Basketball: Other leagues should follow CAL

Baseball has the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic, and boys’ and girls’ soccer have the South Jersey Coaches Association tournaments.

Softball has tournaments – not showcases – at Hammonton and Rancocas Valley that bring together many of the best teams in South Jersey.

Girls’ basketball has the burgeoning South Jersey Invitational tournament.

There’s nothing like that in South Jersey boys’ basketball, and that’s a shame.

But coaches and officials from the Olympic, Colonial, Tri-County and Burlington County conferences would be wise to follow the lead of the Cape-Atlantic League, which has injected a heavy dose of excitement into the last week of the long regular season.

The Cape-Atlantic League has created a tournament to crown an overall champion. Quarterfinal round games were held Friday night before packed houses at Wildwood Catholic (where Middle Township escaped with a narrow victory) and Pleasantville (where Holy Spirit won in overtime).

Semifinals are Tuesday at Hammonton – where an overflow crowd will watch as top seeds Atlantic City and St. Augustine take the court -- with the title game set for next Saturday at Stockton.

It’s a wonderful idea. South Jersey’s other leagues should be tripping over themselves to create their own tournaments.

How cool would it be if the last week of the regular season – say, this Monday, Wednesday and Friday – featured an Olympic  Conference tournament with teams such as Paul VI, Bishop Eustace, Eastern and Shawnee in the field?

Or a Burlington County League tournament with teams such as Willingboro, Medford Tech, Westampton Tech and Florence  taking their shot at Trenton Catholic?

The Tri-County has been trying to create basketball buzz for years. The league would add some serious sizzle to the sport with an annual tournament bringing together the best two teams from three divisions.

The Colonial might be the most tradition-rich conference in the state. But imagine the jolt of energy the old league would get with a tournament to decide the overall champion, with the division winners – this year, that’s Haddonfield and Paulsboro – getting byes while the second- and third-place teams from the Patriot and Liberty play in the quarterfinals.

Think of the crowds for the semifinals, the drama in the finals.

Think how much excitement and interest these tournaments would add to the regular season, since the races wouldn’t just be for division titles, but also for the other spots in the field.

I’m all for these showcases that are common in South Jersey basketball. There’s another great one happening this weekend at Cherry Hill East.

But there’s a big difference between a showcase and a tournament. A tournament raises the stakes, the drama, the blood pressure – all good for players, coach and fans.

This kind of stuff happens all over the state. The Shore Conference has been doing it for years, and they pack the 4,000-seat Pine Belt Arena for the semifinals and finals. Other areas feature wildly popular county tournaments.

We don’t have that down here in boys’ basketball. The Tri-County used to stage its Scholarship Game, featuring the Royal and Classic champion, but eliminated it when the conference broke to three divisions. The Cape-Atlantic used to have title games between the American and National champion.

This year, the Cape-Atlantic took the three-division format and found a way to create a tournament that has re-energized the sport down the shore. With a few tweaks to the regular-season schedules, other leagues can do the same.

Stage the tournaments the week before the start of the state playoffs. Donate the proceeds to a good cause after costs. Bring together the best teams in a battle royal to crown an overall conference champion.

It’s high time to make it happen.

-- Phil Anastasia

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