Classic in the Country V as good as ever

Daily Record Sports Writer

BERLIN — The machine is getting wound back up again.

The Classic in the Country will take its fifth go-round at the Perry Reese Community Center this weekend.

The showcase, which runs Saturday, Sunday and Monday, features pretty well everything the state has to offer in girls basketball, from big-time Div. I college signees to defending and soon-to-be state champions.

The CITC, which has come each of the last five years on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, honors the civil rights activist and late Hiland boys coach Perry Reese, Jr., who integrated the East Holmes Community.

Two of last season’s defending OHSAA champions will be in action, as well as all three of the four teams ranked atop this past week’s first AP poll.

Needless to say, the Classic is one of those rarities in high school sports. It provides top flight talent, and gives spectators some mental lifting by playing quotes from King over the loudspeakers between games.

There’s a reason it’s been once again deemed, “One of the top three high school events in America,” by USA Today.

Despite the numbers the first four events have shown, Tom Jenkins expects much of the same.

“As good as the past events have been, I think this one will surpass them in terms of the teams we have playing, especially Saturday,” Jenkins said. “There’s a pretty phenomenal lineup. We’re lining one powerhouse after another.

“We try to improve on things every year.”

This year will be no different.

The event gets a chance to show off high-profile matchups that otherwise might not happen.

Last season, Div. IV champion Columbus Africentric took down two-time Div. II champion River View in a game that saw the Reese Center as packed as it’s ever been for a boys or girls game.

This time around, the Nubians will again be in perhaps the highest profile game. They’ll take on Div. I powerhouse North Canton Hoover. Africentric’s lone loss came to Chicago Young, a team ranked No. 10 in the nation by the USA Today.

There are several other top-flight games matching Ohio’s top-ranked AP teams.

Lakota West (No. 1, Div. I) will face South Euclid Regina (No. 2, Div. III) at 3:15 p.m. Saturday. Regina will turn around and take on Sandusky Perkins (No. 4, Div. II) at about the same time Sunday. Lakota West will follow that one by squaring off against Toledo Central Catholic (No. 4, Div. I). And Bishop McGuinness, the two-time defending North Carolina 1A champions will have games Saturday against Cincinnati Mt. Notre Dame (No. 4, Div. I) and Monday against Dayton Chaminade-Julienne (No. 3, Div. I).

Seemingly every year, the Classic has outdone itself. The number of college coaches on hand to scout has risen from 86 in the first Classic to 146 last season. Most of the college conferences in the country had someone at a game scouting talent, including schools from the ACC, Big Ten, Big East, SEC and PAC-10.

This year’s number of attendees on official business could be astronomical.

“I talked to Dan Olson, who runs Collegiate Girls Basketball Report,” Jenkins said. “He called last Saturday and said, “Tom, you’re about to do something nobody else has done in-season. I think this will bring in 200 college coaches. Everybody I’ve talked to is coming.’

“We had 146 last year and I was thinking at most 175, but we’ve got calls from Northwood University in West Palm Beach, Fla. A call from Rochester, N.Y., then LSU, Florida and Nebraska. There’s a wide range of schools.”

This time around, there’ll still be 20 games, this time showcasing 29 teams. On those teams are four of the top 100 seniors and juniors in the country, as well as eight of the top 100 sophomores, according to the CGBR. The last two CITCs featured all eight state champions.

“From a personal standpoint, coaches around the state can see the best talent,” Hiland coach Dave Schlabach said. “I’m looking forward to seeing Africentric-North Canton Hoover and East Canton.

“But if I wasn’t a high school basketball coach I’d probably still have my little spot in the corner. It’s a great place for basketball junkies.”

Among the top-ranked players on 2008 CITC rosters are Tennessee-bound Amber Gray (Lakota West), Duke recruit Shay Selby (Regina), and 6-foot-5 Cierra Bravard (Sandusky Perkins), who’s slated to attend Florida State. In all, there are 27 players who are already signed to play Div. I ball that will be in action.

“The bottom line is we never lose sight of the No. 1 thing and that’s remembering Dr. King and reflecting on his visions,” said Jenkins, an avid supporter of the civil rights movement since his youth. “And to perpetuate the legacy of coach Reese.

“Girls basketball is merely a vehicle to do that.”