High school basketball tournament play has replaced league play as the preferred format for the game’s future in the St. John’s metro area.
Holy Heart Highlanders coach Matthew Bruce, who is also convenor of the St. John’s league, said the trend towards more emphasis on tournaments started about five years ago.
“I find that it’s pretty good,” Bruce said about the change.
Prior to that, the St. John’s league — which includes the Holy Heart Highlanders, Gonzaga Vikings, Bishops Barons, Booth Memorial Braves and Holy Trinity Tigers — played a double round-robin format. But the teams eventually agreed that a single round-robin was sufficient given the increased play and interest among the high school teams for their own invitational tournaments.
The metro league includes teams such as Mount Pearl Senior High Huskies, O’Donel Patriots and St. Kevin’s Mavericks.
“League play has definitely been replaced by weekend tournaments,” said Gonzaga Vikings coach Yasir Khan.
“In the past, the league used to be very prestigious. That’s not to say league play isn’t important anymore, but it’s certainly a smaller part of our schedule.”
Many of the schools take turns staging their own tournaments.
In the meantime, there are no regional playdowns now for what used to be called the provincial 4A championships. Gonzaga, Booth, Holy Heart, Bishops, Mount Pearl, O’Donel, Holy Trinity and Corner Brook High applied to School Sports NL and were chosen in January to compete for the province’s top basketball prize in what’s now called the tier 1 championship.
Other smaller schools opted to compete in the tier 2 provincials.
The top eight used to be decided at the beginning of each season before any competition.
“One of the things we talked about at the coaches meeting with School Sports at the provincial tournament last year was that it might be a good idea to wait a couple of months to see the teams and results and where the schools might fit in,” Khan said.
“The changes are good because it means that only the strongest teams are going to the Tier 1,” said Khan.
“In the past, some smaller schools wanted to play 4A ball. They weren’t really skilled, but they had the opportunity of going through the regional system to take the spots of stronger 4A teams that deserved to be there,” Khan explained.
Aside from the Tier 1 championship, other big tournaments during the season are the Sweet 16, Hall of Fame Cup (Elite 8), won by Gonzaga boys and Booth girls last weekend, along with some other Newfoundland and Labrador Basketball Association events.
Bruce, meanwhile, believes the elite teams have never been as competitive — or certainly not over the past five years — as they are right now.
Increased tournament play hasn’t hurt the development of the players at the high school level, according to Bruce, a former player with the Highlanders.
He said the Highlanders, who practice two or three times a week and once on the weekend if they are not playing in a tournament, get between 30 and 40 games in during a season.