Pioneer Valley Tip-Off returns to the Curry Hicks Cage

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Pioneer Valley Tip-Off returns to the Curry Hicks Cage

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AMHERST — The Pioneer Valley Tip-Off, one of the Pioneer Valley’s greatest basketball traditions, is making its way back to the historic Curry Hicks Cage.

The PVTO is an annual high school basketball tournament originally organized in 2011 where some of the most talented high school teams in the area go head-to-head over the course of three days. The teams are paired in a way to ensure the most exciting and competitive matchups. With more schools than ever before attending the tournament, the PVTO staff hopes that this year’s event can add another layer of prestige to a storied UMass Amherst basketball culture.

While there has always been some focus on saturating the tournament with local talent, the PVTO staff put in an even stronger effort this year to show love to Pioneer Valley basketball.

“What sets us apart from tournaments in the area like the Hoophall Classic and Hoophall West is that while those teams are nationally-ranked prep school teams. We have a lot of local teams, so it’s a lot of local MIAA teams,” Director of Basketball Operations Brendan Clark said. “So, we really want to give back to the community and the area, as opposed to just putting up a tournament with just the best national talent.”

“I feel like last year, we had a lot of prep teams that were from pretty far away,” Executive Director Daniel Smith said. “This year, we kind of closed the radius because we want to make it feel more like a Pioneer Valley event than a New England event.”

The tournament might be more local than ever before, but there are still some exceptions to the theme. One such exception is Connecticut’s Woodstock Academy, a top-tier prep school that UMass has harvested much of its talent from.

“They always come here and half of our basketball team came from Woodstock,” Clark said.

People formerly connected to Woodstock that have jumped aboard the Flagship this year include former head coach Tony Bergeron and players Tre Mitchell, T.J. Weeks, Preston Santos and Dibaji Walker.

“The connection with Woodstock could be big for us to bring UMass Basketball fans on campus,” Director of Business Operations Andrew Rumney said.

Those associated with the PVTO believe that hosting programs that are this good makes for an exciting opportunity for college students to come out and experience basketball with a different feel to it than college hoops.

“High school [basketball] is cool because these young players are just finding their games,” Director of Media Relations Yonah Dori said.

“I think there’s something more personal about being in the cage watching high school basketball than there is watching a college game on TV, or even being in the arena,” Smith said.

Not only will the PVTO provide a great chance to see high school basketball, but it will also serve as a preview of the college ballplayers of tomorrow.

“When I was at Woodstock, I had 15 Division I players on my team…you get to see all of the kids you’re going to be cheering for, or against, in the next few years,” UMass Basketball Assistant Coach Tony Bergeron said.

“College basketball fans here in the Pioneer Valley understand that players that are playing in this tournament will be going on to play college ball, and so they’re going to be seeing them at whatever college they go to,” Rumney said. “I think a big driving force for their attendance is coming to see them playing in high school before they move on to college.”

Above all, the PVTO staff hopes that their tournament does justice to the rich tradition of basketball in the Pioneer Valley and at UMass.

“The Cage is huge because it’s the home that Dr. J built,” Rumney said. “I think that’s a really special thing. I think the players and fans that are in there really see that, and feel that as well.”

The Pioneer Valley Tip-Off begins on Friday, December 13 and ends Sunday, December 15. For specific times and other information, go to pioneervalleytipoff.com.

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