When the Best of Preps basketball tournament tips off today both Baylor's girls and the McCallie boys' teams will step on the court wearing a very clear target. The Lady Red Raiders have won six straight BOP tournament championships, while McCallie owns three consecutive boys' titles, making each the team that every other competitor wants to knock off.
The 14th annual Times Free Press Best of Preps tournament begins this morning at 10 at Chattanooga State with four girls' games — Signal Mountain vs. GPS, East Hamilton vs. Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, Meigs County vs. Brainerd and Notre Dame vs. Baylor — followed by four boys' games, beginning at 4 with Baylor vs. Signal Mountain, Ooltewah vs. Brainerd, Tyner vs. Notre Dame and East Hamilton vs. McCallie.
"This is by far the best field of teams we've ever had," said tournament director Jay Price. "It's a great group of teams and some really talented players. Any one of those teams, in either the boys' or girls' bracket, could win the tournament and I think the fans will definitely get a good show.
"I would definitely advise anybody who plans on coming to watch to get there early for the evening session because those games are always packed."
Last year McCallie defeated Baylor in the boys' championship, while the Lady Red Raiders held off Meigs County for the girls' title.
This year it's Baylor's boys who enter the tournament unbeaten, while McCallie is 8-3 overall, East Hamilton is 10-2 and Tyner is 9-2. The Blue Tornado, Red Raiders and Hurricanes all have new head coaches also.
Baylor's girls, who start an eighth-grader, two sophomores and a junior, and have just two seniors on the roster, have won three games in a row coming into the tournament to even their record at 6-6 this season.
"We're awfully young and just trying to get some experience," Lady Red Raiders coach John Gibson said. "We've got talent, but talent and experience are two different things. Our teams have gained a lot of confidence coming out of this tournament the past few years so hopefully we can do that again.
"Our girls have loved playing in the Best of Preps for years because it's against other local teams and the community really turns out to support it. It's a great environment that puts pressure on you to play well for three days in a row. As a coach, what I like is that we can just concentrate solely on playing games for those three days and get better before the region schedule starts."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.