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Holiday tournaments provide barometer for area teams

Photo by Derrick Mahone 
Coach Maurice Triche will lead his Mount Zion team into the Chuck Miller Holiday Tournament this weekend at Henry County High. The Bulldogs are sporting a 9-1 record heading into the tournament.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Coach Maurice Triche will lead his Mount Zion team into the Chuck Miller Holiday Tournament this weekend at Henry County High. The Bulldogs are sporting a 9-1 record heading into the tournament.

JONESBORO — ‘Tis the season to be tested.

At least that’s how many Southern Crescent basketball teams are viewing this time of year. More than just final exams and a break from school, many high school teams will be taking to the hardwood during the holiday break to see where they stand and how they can improve, heading into the brunt of region play.

Several of the top teams in the area will be testing their mettle against other local teams as well as squads outside of Georgia.

Already Eagle’s Landing — widely regarded as Region 4-AAAA, Div. A’s top team and a state championship contender by some — has matched up against some of the best teams in the nation. The Golden Eagles dropped two games, one to Hamilton (Tenn.) high school and another to Melrose (Tenn.) in the Memphis/Atlanta challenge.

They are competing this week in the City of Palms tournament in Fort Myers, Fla.

Jonesboro is taking its 5-1 record to Columbia High School’s Converse Classic Wednesday through Saturday.

And while the upper echelon teams of the Southern Crescent tries to fine tune, several upstarts will be using tournament season as a tool to validate their progress.

One of those is Mount Zion. Coach Maurice Triche’s Bulldogs are arguably the surprise team of the area. With its 9-1 record, Mount Zion already is just two wins shy of matching their total amount of victories in the previous two seasons.

Triche’s Bulldogs are led by high-scoring Jacksonville University signee Jairus Holder, who is averaging over 25 points per game.

This weekend, the Bulldogs will participate in the Chuck Miller Classic Holiday Tournament at Henry County High School. They’ll be tested by such teams as Greenforest (7-0) and Class AA power South Atlanta (6-1).

The daunting task of facing two perennial state tournament teams will not scare Triche or his Bulldogs — one year removed from a 4-22 record. In fact, he said the thought of it invigorates him.

“The competition we’re going to see there is a great measurement for us,” Triche said. “Tournaments like these get us ready for the region and state playoffs because we get to play these top quality teams that we don’t get to see very often. And it’ll be just right down the road.”

Mount Zion isn’t the only school that’s been turning heads this season. The Morrow Mustangs, coming off of consecutive 12-14 seasons, are sporting a 6-1 record. It’s their best start since ripping off six straight wins to begin the 2008-09 season.

First year coach Creswell Foy will be leading his Mustangs to the Peach State Classic at Westlake High School. They will open against Westlake (8-2) which is fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance last season.

Meanwhile, on the girls’ side, Strong Rock (6-1) will hold its second annual Strong Rock Christmas Basketball Tournament. The tournament, which began Dec. 15, will resume Thursday through Saturday.

Consider such games as early season checkups. But don’t mistake them for glorified exhibitions. Triche said there’s no doubt that teams approach holiday tournament games with the same veracity as a region matchup or postseason contest.

“If we can take this tournament it would be a big boost for us in the long run,” Triche said. “We won’t really be able to tell the truth of how the experience impacts us until region play and state playoffs. But these are confidence builders for the kids. WE step on the court every game to win. That’s the purpose of playing. We want to come out of this on top.”