December 24, 2004
The Nike Tournament of Champions completed its fourth year in the Phoenix area Thursday, making the Valley of the Sun the longestrunning host of the eight-year tournament.
And there will be more to come, according to founder and executive director Steve Kozaki, who told the Tribune that discussions are under way to keep here the annual event that features some of the nation’s top girls basketball teams.
"We’re about to enter longteam commitment with our hotel partners and our transportation partners," Kozaki said, "so this looks like home for us for a while.
"Phoenix is large enough to support this tournament. It’s a fantastic fit for us. The participation of the Chandler Unified District has also been fantastic."
Before coming to the Valley, the tournament ran one year in Chicago, then three in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Kozaki had been frustrated with Arizona schools in previous years, as many of the state’s best teams opted to play in other tournaments. But this year, Phoenix St. Mary’s entered and won a game in the elite 16-team White Division while Corona del Sol and Desert Vista both reached the finals in their respective eightteam divisions.
"We’ve left the tournament to Arizona teams that want to participate," Kozaki said. "They’re certainly making a better showing, and that’s from being acclimated to that style of play."
In Thursday’s title game of the White Division, USA Today’s second-ranked team, Christ the King (N.Y.), beat No. 1 Piedmont (Calif.) 44-42 when diminutive point guard Lorin Dixon drove through the lane and scored on a driving layup with 3.4 seconds remaining.
"It’s probably the best championship game we’ve ever had," Kozaki said.
The game featured several prep all-stars, including Piedmont’s Oklahoma-bound Paris sisters — Ashley and Courtney — as well as Christ the King’s tall front line consisting of Carrem Gay and Tina Charles. Yet, it was the 5-foot-4 Dixon who turned out to be the hero.
With the score tied and 33 seconds to play, Dixon, a sophomore, held her dribble near center court before heading toward the basket with 10 seconds left. Christ the King coach Bob Mackey left her the option to drive or dish off to Gay or Charles. She chose the former and banked it in through the arms of taller players.
Gay and Nekejia Kelly had 12 points each, Dixon and Charles 10 apiece. Courtney Paris led all scorers with 23.
ROLL CALL OF CHAMPS
Other division winners were: Black — Brookswood (Canada); Blue — Chatsworth (Calif.); Gold — El Cerrito (Calif.); Green — Reno (Nevada); Gray — Rosary (Calif.); Red — Lincoln (Texas).