By Chris Parsons / Sports Editor
CORBIN — With local high school basketball teams taking the Christmas holiday off to spend time with family and friends, it won’t take long for teams to get back in the swing of things.
There will be a number of games fans can travel to see beginning today, but one of the state’s premier tournaments, Corbin’s very own Cumberland Falls Invitational Tournament, gets underway Friday, beginning at 7 p.m.
The tournament will run through Monday, Dec. 30, when the championship game will be played at 9 p.m. In addition to the championship game, tournament director Benny Hinkle has announced that there will be a special ceremony prior to the game to honor all United States Veterans and current active duty personnel. Admission to the game on Dec. 30 will be free to those being honored.
When it comes to the teams, just how good is the field of this year’s tournament?
Each of the four local teams (Barbourville, Corbin, Jackson County and Knox Central) currently set in the top 10 in the 13th Region Power Poll, with three of them in the top five.
Add to the mix a pair of teams from South Carolina (Chesnee and Crescent), a team from Maryland (Largo) and a fifth Kentucky team (Highlands) and the competition this year is sure to please hoops fans no matter what style of basketball they like.
While several players in the tournament have the ability to take a game over on their own, Chesnee's Deion Holmes is considered the top player coming in to the tournament.
Holmes is a 6’3” junior who averaged 22.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game last season for the Eagles. So far this season Holmes has poured in 35.4 ppg with a season-high of 50.
On a local level, the players to watch include Corbin eight-grader Andrew Taylor and senior Kevin Goins. Knox Central’s Matt Barger and Jeffrey Adams, as well as Jackson County’s Jordan Fox and Isiah Collier are players that have the ability to turn a game around at any time.
As for the matchups, tournament-play tips off Friday at 7 p.m. when Barbourville faces Largo, MD. That game will be followed by Jackson County vs. Chesnee, SC around 8:30 p.m.
While the loser’s bracket games will open play Saturday (4:30 p.m.) Corbin will face Forth Thomas Highlands at 7 p.m. Saturday, followed by Knox Central and Crescent, SC at approximately 8:30 p.m.
Highlands coach Kevin Listerman said he looks forward to the tournament as well as facing the host team on the opening round.
“Highlands is excited about playing in the CFIT,” Listerman said. “We are looking forward to the challenge of opening up with the host, Corbin, and then playing some great teams from Kentucky, South Carolina and Maryland.”
Largo, MD coach Lewis Howard said he’s not only excited about playing in this year’s tournament, but he’s excited about making a return trip to Kentucky. He said his team is ready for a stellar season and this could be the stretch that propels the Lions in that quest.
“Coming off a state region semifinal loss last season our returners are poised for a breakout season,” Howard said. “Coming to Kentucky for the CFIT is a great opportunity for our program.
“We’re no stranger to Kentucky,” he added. “We are exited about the Cumberland Falls Invitational Tournament and look forward to bringing our brand of basketball to the great state of Kentucky.”
Corbin head coach Tony Pietrowski, who has experience in the tournament as both a player and a coach, said he always looks forward to the tournament and all the festivities that surround it.
“The Cumberland Falls Invitational offers outstanding mixture of tradition rich Kentucky teams and national powerhouses throughout the country,” Pietrowski said. “The fan participation, three point contest, dunk contest and level of hospitality shown by our booster clubs make this a perfect fit for coaches looking to better their teams while adding some enjoyment over the holidays.
“It’s also a testament to our tournament when you take a look at the past champions,” he added. “We have only been lucky enough to put our name up on the wall a handful of times. It truly is a tournament where the best team wins.”