‘What team is best’? Proposed open division tournament for high school basketball could provide answer

A proposed open division tournament for high school basketball in Arizona has many coaches excited because it could help players stay at their home schools. (File photo by Hogan Armstrong/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The postseason set up for Arizona high school basketball features six state champions each year, one from each division. This current structure leaves fans, coaches and players with unanswered questions.

“Which team was the best?”

“Did the top players face the top players?”

Many believe questions like these have contributed to several of the state’s top players leaving their local public high schools for prep schools that can provide a more competitive schedule.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association’s answer to the problem was to implement an eight team, big school (6A, 5A, and 4A) open division tournament set to start in the upcoming 2022-23 season.

Following recent meetings between the AIA and select high school basketball coaches, a new format for this open tournament has been proposed and coaches believe it will create a competitive atmosphere that cannot be matched.

The new format would feature two 32-team brackets: one for men and one for women, the AIA confirmed Thursday. Using the AIA and MaxPreps power points rankings for seeding, the two brackets would include the top eight teams from 6A, the top eight from 5A, the top eight from 4A and eight more at-large teams whose selection would be based on power points.

The tournament would follow a traditional format of No. 1 versus No. 32, No. 2 versus No. 31, and so on. Once the first two rounds are played and the pool is reduced to eight teams, the 24 teams that were previously eliminated would drop back into their conference tournaments, which begin after the first two rounds of the open. The remaining eight teams would continue the tournament until there is an open division champion.

The details of the conference tournaments including how many teams participate and how teams will drop back is still in discussion, but will be hammered out during further meetings between the AIA and coaches.

“This new format creates a competitive environment where kids get an opportunity to win not only their conference championship, but to also compete at an even higher level here at their home schools,” Sandra Day O’Connor girls basketball coach Charles Wilson said. “I hope that this tournament makes kids and parents do their research and ask questions before making that big jump to change schools.”

De’Rahn Stinson, the boys basketball coach at Raymond S. Kellis, believes the proposed tournament could “compete with those prep school Grind Session tournaments because we have our top schools playing other top schools for a state championship which is what everyone has wanted to see.”

Coaches around the state have praised the format for its potential to create an unparalleled experience for players and fans.

Stinson believes the new tournament would provide a unique experience.

“It gives more kids a chance to make those lifelong memories of playing in a playoff game or traveling with your team to an away playoff matchup,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about, helping make lifelong memories for our student athletes.”

“Coaches in Arizona collectively knew there were improvements that could’ve been made,” Scottsdale Saguaro boys basketball coach Lucas Ramirez said. “The AIA deserves a lot of credit for being willing to listen and engage with us coaches to develop this new format.”

Ramirez believes that this new tournament will create something unique that other organizations cannot compete with.

“It gives something of value to AIA member schools and creates an environment for really good competition while at the same time including more teams from other levels of the state tournament as well.” he said. “Everyone loves March Madness and I think this could create a similar feel to that. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

The Arizona Basketball Coaches Association will present this new proposal to the AIA executive board for a vote later this summer.

Max Campodall’Orto m-a-cks camp-oh-dall-Or-toe (he/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Max Campodall’Orto expects to graduate in December 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports business and a bachelors degree in sports journalism. Max is assigned to Cronkite Sports Phoenix this semester.