Teams opened the tournament Wednesday, Dec. 26, and will play through Saturday night, when the championship game will tip off at Tracy High.
Most of the teams are from the Sac-Joaquin Section, but coaches said they still meet up with teams they wouldn’t otherwise face.
“There are some good Bay Area teams,” said Jeff Salyer, coach of the Gregori High Jaguars from Modesto. “That’s why we come here, to get away from the valley.”
Gregori (10-0), a team of mostly juniors in its second year of varsity play, could turn out to be one of the stronger teams in the Modesto Metro Conference.
The Jaguars added a 57-53 win over El Camino High of Sacramento to their record Wednesday and moved on to face Mission San Jose High of Fremont on Thursday, Dec. 27.
Mission San Jose reached the 2011 California Interscholastic Federation state playoffs after finishing as the North Coast Section runner-up. The Warriors (6-3) skipped the Hawkins tournament last year but took part in previous years.
Mission San Jose started this year’s tournament with a 53-31 win over Manteca High.
Coach Doug Sakamoto said he wanted to put his team up against competition the Warriors wouldn’t ordinarily see.
He added that the tournament brings surprises every year. This year, his team comprises mostly the younger players from his 2012 squad, and the tournament includes teams he doesn’t know well.
“Most of these teams are from the Central Valley,” he said. “There’s nobody from our section playing in this tournament, so I really don’t know what to expect.”
West High coach Joe Hernandez said he and Tracy High coach Derek Solano try to get teams to return each year, but they mix up the bracket from year-to-year
“We try to balance the teams for equity, as much as we can,” Hernandez said. “It’s a great tune-up for league. Our league is one of the tougher leagues around, with St. Mary’s, McNair and Edison all playing at a fast, athletic tempo, so it’s a good chance to play some teams like that.”
Thirteen of the 16 teams are back from 2011. In addition to Mission San Jose, Turlock High and Lathrop High missed the tournament last year. Hernandez said the team from Kimball High was unable to attend last year because of a scheduling conflict and turned down the invitation this year.
Among the returning teams is Brookside Christian of Stockton, the defending tournament champion. Brookside went on to win the 2012 California Interscholastic Federation Division V state championship.
East Union of Manteca, a returning semifinalist from last year’s tournament, lost a close game to Modesto, 35-31, on Wednesday. East Union coach Jim Agostini said he and the Lancers look forward to the Hawkins tournament each year.
“This is my 13th year, and I think we missed one year,” Agostini said. “We’ve come across some great teams over the years.
“We’ve won the tournament, we’ve finished in consolation. We’ve always been tested here very well.”
Modesto coach Troy Hooks said he expected the tournament to get his team ready for Modesto Metro Conference play.
“The challenge is here,” Hooks said. “I rate this tournament fairly high as far as getting us ready for league.”
He added that coaches will know a lot more about their teams by the end of the fourth straight day of play Saturday.
“That’s going to be the test. They’re going to feel the brunt of that coming off the holiday,” he said.
• Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or email@example.com.