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State hoops tourney's return to Arena at Gwinnett Center doubtful

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The Arena at Gwinnett Center isn't hosting basketball state tournament games for the first time since 2002 and the chances of a return in the near future appear slim.

"It doesn't look good," Ralph Swearngin, executive director of Georgia High School Association, said on Friday.

The SEC Women's Basketball Tournament, which will be held next week, loaded the Arena calendar this year and will do the same in 2014. But even after that, available dates will be scarce.

The Arena's priorities are the Gwinnett Gladiators and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

"From mid-February to mid-March, there aren't open weekends," Swearngin said. "We continue to talk and maybe something will eventually open up. But it doesn't look encouraging."

The state wrestling championships, held in mid-February, were also forced out of the Arena this year and their chances of returning are also slight.

Swearngin, though, is hopeful about other venues for state championship events opening up.

Georgia Tech's new McCamish Pavilion will be the site of the Class AAAAAA boys and girls semifinals Saturday and the University of Georgia has expressed interest in hosting events in future years.

"I'm interested in moving things around the state in all sports and Georgia would be a great site," Swearngin said. "There is definitely interest there."

Swearngin also talked to Philips Arena officials about playing games there.

"But we are at the mercy of the NBA schedule, just like with the ACC or SEC schedules," he said.

Georgia Tech coming back on board this year is certainly a plus for the GHSA, but parking and other limitations on campus make Saturday the only viable day to play.

"Tech isn't available until after 7 o'clock during the week, even on Fridays," Swearngin said.

For the first time, the basketball semifinals and championship games are on different weeks. It's also the first time there will be 14 title games because of the move to six classifications and split of Class A into public and private divisions.

All the of the championship games will be played in Macon, with four games both next Thursday and Friday and six games next Saturday.

"I think this is the best we could possibly come up with for this year," Swearngin said. "We'll review things and see what went well and what didn't. This is all new. If we need to tweak things, we will."

Semifinals in the two Class A divisions and Class AA will be held Friday, with semifinals in the four other classifications on Saturday.

The Class AA semifinals, involving the Greater Atlanta Christian boys and Wesleyan girls, are Friday at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.

The Class A private schools will play at Kennesaw State and the public schools at Fort Valley State.

In addition to the Class AAAAAA semifinals on Saturday at Georgia Tech, Class AAAAA will play at Kennesaw State, Class AAAA at Fort Valley State and Class AAA -- which includes the Buford boys -- at Armstrong Atlantic in Savannah.

Kennesaw State is hosting games for the first time and big crowds are expected for the Class AAAAA games.

The largest crowds, though, will be at Georgia Tech. All of the teams are from metro Atlanta, with three from Gwinnett -- Norcross boys and girls and North Gwinnett girls -- and four from Cobb County -- North Cobb boys and girls, Wheeler boys and Hillgrove boys.

"I think we'll do very well," Swearngin said. "I expect the arena to be comfortably full for most games and possibly a little tight as we move from one game to the next. We'll see."

No games have been played at Georgia Tech since the semifinals and the title contests in the two largest classifications were moved to the Arena at Gwinnett Center more than a decade ago. The other Final Fours continued to be played in Macon.

"Finding the best sites has been difficult," Swearngin said. "Unfortunately, we don't have the same history with our basketball tournament that you do in some other states."