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Zopf: Lanierland a great Christmas gift to basketball fans
Eight games scheduled for Monday at Chestatee
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Dear Santa,

I know it’s been more than 20 years since I last wrote you a letter, but I figured I’ve been a pretty decent fellow this year and could use a couple gifts this year.

I’m not asking for a lot; just five things you can do for me and the rest of the basketball lovers in the area. I know you’re busy, but if you could deliver on these requests there could be an extra cookie or two waiting for you by the fireplace. And we all know how much you like cookies.

Besides, I think you owe me a couple gifts since you failed to deliver Cliff Lee to my beloved Yankees.

You already took care of the first gift on my wish list by rescheduling Lanierland for the week of Christmas. The state’s oldest tournament, which begins this morning, lost its luster last year because it landed smack dab in the middle of the football playoffs.

We all know football is king in these parts, so moving the tournament to a week when the students are out of school and most people are on vacation was brilliant. It also gives us reporters something to actually cover which is difficult this time of year. For that, I appreciate it.

The rest of my Christmas wishes are as follows.

2. Competitive contests. Looking at the brackets for Lanierland, it’s hard to imagine a tournament filled with blowouts, so this request should be pretty easy to accommodate.

Four of the eight teams on the boys side are ranked in the top 10, with North Hall (4-1) ranked No. 2, Gainesville (6-2) ranked No. 6 and West Hall (7-2) ranked No. 9 in Class AAA, and East Hall (3-2) ranked No. 4 in Class AA. Throw in Johnson (6-1), the always well-coached Lakeview Lions (3-3) and Class AAAA’s Flowery Branch (2-3) and you got yourself one highly contested field of teams.

“Take that and add in the local rivalries, and you have a really nice tournament,” Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell said.

3. Competent crowds. This one might be difficult because of the amount of people involved, but if you could just make sure the loud ones know how to act, I’d greatly appreciate it.

There’s nothing worse than going to a basketball game and hearing ignorant basketball fans yell at the officials for calls made, calls not made, or for just an overall disdain for that profession. I can completely understand a fan getting angry with poor officiating, but some people need to be aware of the fact that officials are human and (most) know the intricacies and rules of the game better than they do.

Sometimes a foul is actually a foul. Believe it. It happens. Not everyone is out to get you.

And while we’re here, let’s add showing some decency while in the stands. It’s the holiday season for goodness sake, act like it.

4. Crowded crowds. This one kind of goes along with No. 3, since you can’t have competent crowds without crowded crowds, but indulge me. I know it’s the week before Christmas and several of you are headed out of town, but why not postpone any trips till after the tournament concludes?

Starting at 9 a.m., there will be eight games played at Chestatee High.

Six more, including the semifinals, follow Tuesday and Wednesday, and the tournament concludes with four games, including both championship games, Thursday at West Hall. Of course I’m getting paid to be there, but I can’t think of a better way to spend the day than watching ultra-competitive games between the best basketball talent in Hall County.

You should feel the same.

5. Kids being kids. This one’s the most important, so if you can’t come through with the other three things, please make sure you take care of this one.

We all know how much this tournament means as far as countywide bragging rights and being able to place your school’s name among the 50 previous winners, but let’s not forget that this is just a game.

Coaches in the tournament are promoting as much by wearing purple polos throughout Lanierland in support of cancer awareness, which when you think about it, might be the most important thing to come out of this four-day event.

Now, I’m not saying to play soft and not battle for every point, but have fun doing it. I know basketball is important in your life, but there’s more to life than a sport.

So when you knock another player down, lend a hand and pick him or her off the floor. If tempers start flaring, which they will, look to the bench and think about the people fighting for their lives and not with each other.

If everyone does that, there’s no doubt this tournament will be a success.

Jonathan Zopf is a sports writer for The Times. Follow him at

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