Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Basketball: Best of Maryland, or best in country?

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Summer is a quiet time around most high-school buildings. A few summer-school classes are in session, maybe a few Montgomery County Department of Recreation summer-league basketball games occupy the gym on occasion.

But that’ll change for Damascus High this weekend when the Swarmin’ Hornets’ girls basketball team hosts the Tenth Annual Best of Maryland Basketball Tournament July 27-29.

The NCAA certified event is an invitational and will feature 20 high-caliber high-school teams from across the country. In addition to competing for the tournament title, athletes will get college exposure, with more than 100 college recruiters expected to attend.

‘‘The main reason we do the tournament and the main reason teams travel from all over, is the college exposure,” Damascus girls basketball coach Steve Pisarski said. ‘‘It’s a chance to get seen. It’s recruiting season. Coaches are looking for players. It’s a chance to be seen by schools and if you have a good weekend, that could be $140,000 of education.”

The Best of Maryland tournament started 10 years ago as a competition between 12 Maryland teams. But it’s grown exponentially since Pisarski began inviting out-of-state teams five years ago.

Pisarski spends about eight months each year — he gets started in December — gathering information on top high-school teams and their upcoming season prospects to ensure he puts on a competitive tournament ripe with talent.

Five of last year’s participants finished the 2006-2007 basketball season in USA Today’s top-25 poll, including the 2006 Best of Maryland tournament champion Fenwick (Oak Park, Ill.), which ended its season ranked No. 6. Notre Dame Academy (Middleburg, Va.) was No. 5 and Bishop McGuinness (Kernersville, N.C.) finished 11th.

An average of 110 colleges, with about 86 percent NCAA Division I programs, have attended the event the last five years. And in its 10-year run more than 180 participants have received college basketball scholarships.

‘‘A lot of these kids play AAU all summer,” Pisarski said. ‘‘They’ve been separate from their high-school teams. This allows them to come back together.”

Note: This year’s field includes notables Holy Cross (Kensington), H.D. Woodson (D.C.), McNamara (D.C.), Harrisburg (Pa.) and Chaminade-Julienne (Ohio).