From intriguing contrast-of-style matchups to showcasing regional star power to potential rematches of shocking playoff games, there will be plenty of story lines to watch in this week's Leo LaRocca Sand Dune Classic at St. Ignatius.
Which is to say, it will be pretty much par for the course for one of The City's best high school basketball tournaments.
The three-day tournament kicks off Thursday, featuring eight-team brackets for both boys' and girls' competitions.
Named after St. Ignatius' longtime athletic director, the event always features a roster loaded with traditional public- and private-school powers from across the Bay Area (and this year's boys' competition features a team from Oregon as well.)
The St. Ignatius boys' and girls' teams will be looking to defend their titles from last season's Sand Dune Classic. Based on the way things have shaped up so far this season, the boys' team likely faces the most difficult path to the championship.
Led by 5-foot-9 guard Trevor Dunbar, one of the quickest players in San Francisco, the Wildcats will open up against Mission, the defending San Francisco Section champion. The feisty Bears always play at a breakneck pace, differing greatly from the methodical Wildcats, who are more accustomed to operating within a halfcourt set.
However, Dunbar, who has received numerous Division I offers, excels in the open court and is unlikely to shy away from Mission's aggressive style.
“That one will be fun to watch,” St. Ignatius coach Tim Reardon said. “I think Trevor is looking forward to getting out and running for that one.”
If the Wildcats advance, they could eventually face St. Joseph's (Alameda) or Branson (Ross), two Division V state powers who met in last year's Northern California semifinals. St. Joseph's advanced all the way to the state final, and Reardon said his team was manhandled by the Pilots during a preseason scrimmage.
There is also an outside chance that the Wildcats could match up again with Santa Cruz, which is on the other side of the bracket. Although the Cardinals were drubbed 69-45 by St. Ignatius in last year's Sand Dune Classic, they came back to pull off a stunning 49-48 upset in a rematch in the Central Coast Section semifinals, ending the Wildcats' season.
The St. Ignatius' girls, currently undefeated at 5-0, open with Terra Nova and face a potential second-round matchup with Sacramento powerhouse Kennedy. Kennedy won 24 games last season and is ranked 38th in the state by MaxPreps.com. If the Wildcats get by Kennedy, they could find themselves playing Lowell. The San Francisco Section favorite gave St. Ignatius everything it could in last year's Sand Dune Classic championship game before falling 52-48.
Competing in the ultra-competitive West Catholic Athletic League, Reardon said it's important for both Wildcats teams to schedule tough in-season opponents before conference play begins. The Sand Dune Classic is a perfect chance for the teams to get important experience early in the season.
“If we're not prepared by the time WCAL play comes around, we'll be done for,” said Reardon. “The only way you can get better is to play against quality competition, and we know we're going to face plenty of that in our tournament this year.”