It’s the premier high school athletics event in Arizona.
Every year it brings numerous high school basketball programs from across the western part of the U.S. and into the Midwest for a four-day showcase. College coaches flock to the Valley to see some of the top talent at Section 7, a tournament hosted by the Arizona Basketball Coaches Association at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.
“I’ve been fortunate to be at Peach Jam and some of the best tournaments in the country,” Mountain View coach Andy Johnson said. “But this is incredible. The level of competition, the organization. What this does for high school student-athletes, to be able to be seen by all these college coaches under one roof, it’s awesome.”
Since announcing its move to State Farm Stadium, Section 7 has grown exponentially. Last year, just under 200 high schools participated. This year, 231 boys and 18 girls’ teams played on 12 courts placed over top of the concrete floor that is typically covered by the Arizona Cardinals’ game field.
Thursday, June 16, marked the official start of the tournament. Teams were split into 14 brackets on the boys’ side while the girls played in one large tournament.
A cast of all Arizona-based schools kicked off the tournament on its first day. Friday was the scheduled start for several others playing in brackets featuring out-of-state opponents.
That is when Mountain View began its quest for a bracket title with a new-look, fast-paced offense led by Johnson and key returning players, including Brigg Wolfe.
The Toros lost in double-overtime to begin the tournament to San Gabriel Academy out of California. It was a heartbreaking start for a team filled with confidence. Later that night on Friday, the Toros bounced back with a big win over Palo Verde. That was their only win of the tournament, but the experience was all that mattered.
“The timing of this is really good because it allows teams to see what they need to work on,” Johnson said. “Now we have the rest of the summer. We saw our strengths and weaknesses against a lot of good teams.”
Section 7 gives players the opportunity to stand out in front of several college coaches. On Friday alone, more than 450 were in attendance.
It was a bit nerve wrecking for Wolfe and his team. Even though he and most of the other returning players played in this tournament last year, they couldn’t help but look on in awe when they first arrived.
He showed poise and the ability to lead during the tournament from the guard position. He undoubtedly opened the eyes of some college coaches, which is the main goal of the event.
“It’s crazy, sort of inspirational,” Wolfe said. “You walk in, and you realize you’re in the Cardinals stadium. Then every corner you turn you see coaches from Kentucky, Duke. It’s just awesome to be able to come to a big stage and perform.”
Mesa, Dobson, Desert Ridge and Red Mountain also were invited to compete at Section 7. The Jackrabbits went 3-1 in the Uniphore Bracket, which also Mesquite out of Gilbert. Desert Ridge went 2-2 throughout the four-day tournament while Red Mountain finished with the same record.
Dobson was unable to secure a victory but had a unique experience, nonetheless.
Other East Valley schools at the tournament included Perry, Gilbert, Highland, Mesquite boys and girls, Campo Verde and Higley.
Chandler, Hamilton girls and boys, Basha and Valley Christian represented the Chandler area, while Saguaro, Chaparral, Scottsdale Christian, Horizon, Desert Mountain and Rancho Solano all represented Scottsdale. Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe out of Ahwatukee also competed.
The far southeast Valley was represented by Casteel and Queen Creek, a team that was missing a chunk of its roster but still remained competitive.
Bulldogs’ coach Daniel Bobik was passionate about what Section 7 offers high school basketball teams. In previous years, he has lost players to prep schools, a growing struggle with promises of playing out-of-state competition and getting maximum exposure to colleges.
But Bobik believes there are opportunities for regular high schools, too, and Section 7 proves that.
“The prep schools try to use exposure and competition as a carrot on the stick to go to a prep school,” Bobik said. “I don’t think that’s right, and I don’t think that’s true. This is a legitimate event, and you can play at your high school and still get whatever exposure you want.”
Bobik added he enjoys the concept of Section 7 and hopes high school athletes will recognize the opportunities traditional high schools bring.
“I love the concept, I love the idea and I love that you can use it – for lack of a better term – as ammunition for kids who are potentially thinking about going the prep route,” Bobik said. “I can guarantee there are more coaches here this weekend watching them than they will get at prep schools over the entire year. I’m glad this has been put together for teams that are a part of the AIA so kids can understand they can go to a public high school and still play at the next level.”