It's hard to imagine the 2008 version of the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic Tournament could be surpassed anytime soon.
Tournament director and co-founder, Gary Fears, got basically everything he could have wanted under the Christmas tree when the small school Marshall Lions took home the title Tuesday night, fittingly, downing one of the 'giants,' Terre Haute North.
While the newer version of the tourney, began nine years ago, isn't quite as enormous as the editions that grew to as large as 128 teams back between the years of 1916 and 1972, the feeling had to be as satisfying for the Lions.
Last year, Marshall advanced to the title game, but were swatted aside by the Terre Haute South Braves in a 64-33 decision that didn't live up to the hype. However, the Lions, who had been chomping for another shot at the Class 4A third-ranked Braves since last year, knocked off the host school to avenge the 2007 defeat. Then, the mighty Lions claimed the crown in front of an impressive group of fans that represented everything that makes this tourney special.
Marshall, with an enrollment of 438 students, playing in front of a jam-packed Terre Haute South gymnasium, realized what so many players in post-class basketball have not, winning a title in front of thousands of fans.
My opinion, one I'm sure I share with many, is that the Wabash Valley Tourney crowds were something most of these kids have never seen before. Even if these players play in a state title game, which would be in a much larger arena, they won't see the kind of atmosphere they did on several nights at Terre Haute South. You don't hear of a school being forced to turn fans away very often in this day and age, but that's exactly what happened on Saturday and Monday night.
What those fans saw on any of the four days were some incredible hoops that proved to me that high school basketball is still just as amazing as it once was. Put the talent on the floor and the fans will come.
The Lions had one heck of a tough path to the title, beating top-ranked Class A squad Rockville, a whale of squad in its own right. Marshall also had to beat the Braves and an Owen Valley team that is going to give WIC and sectional foes fits down the road before having to get past a Patriots' team that has MIC size.
There's not much doubt that the Lions are going to be ready for the postseason when it gets here.
Though Terre Haute South lost its first game of the season, they provided one of the more amazing shooting displays from 3-point range that fans have ever seen.
Ask anyone on South Vermillion, Northview or West Vigo's teams and they'll likely have nightmares of 3-point shots flying over their outstretched arms for weeks to come.
The Braves hit a combined 42 3-pointers in the four tourney games and that includes a tourney record 24 by John Michael Jarvis. South, as a team, hit 36 percent from long range while Jarvis hit at a 50 percent clip (24-of-48).
Other remarkable tourney performances came from Northview's Austin Akers, who made the all-tourney team.
The Knights' senior, along with his starting teammates, undoubtedly slept soundly after playing nearly every minute of the 138 total minutes that Northview played. The Knights got 84 total points from Akers, good for a 21 ppg. average. He also hit 38 percent from 3-point range (11-of-29) and was the tourney's second-leading point scorer to Jarvis' 85.
Sullivan's Thad Thompson made quite a splash in the tourney as well, averaging close to 20 rebounds per game in the first three contests, but still fell short of all-tourney status, which should tell most what type of talent actually did make the team.
Though the Casey-Westfield Warriors didn't play in a fourth tourney game, Mitch Snyder came through with games of 34, 28 and 19 to average 27 ppg. in an all-tourney berth. West Vigo's Jordan Pearson, who occasionally is overshadowed by his high-scoring teammate, Tyler Wampler, saw the spotlight himself in the tourney.
Pearson averaged 18.3 ppg. to go with 5.5 rpg. and was invaluable in an emotional win over Rockville.
Owen Valley claimed the consolation championship with a win over Turkey Run on Tuesday night with plenty of help from Tyler Lientz. The 6'2 senior averaged 19 ppg. in the tourney and Northview fans will get to see him Jan. 9, when the Knights hit the road for a WIC tilt on the road in Spencer.
The Braves Jake Odum finished with a total of 79 points after a 13-point outing against Northview and made the all-tourney team as well.
Rockville's Indiana State-bound R.J. Mahurin finished his tourney career as the all-time leading scorer with 292 points.
There were no shortage of records that were set in this year's edition, including Jarvis' single-game total of nine 3-pointers and 24 total in the tourney. South also re-set the record of 18 in a game and teamed with Northview to break the combined record for trifectas in a game with 28.
All told, this year's tournament surpassed even the most grandiose of hopes for tourney officials and fans. There were plenty of down-to-the-wire thrillers, great individual and team performances and plenty of tasty pizza to be had by all.
If it's not too early, I'm already looking forward to next year!