Top-ranked Fairfax Lions return to Snowball Classic

L.A. squad makes third appearance at annual Abbotsford Senior Secondary basketball tournament

When L.A. basketball powerhouse Fairfax High School steps on the court in Abbotsford for the 55th annual Snowball Classic Basketball Tournament, they’ll be sporting their custom LeBron James sneakers designed in the school’s colours.

That’s one of the perks of representing Nike. And while the shoes are slick, it’s the team’s ranking that’s even flashier: the two-time state champs are ranked fifth in the U.S. and No. 1 in California after winning the Under Armour Holiday Classic in San Diego, one of the biggest holiday tournaments in the States.

When organizers of the Snowball tournament began inviting elite high school teams from the U.S. to participate in the tournament they hoped to give the tournament some added cachet.

And with teams like the Fairfax Lions — along with top squads from Wisconsin, New York, Rhode Island and Toronto — it’s worked.

The annual Snowball tournament at Abbotsford Senior Secondary, which takes place Jan. 14 to 18,  is a fan favourite played in front of capacity crowds and supported by the community and staff and students.

“B.C. has some of the best basketball in the country and we wanted to showcase that talent, as well as add a marquee team from the States to test teams against. We wanted to create an atmosphere where both players and fans had an extraordinary time,” explained Abbotsford Panthers coach Prentice Lenz.

“We have an amazing student body, staff and administration. This is a massive undertaking and only made possible by the countless volunteer hours that staff donate to make it happen.”

It wasn’t easy to entice a top U.S. squad to a Canadian tournament that first year, but after hundreds of phone calls coaches Lenz and Rick Funk finally convinced a team to travel north:  state champs from Alabama, Williamson High School. Williamson won the tournament that year, beating Yale in the final.

“They were a phenomenal team,” recalled Lenz about the team from Alabama.

Fairfax has played in the Snowball Tournament twice before — and captured the tourney title both times.

In 2011, the L.A. club defeated Pitt Meadows 76-54 in the final and in 2013 the school  won its second tourney title with a victory over Yale, which captured the tourney in 2009 and 2010.

This year’s Fairfax squad features senior point guard Lindsey Drew, who  is committed to playing college ball at Arizona State and is the son of former NBA head coach Larry Drew.

But there are also plenty of talented B.C. players in this year’s tournament.

“The boys absolutely love it; the teams that come here absolutely love it,” said Lenz.

“Basketball has been judged largely by comparison with the U.S. I think players love the chance to see where they stack up against some tough U.S. teams,” said Lenz. “It is changing as you have the last two first-round picks coming from Canada, as well as two-time MVP Steve Nash, and the recent success of Kelly Olynyk with Gonzaga and now the Celtics.”

B.C. schools participating in this year’s Snowball tournament include two top-ranked teams in the province, Abbotsford (No. 1 AAA) and Burnaby South (No. 1 AAAA), along with Robert Bateman, Kelowna, Brentwood College, St. George’s, Yale, MEI, WJ Mouat, Walnut Grove and Kitsilano.

“There will be some pretty great games,” said Lenz.

Fairfax coach Harvey Kitani looks forward to what has become a semi-regular road trip to Abbotsford with his team. “Just the whole town and school that are all so hospitable. And the kids get a chance to see the beautiful country of Canada and we get to play some basketball – so it’s a very good situation,” he said.

The Snowball tourney tips off on Jan. 14 with a game at 12:45 p.m. between Abbotsford and Robert Bateman.

For more tournament details, visit www.snowballbasketball.com.