be good for us."

The change in date has also led to an alteration of the normal format of the eight-team brackets.

In the boys bracket, a scheduling conflict with Thomson has resulted in both the Bulldogs from east Georgia and host North receiving a first-round bye.

North has been advanced in the winner's bracket, where the Bulldogs will take on the winner of today's first-round game between Dacula and Mays on Wednesday, while Thomson takes on the loser in the consolation bracket.

"There was some confusion over the summer with contracts for the games," Smith said. "(Thomson) could only do two games (instead of three), so we (adjusted the bracket)."

The girls bracket, meanwhile, had a similar problem, though it was dealt with in a different way with the addition of an extra team.

As a result, Class A power Holy Innocents' (8-1) will play an opening-round game against Banneker today at 3:20 p.m. before Class AAA Walnut Grove assumes the eighth-ranked Golden Bears' place in the bracket for the remainder of the tournament.

"When we moved the tournament to before Christmas, there were several school systems (of teams involved) that are not out (for the holidays) yet," North girls coach Bryan Sellers said. "So, we ran into scheduling conflicts, and we had some teams back out after (the schedule) was out. Holy Innocents' had room for one game, so they'll play the first game and Walnut Grove will play the other two."

While those two differences are dramatic, a few things will remain the same for in the tournament, including part of the proceeds acting as a fundraiser for the Susan B. Komen Foundation's goal of promoting education, research and treatment in the fight against breast cancer.

Something else that will remain the same is a competitive field in both the boys and girls brackets.

Besides a strong host North team that includes Georgia Tech-signee Chris Bolden, as well as seniors A.J. Clements and Kwesi Abakah, the boys bracket also includes fellow Gwinnett teams Central Gwinnett, Dacula and Providence Christian, plus traditionally strong metro Atlanta teams Mays and Chapel Hill and Mercer Island, a Seattle-area power that has traveled all the way across the country after winning 21 games last year, and is 5-1 so far this season.

The girls slate, meanwhile, features an equally strong bracket, headed by the host Bulldogs, who are ranked No. 8 in Class AAAAA, led by juniors Lexie Brown and Peyton Whitted.

Also in the field is undefeated Salem, plus local teams Central, Dacula and Grayson.

"Salem is usually very good and Central is really athletic," Sellers said. "Overall, it's one of those things where the competitive nature of this tournament is still there."