The two most prolific high school basketball programs in the country, the C.I. Gibson Rattlers and the Tabernacle Baptist Academy Falcons, have both pulled out of the annual Hugh Campbell Basketball Classic, apparently for separate reasons.
There were initial reports that the reason was centered around both being placed in the same pool this year despite both being among the top four teams in the country. Rattlers Head Coach Kevin “KJ” Johnson has refuted those reports, citing other plans for his team. Meanwhile, Kevin Clarke and the Falcons couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.
The 37th annual tournament got underway yesterday evening at the A.F. Adderley Gymnasium with 22 teams scheduled to compete.
In the case of the Rattlers, they will not compete in the prestigious classic for the first time in over 30 years – ever since the school was a junior high school in the late eighties. The Hugh Campbell Classic has been the most popular high school basketball tournament in the country for senior boys over the years, and crowns arguably the best senior boys team in the country. For the past five years, the Bahamas National High School Basketball Championships has been the premier event for local bragging rights, but prior to that event, the Hugh Campbell tourney has garnered the national spotlight and continues to be a major attraction for the upper echelon teams in the senior boys division.
Well, not this year for the C.I. Gibson Rattlers – one of the more successful teams in the 37-year history of the tournament with five titles. Just the Falcons have won more titles with eight, and now ironically, both will miss the classic. The pool that both were scheduled to compete in is now being headed by the C.C. Sweeting Cobras – a playoff team in the Government Secondary Schools Sports Association (GSSSA) this year, and also one of the tournament’s more successful teams with five titles. The Rattlers, Cobras and the Catholic High Crusaders all have five Hugh Campbell titles. The Rattlers have also lost in the championship game on six occasions, and at one point, had 15 straight Final Four appearances.
Instead of Hugh Campbell, Johnson and his team will travel to the Dynasty Hoops Tip-Off Classic in Orlando, Florida, this year. They will leave on Thursday and return to The Bahamas on Monday.
“There are some college coaches who are ready to see some of these players, so we have decided to take these boys away and allow them to be seen,” said Johnson on Monday – the same day the classic tipped off this year. “Some of our seniors have a very good chance to receive scholarships, so that will be our focus. It’s all about looking out for these kids and giving them the best opportunity to succeed in life. Hugh Campbell is a great tournament and I have enjoyed it over the years. Hopefully, next year, we’ll be a part of it, but this year our focus is elsewhere.”
Prior to them pulling out of the week-long tournament, the Rattlers fell to the Doris Johnson Mystic Marlins in the GSSSA Championships, two games to one, last week. The Falcons are the Grand Bahama Champions, having turned back the Sunland Baptist Stingers, two games to one, in the Grand Bahama Secondary Schools Athletic Association (GBSSAA) Championships last week. The Rattlers won the pennant in the GSSSA, while the Falcons finished second to the Sunland Baptist Stingers for the GBSSAA pennant. Johnson said it really didn’t matter what pool they were placed in; they were ready to compete regardless.
“It’s nothing personal. This is just the time that we decided to travel,” said Johnson. “We have been back and forth on this for a while, and we just decided that this is the direction that we’re taking. The pool that they had us in was kind of shocking but at the end of the day, it is what it is. They have a right to do what they want to do. A lot of my guys have a huge opportunity to get a scholarship and this is the time that I felt was necessary for us to showcase them. It’s about opening doors for these young men and that’s what we’re doing.”
Johnson reiterated that this decision is not an indictment against the Hugh Campbell organizers, but rather an opportunity for progress for his players that they didn’t want to miss out on. He said that it doesn’t affect their status for future Hugh Campbell tournaments nor the Bahamas National High School Basketball Championships, that they have never won, going forward.
“Well, we will be back for nationals. The same top teams that we would have played at Hugh Campbell we’ll play at the nationals, so we’re not running from anything,” said Johnson. “There is nothing to fear. We are always ready for a challenge. I love to compete, so it didn’t matter to us who was in our pool. We live for that challenge. We have been very successful in the Hugh Campbell tournament over the years and we thank God for that. I feel like I have a team that is capable of winning the Hugh Campbell tournament. It doesn’t matter what others say. We know what the truth is and what we are doing for these young men.”
The last top team in the country to unceremoniously pull out of the Hugh Campbell tourney was the St. Augustine’s College (SAC) Big Red Machine after they fell to the Falcons in the 2000 championship game. They never returned, but do compete in the high school basketball nationals. Johnson said they very much intend to be a part of the national high school basketball picture in the country moving forward.
According to reports, the organizers of the high school basketball nationals are experiencing some challenges in staging that event this year. The event is tentatively set for mid-March, in Bimini for the girls and Grand Bahama for the boys, but no date and venue has been confirmed as yet.
Meanwhile, the grandest high school basketball tournament for senior boys in the country will be missing two perennial champions – C.I. Gibson Rattlers and the Tabernacle Baptist Academy Falcons.