Filling schedules with tournaments gives teams valuable game experience

Fruita playing Bear Creek

Thursday, 10:45 a.m.: Central High School boys basketball coach Phil Cain sits in a hotel room trying to figure out how to kill time.

The Warriors are in Aurora, playing in the Hinkley Holiday Hoops Classic, a four-day tournament with games beginning at 3:30 in the afternoon. No classes to fill up the day, no practice time. The Warriors don’t play until 5 p.m.

“We are probably going to go to Bass Pro Shop and hang out there,” Cain said. “You try to make positive time, keep the energy levels high and get the kids some fresh air.”

Pre-league tournament can be a juggling act for teams and coaches to make the most of their time on and off the court.

Most teams will play at least one tournament outside the comfort of their own gym. This week, Central, Grand Junction, Fruita Monument and Palisade are all at tournaments on the road.

“It can always be tough playing an away tournament because pretty much all you do is lay around all day,” Fruita Monument’s Brett Nankervis said. “You don’t have that much to do while other teams are at school and moving around, so it is hard to prepare yourself.”

The Wildcats are also playing at the Hinkley Tournament, their third tournament of the season.

The Wildcats began at Central’s Warrior Challenge, followed by the Ralston Valley Roundup and are now at Hinkley.

Fruita coach Dave Fox said it’s a challenge to find the right tournaments for his team.

“I think there is a fine line where it is good for your program to play good opponents,” Fox said.

“You have to be very careful that you don’t break your team’s spirit. You don’t want to have your kids get discouraged by going over there and getting beat badly.”

The Wildcats’ all-tournament schedule has been up and down so far. Fruita is 3-5 after Thursday’s loss to Cherokee Trail and went 1-2 in the first two tournaments.

Although the Wildcats haven’t had the success they’re looking for yet, Fox said it’s a must to play Front Range teams in these tournaments.

“It is good competition and the kids can see what is happening on the other side of the mountain,” Fox said. “There is a difference between good 5A teams on the (Front Range) and what we see over here.”

Playing Front Range competition also proves to be important later in the season when it comes to seeding the playoff bracket. Central was left out of the postseason tournament last season because the Warriors didn’t play a strong enough non-league schedule. Cain took advantage of having a deep team this season and beefed up the Warriors’ schedule.

“Once we felt we had a stronger team, we wanted to get in these tournaments,” Cain said.

“Last year we were told we had too soft of a schedule by the seeding committee, so that is why we are here now and coming back after the break to play George Washington and Chatfield.”

Playing the teams in the early season tournament format tests a team’s ability to adjust and adapt. With little or no practice between games, teams have to be able to execute their offense and defense without much time to put in a game plan.

Fruita Monument girls coach Dan Schmalz hosts his own tournament, last week’s Wildcat Invitational, but also entered Fruita in the Farmington, N.M. tournament, where they will play teams they would never face otherwise, beginning with Thursday’s opponent, Sheridan, Ark.

“You know anyone with a scouting report on those guys, I would love to hear it,” Schmalz said.

“We play team from Arkansas, then a team from New Mexico, win or lose, so how do you plan for that? You just do you own stuff and try to get better with that.”

The only local team that isn’t away playing in a tournament this weekend is the Grand Junction boys. The Tigers were scheduled to play in the Cherry Creek tournament but ended up losing their spot because of a lost contract.

They picked up games against two smaller schools, Uintah, Utah, and Battle Mountain.

Grand Junction coach Dutch Johnson said losing the tournament not only cut two games from the Tigers ‘schedule but increases the importance of every game.

“We lost four potential 5A games out of that tournament,” Johnson said. “So that makes every game we play now that much more important.”


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