Section 7 returned bigger and better

The Section 7 high school basketball tournament returned bigger and better this year with more teams added from across Arizona and surrounding states and with more than 500 college coaches in attendance to watch games spread out on 12 courts at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. (Dave Minton/Tribune Staff)

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.

“This has been a fantastic experience,” Queen Creek coach Daniel Bobik said. “It’s a great facility and the organizers do a really good job of it. For our kids, let’s be honest, the exposure piece is very important. I love the concept.”

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.

Queen Creek began its tournament on Thursday playing in the Legacy Foundation Bracket, which featured all Arizona teams.

The Bulldogs were without a chunk of its roster for the tournament, but they fought, nonetheless. After close losses to Mica Mountain and Fountain Hills, Queen Creek squeaked out a win against Washington. They capped off the tournament with a two-point loss to Desert Vista, a team that began to find its footing in the back-half of the tournament.

Despite the outcome, it was still a unique experience for Queen Creek’s players. Junior guard Leyton Steenhard had the opportunity to show his leadership skills in front of college coaches, an experience he will always be thankful for.

“I was excited because it’s a good stage to be on, to play on,” Steenhard said. “The feeling of the bright lights coming down, it’s amazing. It was a good experience, for sure.”

Along with Queen Creek, Casteel also represented the far southeast Valley at Section 7, along with several other East Valley teams.

Mountain View, Mesa, Desert Ridge, Red Mountain and Dobson were all present, as well as 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.

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 isn’t wrong.

Several East Valley athletes walked away with scholarship offers after Section 7. Some received multiple. Others placed themselves on the radars of schools, no matter the level.

From local community colleges to Division I blue bloods like Kentucky and Duke, coaches from all across the country flocked to State Farm Stadium to see athletes during the four-day event.

Bobik said that aspect alone is better than anything he has witnesses at the prep scene. And he hopes more kids will realize that before making the jump.

“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.”

This has been a fantastic experience. It’s a great facility and the organizers do a really good job of it. For our kids, let’s be honest, the exposure piece is very important. I love the concept.