Ironton's annual tournament casts spotlight on talent and endurance
IRONTON -- Ironton High's basketball team faces two major challenges starting Friday with the Ironton Classic.
The Fighting Tigers will play five games in eight days -- two in the Classic and three in the Junior Orange Bowl Classic scheduled Dec. 27-29 in Miami.
That makes endurance for the Fighting Tigers and talent level they'll see front and center.
"That's a test no matter who you play," Ironton coach Mark LaFon said of the grind Monday prior to practice.
In keeping with tradition, the Ironton Classic provides a chance for fans to see the top talent from six states and Washington, D.C. (21 teams total). Louisville, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Kansas State, Marshall, Indiana, Purdue, Dayton, West Virginia, Shawnee State, Western Kentucky, Buffalo, Hofstra and Samford are among schools recruiting players in the 2012 Classic.
Ironton opens with Bell Multicultural on Friday at 7:15 p.m. On Saturday, the Fighting Tigers will meet Columbus Eastmoor Academy in the fifth and final game of the day at 9:30.
"Bell hasn't seen us, we haven't seen them," LaFon said. "I don't like that. Eastmoor Academy is a very athletic team. It's the same in Miami. I know (overall) two of the five teams we play. It's all about scouting. I worry about that."
This is the fifth year for the Classic. Officials added a twist in making it a three-day event. There'll be two games Thursday ($4 admission), five on Friday and six on Saturday ($10 admission each day).
Hargrave Military Academy, one of the featured teams, is scheduled to play Thursday at 7 p.m. and Friday at 9. The Tigers have eight players who have signed Division I scholarships.
"The talent level is impressive," LaFon said. "This has grown into one of the biggest tournaments around. Three days ... we'll try it. I don't think this ruins the quality of the tournament. Every year it's gotten better and better."
Ironton comes in 3-0. The Fighting Tigers rolled over Lucasville Valley (85-50) and Waverly (68-20) and won at Portsmouth in between blowouts, 53-51.
Against Portsmouth, LaFon had his Fighting Tigers show discipline of offense. He wanted at least seven passes before a shot. Anything less and that player came out. Darrius Boykin hit one from behind the arc, but came out because the pass requirement hadn't been met. He quickly returned to action.
"We run what is offered to us," LaFon said. "We're gradually getting there. Pace of play is important. I don't want us to force our will on people."
Trey Fletcher and Zac Carter are Ironton's top weapons on offense.
The one girls game is Friday and it features Ironton against Spring Valley at 3:45 p.m. The Lady Tigers (5-1) traveled to Cabell Midland on Wednesday night. A name to watch for them is freshman Lexie Barrier, who had 21 points in Saturday's 91-45 win over Elliott County.