Dec 24, 2013
In the first 41 years of the HighSchoolOT.com Holiday Invitational, only two schools from Fayetteville had the opportunity to be a part of the event.
This year, Trinity Christian will join the 1992 Terry Sanford team and the 1999 Douglas Byrd squad in tournament lore, hoping to prove themselves amongst some of the best in the nation.
Crusaders coach Heath Vanderveer said the coaches and players are embracing the opportunity of the invitation-only tournament.
“We’ll be representing the community, our families and the school,” Vanderveer said. “This is a big challenge for us, but we’re up to the task.”
Trinity has had its share of recent success, winning the state championship in 2011 and falling to Raleigh Word of God in the title game last year.
Although the Crusaders had seven seniors graduate from last season, Vanderveer said the team is just as talented and others will step up to fill voids.
“We usually play 10 or 11 guys each game, so players have their roles changed from year to year,” Vanderveer said. “Right now, we have five Division I kids on our team, and they’re all sophomores and juniors.”
One of those players, Dennis Smith, is the top-ranked point guard and third-ranked overall according to the North Carolina Class of 2016 rankings on phenomhoopreport.com. Another sophomore, Kwe Parker, is the 24th best player nationally.
Vanderveer said it hasn’t taken too long for the team to gel and believes they’ll be even stronger when the Crusaders make a push for the conference tournament and state playoffs.
“Chemistry hasn’t been an issue with this team,” Vanderveer said. “The kids love playing with each other and we’re off to a great start. It usually takes a good team about 10 to 15 games to get accustomed to each other. We divide the season by parts, and we’re into the first teeth of the season.
“When we get to the tournament, we’ll be playing even better and by February, we’ll be ready for the playoffs.”
For now, Trinity Christian is focused on making its mark in the Holiday Invitational. A Crusaders championship in the tournament would be the first time a team from Fayetteville won a title.
Vanderveer said the team is ready to compete and prove themselves worthy of the invitation.
“This is the biggest event in North Carolina when it comes to basketball,” Vanderveer said. “This tournament will help the program, and it’s an honor for us to participate in it.”
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