Every year, the Nike TOC in Phoenix is the best girls basketball tournament in the country – and has been since 1997.
High schools looking for national respect have learned that the path to a Top 10 ranking runs through Arizona, and in fact, 11 national champions in the past 14 years have started on that road at the Nike TOC.
This year, the competition might just be the best ever, as the top five teams in the
MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Girls Basketball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard
are coming to Phoenix, and 10 of the top 25. The tournament begins Monday at 10:30 a.m. local time and the championship game will be at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. In between, fans will simply see the best that girls high school basketball has to offer.
BEST FIRST-ROUND MATCHUPS
The Joe Smith Division (named for a writer who was an early booster of the sport) is the top bracket, so not surprisingly, there are some great games on day one.St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.) vs. Dr. Phillips (Orlando, Fla.):
Pressing? Check. 3-pointers? Check. Athleticism all over the court? Check. St. Mary's is a long-time participant, while Dr. Phillips is new to the Nike TOC, and that might be the difference in an up-tempo opener.Windward (Los Angeles) vs. MacArthur (Irving, Texas):
Windward has 6-foot-7 Imani Stafford
and 5-6 point guard Jordin Canada
, but MacArthur may have more pieces to go along with elite guard Alexis Jones
.Incarnate Word Academy (St. Louis) vs. Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.):
Riverdale tops the Xcellent 25, but the Crusaders will need to be disciplined and under control against the well-coached and talented team from St. Louis.Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.) vs. Regis Jesuit (Aurora, Colo.):
Brea, which has won more California state titles than any other team, already has a win over Windward, while Regis Jesuit has already played Riverdale Baptist, and played the Crusaders tough. And this is in the John Anderson Division, which is the second bracket.
TOO MUCH TALENT
We started to list the top players, and realized it was just too difficult a task. Not only don't we have enough room, but we were bound to leave somebody out.
But we will single out Breanna Stewart
of Cicero-North Syracuse (N.Y.)
, a UConn recruit who might just be carrying the heaviest load of any player in the tournament. Stewart, a 6-3 forward who will play at UConn next year, has gotten her team into the Joe Smith Division, but her supporting cast isn't up to the level of the other teams there. So if Cicero North is to win a game or two, Stewart is going to have put on a show.MEMORIES
The highlights over the years are also too numerous to list, but one game stands out: Collins Hill of Georgia vs. Christ the King of New York in 2005.
Collins Hill featured Maya Moore, who went on to do pretty well at UConn and with the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx, while Christ the King was led by Tina Charles, another UConn grad who like Moore is a WNBA star and an Olympian.
The two combined for 75 points in a 76-74m double-overtime thriller that many veteran observers say is the best high school girls basketball game they ever saw – and one of the best at any level.
And given the strength and depth of this year's field, both in terms of team and individual talent, there's a good chance another piece of history will get written this week.