The Stanwood boys basketball team practices Friday morning in preparation for its tournament games in San Diego. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Stanwood boys basketball team practices Friday morning in preparation for its tournament games in San Diego. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Tis the season for teams to travel to holiday tournaments

A handful of area basketball teams are heading more than 1,000 miles out of state this week for holiday tournaments — and the memorable experiences that come with these trips.

Among the squads packing their bags are the Stanwood and King’s boys, and the Marysville Getchell girls.

The undefeated Stanwood Spartans (6-0) are traveling to San Diego for the Under Armour Holiday Classic, an elite national tournament that features 72 teams split into five brackets based on competition levels. Stanwood will play in the second-most competitive bracket.

Star senior Corey Kispert and the defending Class 1A state champion King’s Knights (6-0) are journeying to the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, Arizona, for the Visit Mesa Basketball Challenge, a 16-team invitational tournament that includes some of the Grand Canyon State’s top teams.

And the Marysville Getchell girls (3-4) are venturing north to Juneau, Alaska, for the Capital City Classic, a four-team round-robin event that includes three Alaskan teams.

One benefit of these tournaments is they provide a “great state-tournament simulation,” King’s coach Rick Skeen said.

“You don’t do that the rest of the year — (playing) multiple games back-to-back-to-back,” Skeen said. “We spend all year having two days of preparation and plenty of film time. So to practice turning around a game plan, a scouting report and getting our kids prepped, ready and playing 24 hours later — that’s something you have to do when the state tournament comes around.”

Yet with the offseason implementation of an RPI system for state-tournament seeding, these holiday tournament games are more than just opportunities to grow and prepare. Fifty percent of the RPI formula involves opponents’ records, and for simplicity’s sake, all out-of-state opponents are calculated as .500 teams. That could work against teams such as Stanwood and King’s that likely will face several elite out-of-state opponents this week.

But regardless, Skeen said his team will benefit from the tournament’s elite competition, even if it ends up negatively affecting the Knights’ RPI.

“As soon as the RPI came out, you scratched your head a little bit and thought, ‘Hmmm, I wonder if this is a good idea or not,’” Skeen said. “But playing good teams I think always makes you better. And whatever happens, I’m sure we’ll grow and learn from it.”

For all three local teams, basketball is only part of the trip itinerary.

The Stanwood players were looking forward to hanging out at one of San Diego’s many beaches and attending college football’s Holiday Bowl between Washington State and Minnesota. The King’s players planned to go horseback riding, attend a Phoenix Suns game and spend an evening at a local arcade. During their stay in Alaska, the Chargers planned to hike near the scenic Mendenhall Glacier.

“Ultimately what it’s all about is making memories and growing together as a team,” Skeen said. “When it’s all said and done, those are the things they’ll remember, probably long after whether we won or lost.”

Stanwood coach Zach Ward echoed that sentiment: “In 10, 20 and 30 years, the kids aren’t going to remember the scores and who they played. They’re going to remember going to the bowl game (and) going to the beach. That’s what we’re trying to do — make it a full experience for them.”

For the Marysville Getchell girls, their trip to Alaska is historic. The Chargers, in their sixth season as a varsity program, are the first sports team in the school’s seven-year history to travel out of state for an in-season tournament.

“I was interested in doing something because we’ve finally kind of established ourselves now. We’ve been around for five years,” Marysville Getchell coach Shannon Grandbois said. “So I was looking around for tournaments. … I was thinking that would be really cool for the girls, because some of (them) are now seniors.”

To help offset travel expenses, each team fund-raised. For example, the Marysville Getchell girls organized a clothing drive with Value Village and sold poinsettias. The Chargers also plan to sell Krispy Kreme doughnuts after they return.

That hard work helped make possible what figures to be a memorable week.

“Some of these girls have never been out of state,” Grandbois said. “I think this is going to be an awesome opportunity for the girls to see a place that they’ve never seen before.”

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