Holiday basketball tournaments go into New Year

East Lake and sophomore Emily Merkel will play in the Jaguar Holiday Tournament at Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa from Jan. 2-4.

School may be out of session through Jan. 5, but Winter Break isn’t for everyone.

Plenty of boys and girls basketball student-athletes will be on the court during their time off to participate in holiday tournaments.

Playing in winter break tourneys can be beneficial in multiple ways. For one, the games help keep teams in rhythm. Some programs taking the entire break off may have nearly three weeks between games. Another advantage can depend on the tournaments entered. Some are local and involve familiar foes. Others can involve travel or out-of-area opposition or both. Teams with postseason aspirations will be seeing opponents from different regions who get better and better from game to game. The chance to play good teams now, in theory, will help down the road.

On the girls side, three North Pinellas programs opted to enter holiday tournaments.

Countryside and East Lake will take part in the Jaguar Holiday Tournament from Jan. 2-4 at Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa. Both programs entered Winter Break hovering around .500 and this tournament always attracts quality teams. East Lake opens play Jan. 2 against Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic (8-2) and Countryside gets Bishop McLaughlin (7-3).

Clearwater is 6-2 at the break and riding a four-game winning streak. The Tornadoes will stay in Pinellas to play in the Keswick Suncoast Classic from Dec. 27-30. If this tourney plays out as expected, Clearwater will meet host and currently unbeaten Keswick Christian in the championship game.

For fans and supporters of high school basketball, the Tampa Bay Christmas Invitational is the area’s biggest and best girls tournament. It’s played at two sites – Seffner Christian and SLAM Academy in Citrus Park – and features 32 teams from 11 states and Puerto Rico. Teams are divided into four brackets and all games are played from Dec. 27-30.

For the boys, some of the area’s best programs are signed up to play in this year’s Sun Bash Tampa event, hosted by Calvary Christian.  The hosts will be joined by Clearwater, East Lake and 13 other teams from the Tampa Bay area and beyond.

The tournament will be all three programs’ second of the break.

East Lake traveled to Hilton Head, South Carolina this past weekend for the 32-team Seahawk Holiday Classic. The Eagles entered the out-of-state tournament 5-0 and outscoring its opponents by more than 30 points a game.

Clearwater will also have a tourney under its belt when Sun Bash Tampa play begins in the New Year. The Tornadoes, 3-0 leading into their Dec. 20 game against St. Petersburg, will travel to Haines City to play in the Wayne Gandy Holiday Tournament from Dec. 26-28.

Calvary Christian played in the Kreul Classic in Coral Springs from Dec. 19-21.

Countryside is also looking to polish its game over Winter Break, though neither of the Cougars’ two tournaments are local. Countryside heads to Naples for the Gulfshore Holiday Hoopfest from Dec. 27-29 and then takes part in the Lehigh Shootout from Jan. 3-4.

Palm Harbor University will participate in a pair of local tournaments, beginning with the Keswick Suncoast Classic from Dec. 27-30. The Hurricanes follow that up with the Shorecrest New Year’s Tournament from Jan. 2-4.