Column: Holiday basketball brings a special treat

Photo by Jimmy Lafakis/The Herald
Forest Park junior guard Drew Howard smiles as he prepares to shoot the ball during a practice on Monday in Ferdinand. The Rangers will play Evansville Harrison at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Forest Park Tournament.


FERDINAND — Some things are just made for each other, so I will name a few notable pairs — peanut butter and jelly, Simon and Garfunkel, hoops and the holidays. During the last few months of the year, a different aura surrounds the hardwood. It is a bit tough to explain, but if you have felt it, you know.

Holiday tournaments allow teams to test their mettle against unfamiliar opponents. At every level, squads will learn about themselves during these events. The tournaments can be used as measuring sticks — when coaches and players prepare for the postseason, they can look back and gauge their progress.

This year’s final week has allowed for ample moments of reflection. I look forward to these special moments every year, so it is time for a quick trip down memory lane.

While studying at Butler, I enjoyed the opportunity to cover the Crossroads Classic on three different occasions. Earlier this year, I wrote about the significance of basketball within the state of Indiana. There is no event that highlights our hoops haven quite like the Crossroads Classic.

Passionate fan bases show their pride on that day. Divided houses tangle, friendly rivalries spark and fans earn bragging rights. One of my favorite parts of those days surrounded the week leading up to the event — I always enjoyed exchanging friendly banter with friends from IU and Purdue. When the final buzzer sounded, we all grasped our love for hoops.

These holiday tournaments are not limited to December, however. I was also fortunate to cover two Thanksgiving tournaments that left an indelible impact on me. Back in November 2017, I had the pleasure of covering the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon. I hope to follow college basketball for a long time, but I am not sure there will ever be another regular-season event of that magnitude ever again.

It was special to photograph a tournament that included the likes of Duke, North Carolina and Michigan State. It is surreal to look back on that event and realize how many of those student-athletes are currently playing in the NBA. Butler played inside the Moda Center — an arena where Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard won the hearts of so many rabid basketball fans. I will never forget it.

The next year, I had the chance to cover Butler at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. There is a reason why that place is known as Paradise Island. A gorgeous landscape served as the backdrop of some serious hoops action.

One of my favorite parts of that tournament was photographing Virginia during the championship celebration. Just a few months later, Indianapolis native Kyle Guy led the Cavaliers to a national championship. There are no coincidences in this world.

Those memories are valuable, but I am also thinking about the present. As I watched the Forest Park Rangers prepare for their holiday tournament during Monday’s practice, I took note of the team’s spirit. The Rangers shared some light-hearted bonding moments before practice, but the players were eager to compete.

The practice was a snapshot of quintessential Indiana high school basketball. Around here, hoops are always competitive. The holidays add an extra layer of flair to the atmosphere.

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