A Classic returns
The third-seeded Saint Francis Phoenix are delighted with the return of the Ontario Catholic Classic Basketball Tournament after a two-year COVID-related hiatus.
“We are definitely excited to see it back. This season has been a lot of reestablishing traditions and the continuity of our program after being disrupted due to the pandemic,” Saint Francis head coach Jon Marcheterrre said. “The All Catholic is one that really means a lot to our players and our school.”
The tournament has always been a key component of Saint Paul’s schedule.
“Mike Pullar and the tournament committee try to put together a field of the best Catholic school teams across the province, and because it is invitational it really means a lot to be included,” he said. “It isn’t something we take for granted and just add to our schedule like any other tournament. We know we have to earn our spot each year and that means something to the guys.”
Marcheterre and his squad know it’s getting close to crunch time for their season.
“At this point in the year we are hoping that the tournaments and schedule we put together have prepared us properly. We are young and fairly inexperienced,” he said. “The guys have faced tough competition all year. You just hope they are ready when the lights come on and your season hangs on the outcome of the game. It’s February, anything can happen.”
The tournament is an excellent measuring stick for where the Phoenix sit.
“We have played a lot these teams at various tournaments throughout the season. It lets you know if you’ve progressed the way you hoped back in October, as well where the bar is if you hope to play in March. It is comes at a crucial time in the schedule,” Marcheterre said. “We are excited and humbled to be included in such a prestigious and historic tournament.”
The Phoenix open the tournament Friday at 9:30 a.m. against Assumption from Brantford. Other local teams in the tournament are the Denis Morris Reds, Saint Paul Patriots and Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Reds will open against Hamilton Cathedral Friday at 9:30 a.m. at Denis Morris while the Patriots start against Ursuline College from Chatham Friday at 12:30 p.m. at Denis Morris. Notre Dame opens against Bishop Tonnos Friday at 9:30 a.m. at Notre Dame.
Organizers are thrilled to host the tournament once again after just managing to stage it in 2020 before the pandemic shuttered sports.
“It’s the continuity and the history. You feel a part of the tradition,” Pullar said. “The Catholic tournament goes back to the 1960s and it was being held in isolated pockets throughout the province. In 1975, it came here and there’s a feeling to keep it going. There’s a lot of interest and teams love coming.”
Four of the of eight founding teams, Notre Dame, Denis Morris, Saint Michael’s Toronto and Cathedral, received automatic berths and the rest of the invitations are based on league standings across the province and qualifiers.
The top four seeds for this year’s tournament are Ursuline College, Cathedral, Saint Francis and Bishop Tonnos from Hamilton.
Saint Michael’s College has won seven of the last nine Classics but it won’t be easy for it to repeat in 2023.
“When I look at the draw, I think the teams that are ranked 10th and 11th could win this tournament and that is no disrespect to 12 to 16,” Pullar said. “That has never, ever happened and there is so much parity. This tournament is wide open right now.”
The tournament has traditionally included some of the best individual players in the province, with graduates of the tournament going on to play at high-profile NCAA programs or even the NBA. Things have changed within the basketball landscape with many of the top Grade 11 and 12 players competing at the prep level but there are a number of highly touted Grade 9s and 10s in the event.
“I think there is still a high level of players that come here and a lot of good young players,” Pullar said.
But individual stars aren’t the only things that make the tournament great.
“What is special as well is that the love of the game hasn’t changed and it’s great to see kids and coaches competing,” he said. “That is the most grassroots, purest form that you are seeing. They are playing for their team and school and that is what team sports is supposed to be all about.”
Every year the tournament presents the Paul Salfi Award to key volunteers at the event and this year’s recipients are John Giroux and Michelle Murrell.
“They have been with the tournament for close to 30 years. When you look at who the Paul Salfi Award winners are you can find a lot of inspiration for volunteerism,” Pullar said.
Recognizing the two together was important for the organizing committee.
“John and Michelle have always been doing a lot of stuff behind the scenes and it is nice for them to be recognized at the same time.”
Championships semifinals will be played Saturday at Denis Morris at 12:30 and 2 p.m. with the final scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The consolation final will be played at 6 p.m.
For more information about the tournament visit http://ontariocatholicclassic.ca/results.html