If you wanted to, you could mark the passing of the seasons with two things, both basketball related. At least you could for as long as current West and then-Tracy boys basketball coach Steve Thornton has been in town.
One would be his June basketball camp. The other is the Tracy Winter Holiday Classic boys basketball tournament, the 18th edition of which begins today, with 16 teams playing over four days at both Tracy and West highs.
Teams from all four points of the compass are in town for this year’s edition, from as far afield as Sacramento (Kennedy) and Merced (Golden Valley) and as close as Manteca. Last year’s champion, the Modesto Panthers, return this year, as does Turlock, last year’s runner-up.
Past tournaments have seen teams make trips from as far away as Oregon and Orange County.
The tournament is notable for its length — all teams are guaranteed four games over four days — and its size, as most high school tournaments consist of six or eight teams.
“You don’t see that very often,” said Thornton, whose Wolf Pack will tip off against Manteca at The Den at 7 tonight. “For us, it’s great. No. 1, you get to play four games without traveling. That’s nice. No. 2, you also get to see a lot of teams not in our area — and some good basketball.”
Both Thornton and Tracy coach Paul Demsher are able to use the tournament as a gauge for what their teams need to do to be ready for league play — which, in the past, immediately followed winter break. Now, with league not beginning until Jan. 17, the sense of urgency is lessened, but not the sense of importance.
“We’re hoping to get more offense going — that’s been one of our stumbling blocks so far,” said Demsher, whose Bulldogs will play Livingston at home at 7 tonight. “And be consistent in every game, throughout the game. We’ve had those up-and-down quarters.”
Last year, the Bulldogs went 0-4 against Johansen, Manteca, Lincoln and Los Banos. The Wolf Pack fared slightly better, beating Los Banos before losing to champion Modesto, and besting Samuel Hancock before a loss to Kennedy.
“We hope to win it,” Demsher said, “but that’s a tough task at this point. There’s a good field of teams, and you have to win four in a row to win it. That’s a challenge.”
n To reach Sports Editor Christopher H. Roberts, call 830-4267 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org