Two boys bracket champions will be crowned at the King Cotton Holiday Classic, one of the premier high school basketball tournaments in the nation.
Maybe both champions will come from Arkansas – or Texas – or St. Louis. Maybe a Mississippi team and Chicago ballclub will hoist trophies.
While King Cotton offers two coronations on the same court, the two eight-team boys brackets are also a necessity to avoid extraneous matchups among neighboring teams.
"It has to do with the variables," tournament director Samuel Glover said Wednesday. "We couldn't have certain teams like Pine Bluff and [Little Rock] Parkview playing each other because they play during the season, so you have some AAA [Arkansas Activities Association] rules there. Then, you have to be considerate of the out-of-state teams. There are three teams from Texas, so they have rules to follow." Beaumont United, Fort Bend Hightower and Baytown's Goose Creek Memorial are all located within a 90-mile radius of Houston.
Glover said organizers had to balance out the brackets, taking into consideration push-back from recent years where local teams wanted to measure themselves against some of the nation's best.
Magnolia, which stars University of Arkansas signee Derrian Ford, was ranked No. 1 in Class 4A and made the state semifinals last season. The Panthers will start their King Cotton run against Missouri Class 5 champion St. Louis Cardinal Ritter, and Ford might get the chance to match up with Murray State University recruit and three-star shooting guard Braxton Stacker.
But Cardinal Ritter won't have to worry about facing crosstown foe Christian Brothers, coached by NBA star Jayson Tatum's father Justin.
"Who wants to travel halfway across the country and play someone you play anyway?" Glover said.
There are also the comparable styles of play that helped King Cotton's competition committee pair teams.
"What we would consider the best matchups, we took that and considered the style of play," Glover said. "When you see a team like [Chicago] De La Salle vs. Goose Creek, that is on purpose. We look at the high-powered offense that Goose Creek runs, and [De La Salle Coach Gary] DeCesare always had that fast-paced offense. We felt like that was going to be the most exciting game." One potential championship game would not cause a conflict. Pine Bluff, a Class 5A team, and Watson Chapel, from Class 4A, haven't competed in the same conference in years.
The two teams are on opposite sides of the King Bracket. Pine Bluff would have to beat Antioch (Tenn.) Cane Ridge and get past either Class 6A champion North Little Rock or Shreveport Calvary Baptist Academy, while Watson Chapel would face a tall order in Texas 5A champion Beaumont United before playing either Mississippi 4A power Raymond or Christian Brothers.
The key to a good tournament, Pine Bluff Coach Billy Dixon said, is not knowing about the other teams.
"Right now, I'm just too focused on getting my guys where they need to be," said Dixon, whose Zebras are 4-4.
"It doesn't matter who you play, and just from the response I've gotten nationally of the teams in there, they say it's going to be some heck of a competition, which is what you want. If you're on a big stage, you want an opportunity to play those high-level teams and see how your guys stack up and how well they're going to perform." Pine Bluff and Parkview are longtime 5A contenders but do not compete in the same conference. The teams have already squared off twice, with Parkview winning 70-55 at home last Tuesday and 54-53 in overtime Saturday to win the Charles Ripley Holiday Tournament at Little Rock Southwest High.
The Zebras won't get another shot at revenge, because the Patriots are placed in the Creed Bracket, named after King Cotton founder Travis Creed.
"I'm not really concerned about the bracket as I am excited about the competition," Parkview Coach Scotty Thurman said.
"To me, it's all about getting a chance to play games and going up against teams you don't normally get to compete against. How the bracket is set up is really not that big of an interest to me."
MONDAY, DEC. 27 GIRLS
9 a.m.: Game 1A, Watson Chapel vs. Shreveport Huntington
10:15 a.m.: Game 1B, Sylvan Hills vs. Memphis Hutchinson School for Girls
11:30 a.m.: Game 2, Fort Bend (Texas) Hightower vs. Little Rock Parkview
12:45 p.m.: Game 3, Raymond (Miss.) vs. St. Louis Christian Brothers
2 p.m.: Game 4, Chicago De La Salle vs. Baytown (Texas) Goose Creek Memorial
3:15 p.m.: Game 5, White Hall vs. Shreveport Huntington
4:30 p.m.: Game 6, St. Louis Cardinal Ritter vs. Magnolia
5:45 p.m.: Game 7, Beaumont (Texas) United vs. Watson Chapel
7 p.m.: Game 8, North Little Rock vs. Shreveport Calvary Baptist Academy
8:15 p.m.: Game 9, Antioch (Tenn.) Cane Ridge vs. Pine Bluff
TUESDAY, DEC. 28 GIRLS
9 a.m.: Game 10A, Pine Bluff vs. Memphis Hutchinson School for Girls
10:15 a.m.: Game 10B, Sylvan Hills vs. Shreveport Huntington
11:30 a.m.: Game 11, King Bracket, Raymond-Christian Brothers loser vs. Beaumont United-Watson Chapel loser
12:45 p.m.: Game 12, King Bracket, North Little Rock-Calvary Baptist Academy loser vs. Cane Ridge-Pine Bluff loser
2 p.m.: Game 13, Creed Bracket, Hightower-Parkview loser vs. De La Salle-Goose Creek Memorial loser
3:15 p.m.: Game 14, Creed Bracket, White Hall-Huntington loser vs. Cardinal Ritter-Magnolia loser
4:30 p.m.: Game 15, King Bracket semifinal, Raymond-Christian Brothers winner vs. Beaumont United-Watson Chapel winner
5:45 p.m.: Game 16, Creed Bracket semifinal, Cardinal Ritter-Magnolia winner vs. White Hall-Huntington winner
7 p.m.: Game 17, King Bracket semifinal, North Little Rock-Calvary Baptist Academy winner vs. Cane Ridge-Pine Bluff winner
8:15 p.m.: Game 18, Creed Bracket semifinal, Hightower-Parkview winner vs. De La Salle-Goose Creek Memorial winner
WEDNESDAY, DEC. 29 GIRLS
9:15 a.m.: Game 19, Watson Chapel vs. Memphis Hutchinson School for Girls
11:30 a.m.: Game 21, Game 12 loser vs. Game 11 winner
12:45 p.m.: Game 22, Game 16 loser vs. Game 18 loser
2 p.m.: Game 23, Game 13 winner vs. Game 14 loser
3:15 p.m.: Game 24, Game 13 loser vs. Game 14 winner
4:40 p.m.: Game 25, Game 12 winner vs. Game 11 loser
5:45 p.m.: Game 26, Game 17 loser vs. Game 15 loser
7 p.m.: Creed Bracket championship
8:15 p.m.: King Bracket championship