SALIDA — The final brackets are still being tweaked, but no matter how the matchups are arranged December's Modesto Christian Holiday Hoops Tournament is setting up to have the strongest 16-team field in the event's 14-year history.
Archbishop Mitty of San Jose, the reigning NorCal Open Division champion, will be playing in the tournament and will be joined by Salesian of Richmond, Deer Valley of Antioch, Serra of Gardena and the host Crusaders all of which finished last season ranked in the state's top 30.
The field was announced Thursday for the four-round event, which opens Thursday, Dec. 26 and finishes Monday, Dec. 30. There will be no games Sunday, Dec. 29, giving all teams a day off between the semifinal and final rounds.
"I know this is the hardest tournament we've had to seed," said MC co-coach and tournament organizer Gary Porter. "We want to avoid having some teams meet before the third round, but I think this will play out like two tournaments, because the winner of the consolation bracket certainly will be a strong team."
El Camino Real of Woodland Hills won last year's tournament, defeating Modesto Christian in the title game.
The tournament also will feature the first-ever appearance of a Modesto Metro Conference team, with Gregori throwing its paws into the bracket. Tourney regulars Ripon, Turlock and Weston Ranch also will be on hand for local flavor, giving the event five Stanislaus District teams for the first time in several years.
"I'm really happy Gregori wanted to come into the tournament," Porter said. "All the local teams enjoy playing in it and it always gives them a good opportunity to play some great competition and get better.
"We always hope at least one local team makes it through the first couple of nights. It's great for the gate and it's great for local basketball."
Filling out the field are Monte Vista (Danville,) Laguna Creek (Elk Grove,) Chavez (Stockton,) Campolindo (Moraga,) Freedom (Oakley,) Burbank (Sacramento,) and Castro Valley.
"Top to bottom, I'd almost bet that this will be our best 16-team tournament," Porter said, adding that Monte Vista, Campolindo and Freedom all will be tough teams to beat. "And having five local teams will make it especially fun."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek