GLENDALE – The State Farm Stadium speakers clashed with shouting from basketball coaches, players and squeaky whistles and sneakers on the venue’s freshly built floors.
Home of the Arizona Cardinals, the stadium’s natural grass was removed and converted into 12 full-length basketball courts with games simultaneously being played on each court throughout the day.
On Saturday, the Section 7 Tournament closed out the girls bracket featuring 136 teams. In total, 400 total teams qualified for competition from 12 different states to play 800-plus games featuring some of the nation’s top players and teams. By the end of this weekend, players will wrap up playing in front of 700-plus college coaches.
“We try to get the players and teams that Division I coaches want to watch,” said Matt King, Section 7 event organizer and Arizona Basketball Coaches Association director. “These college coaches are here because of the players.”
Thursday’s slate showcased No. 2 Etiwanda (CA) against No. 1 ranked Desert Vista (AZ) in a must-watch matchup. Desert Vista was without elite 2026 prospect Jerzy Robinson, as she competes in the FIBA’s U-16 Women’s Americas Championship, and the loss would prove detrimental as Etiwanda won 67-53 en route to going undefeated.
While teams are represented by 12 different states, the college coaches that attend the Section 7 Tournament extend beyond that and sit adjacent to the courts while watching each play with unassuming intensity.
“All the other big events like Adidas and Under Armour host showcases like this for AAU only,” said Itoro Coleman, assistant coach/recruiting coordinator for the University of North Carolina. “For high school it has never happened before for us to see players on their high school teams, all in one place.”
Another development this year for Section 7 is the tournament’s dates lining up with the live period, which allows college coaches to make verbal offers and evaluate top prospects in person but prohibits in-person contact.
Division I college coaches are banned from contacting athletes until Sept. 1 of their junior year, and Division II coaches can’t reach out until June 15 after their sophomore year, the same day the Section 7 Tournament began.
“It just got cleared by the NCAA to readjust their recruiting calendar to allow a scholastic period that allows Division I coaches to come and watch, which is why we wanted Section 7 to align with that,” King said.
Although not every player will receive an offer from a college, the tournament is a chance for the girls to play in front of college coaches and expand the sport in Arizona.
“I grew up in Arizona and I never had a platform like this when I played,” said Erin O’Bryan, Desert Vista’s coach and former Arizona Wildcats player. “When you don’t play club ball you don’t get this experience, so it is great for the girls.”
O’Bryan was part of the enormous team that coordinated the Section 7 event, along with King and numerous coaches and committees from Arizona.
“We have been planning this event for over three years now,” O’Bryan said. “We knew that this year’s dates were going to line up with the live period and we are hoping all the players are enjoying this experience.”
While the top players and teams are well-represented, the committee ensured smaller schools received the same opportunities, with teams ranging from 2A-6A.
“For us being a smaller school, we are beyond grateful for this opportunity,” said Erik Gray, Leading Edge Academy’s coach, a 2A school.
“This event is so important to the girls and players in Arizona,” said Jennifer Gillom, Xavier College Prep’s coach and former Phoenix Mercury player. “Kudos to everyone who put on this event, I am hoping it sticks around and we can get some more people (fans) here.”
The boys qualifier for Section 7 begins play Wednesday and concludes Thursday to determine the final teams that will play in the tournament over the upcoming weekend. This aligns with the live period that allows Division II, Division III and NAIA coaches to attend.
All college coaches will be allowed to attend when the boys tournament begins Friday, which will cap off an impressive two-week showing with by Section 7’s conclusion in the championship games Sunday.
“The players are the main attraction,” King said. “We are kind of like the waiters, we set the table and bring the food and they’re the ones that get to eat.”