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Lions prepare for lots of basketball

The university campus on the rolling hills of east Pasco is no longer a secret. The Sunshine State Conference made sure of that.

Four years ago, conference officials agreed to make the men's and women's basketball tournaments a one-campus road show. That ended a seven-year run of SSC men's and women's tournaments at the Lakeland Center and began a rotation of the conference's nine schools.

Barry hosted last season, and Lynn is up next spring. For the next five days, it's Saint Leo's turn.

"I think it's a chance to showcase our athletic department, and it's a big challenge," Saint Leo athletic director Fran Reidy said.

"The challenge of this is five straight days of action culminating with live television. This is pretty big."

Never before has Saint Leo been as challenged. That's 18 teams, 16 games and two championships up for grabs, and it all starts with today's opening round. Both conclude with Sunday's title games, which will be televised by Sun Sports.

"We're not the old Pasco County anymore," Reidy said. "For us, it's an opportunity to showcase Pasco County and all the changes that have gone on."

In 2003, Saint Leo hosted the inaugural men's and women's soccer tournaments. But the men hosted just two rounds and the women one.

"We were proud we could put on that event," Reidy said. "Nothing compares to this. The facility will take on a whole different look."

Hotels in east and central Pasco, as well as some in northern Hillsborough, are housing teams, Reidy said. But some, such Tampa and Florida Southern, based in Lakeland, will commute.

Additionally, traffic on State Road 52 is expected to be more congested than normal. Reidy said Pasco County Sheriff's Office deputies and Saint Leo security will help with traffic control.

Planning has proved timely and costly, but Reidy hopes about $25,000 in expenditures as host will result in a profit.

Either way, Reidy said the tournaments "get people on your campus."

Reidy, sports information director Walt Riddle and the athletic department have been busy trying to cover all the bases. Scheduling games and practice times, assigning referees and arranging for concessions are vital components.

But there is much more to oversee.

Having medical personnel on hand for injuries, an electrician nearby in case of a scoreboard malfunction and computer whizzes at the ready for transmitting statistical data are just a few areas of concern.

"There's a lot of little things you have to account for," Reidy said.

Amid the additional attention and increased traffic on campus, students are in classes until Friday, the first day of spring break.

"A lot of students will leave," Reidy said, adding that additional parking will be available at University Field, the site of soccer and lacrosse games.

Saint Leo's men's and women's teams have never advanced past the conference tournament, and neither is favored to play for a title. The men (7-20, 3-13 SSC) are ranked ninth and the women (9-17, 6-10) sixth.

Rollins' men and women are the top seeds.