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Teams from far and wide flock to Seffner Christian’s holiday basketball tournament

The annual girls tournament now has four brackets at two sites and a waiting list for teams that may cause the event to expand.
Seffner Christian girls basketball coach Joe Cooper has steadily built the school's holiday tournament into a destination event for out-of-state teams.
Seffner Christian girls basketball coach Joe Cooper has steadily built the school's holiday tournament into a destination event for out-of-state teams. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Dec. 19, 2019

When Joe Cooper took over at Seffner Christian before the 2015-16 season, the Crusaders were already one of the top girls basketball teams in the area and state championship contenders. Cooper kept that tradition going, but he also wanted to start another one.

It was his idea to host an elite holiday tournament played on campus during winter break that not only featured some of the best teams in the area and state, but teams from outside Florida. That became a reality four years ago when the first Tampa Bay Christmas Invitational was held on the tiny Seffner Christian campus.

Being good hosts (or maybe not), the Crusaders easily won their bracket.

Related: High school basketball tournaments in Tampa Bay for the winter break

“My vision was to bring in out-of-state teams to play our local teams," Cooper said. “We could get more competition into our area and see some teams we don’t normally get to see. We were able to get nine out-of-state teams in the first year. I want to get an out-of-state team matched with a Florida team in the first round. That’s my goal every year."

Cooper said after the first year he didn’t have to reach out to schools about playing. They contacted him. After the second year, there were enough schools interested to make a 32-team field and add another site, SLAM! Academy in Tampa.

There are 16 teams at each site and four separate brackets. On all three days of the tournament, there are games running from 9 a.m. through 9 p.m. with a champion crowned in each bracket.

“It’s three long days," Cooper said. “And then I’ll start working on the next one in January. It’s a year-round deal to make sure we’re doing it right.

“We have about 10 or 15 teams that want to get in next year. It’s grown and grown. If we can get a third gym, then we’ll keep going."

Seffner Christian guard Kali Barber is one of the leaders on the team this season.
Seffner Christian guard Kali Barber is one of the leaders on the team this season. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

The local teams in this year’s tournament are Seffner Christian, Jefferson, Brooks DeBartolo, Armwood, SLAM! Tampa, Durant and Tampa Prep. Aside from Florida, there are teams from Kentucky, Georgia, Texas, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Puerto Rico.

Related: Don’t take Keswick Christian girls basketball lightly

It looks as if it will be difficult for a local team to win one of the four brackets. Tampa Prep (5-2) is certainly a team to watch with sophomore Kailyn Gilbert and her near 35 points per game. Brooks DeBartolo was 7-1 prior to the Polk County Hoopfest in Lakeland held this weekend. And Jefferson is 7-1 with the only loss coming against unbeaten Plant.

Seffner Christian hasn’t won its bracket since the inaugural year. The Crusaders (7-3) are coming off a win over Seminole Sanford in the Spruce Creek tournament. They were dealt a big blow before the season started when 6-foot sophomore forward Anna Weston was lost for the season with a knee injury. Captains Kali Barber, CC Mays and Mykaylyn Davis have all played well.

Seffner Christian has lost two of its past four games, so it doesn’t take a bunch of momentum into the tournament, but Cooper is hopeful for a good showing.

“We’re doing well, but we’re going through a tough stretch of games right now," he said. “One of our challenges is trying to stay healthy. Another one is fouls. We don’t have the depth to overcome the foul outs. We do better with that we’re going to continue to get better."

Tampa Bay Christmas Invitational

Clearwater Beach Bracket (at Seffner Christian)

Dec. 27: Luella (Ga.) vs. Armwood, 3 p.m., Gulf Coast vs. Kaukauna (Wis.), 4:30; Nolensville (Tenn.) vs. Heritage, 6; Seffner Christian vs. Bishop Canevin (Pa.), 7:30

Dec. 28: Semifinals, noon and 1:30; loser’s bracket games, 9 and 10:30 a.m.

Dec. 30: Final, 7:30; consolation games 10:30 a.m., 1:30 and 4:30

St. Petersburg Beach Bracket (at Seffner Christian)

Dec. 27: Saddle Ridge (N.J.) vs. Brooks DeBartolo, 9 a.m.; Florida Prep vs. Marshall County (Ky.), 10:30; Westlake (Ohio) vs. Arlington Heights (Texas), noon; Spruce Creek vs. Colegio Adinez (Puerto Rico), 1:30

Dec. 28: Semifinals, 6 and 7:30; consolation games, 3 and 4:30

Dec. 30: Final, 6; consolation games, 9 a.m., noon and 3

Siesta Key Bracket (at SLAM! Academy)

Dec. 27: Bullitt East (Ky.) vs. Fort Myers Bishop Verot, 3; St. Agnes (Texas) vs. Jefferson, 4:30; Rome (Ga.) vs. Tampa Prep, 6; Warren G. Harding (Ohio) vs. Bradenton Southeast, 7:30

Dec. 28: Semifinals, noon and 1:30; loser’s bracket games, 9 and 10:30 a.m.

Dec. 30: Final, 7:30; consolation games, 10:30 a.m., 1:30 and 4:30

Anna Maria Island Bracket (at SLAM! Academy)

Dec. 27: East Bay vs. Reavis (Ill.), 9 a.m.; Knoxville Catholic (Tenn.) vs. Hilton Head (S.C.), 10:30; Marian Catholic (Ill.) vs. SLAM, noon; Delsea (N.J.) vs. Durant, 1:30

Dec. 28: Semifinals, 6 and 7:30 p.m.; loser’s bracket games, 3 and 4:30

Dec. 30: Final, 6 p.m.; consolation games, 9 a.m., noon and 3