For some area high school boys basketball teams, this week’s William Jewell Holiday Classic will be a chance to turn things around. For others, an opportunity to sustain momentum. And for at least one, the annual tournament will serve as an immediate reward for the hard work put in during Christmas break practices.

For some area high school boys basketball teams, this week’s William Jewell Holiday Classic will be a chance to turn things around. For others, an opportunity to sustain momentum. And for at least one, the annual tournament will serve as an immediate reward for the hard work put in during Christmas break practices.

First-round play starts today with three local teams tipping off at the Mabee Center in Liberty. In the Nelson Division, William Chrisman takes on No. 2-seeded Hogan Prep at 10:30 a.m. while fourth-seeded Blue Springs meets Grandview at noon. In the Patterson Division, No. 5 seed Fort Osage faces Kearney at 6 p.m.

On Wednesday, the Cardinal Division will get started as No. 4-seed Truman plays Raytown at 4:30 p.m. Top-seeded Blue Springs South meets Smithville at 6.

The Jaguars have raced to a 6-1 start and have won their last four games by an average of 20.5 points. But with the caliber of competition they’re about to meet, South coach Jimmy Cain said his guys are hardly content.

“We definitely have confidence,” Cain said. “But we also understand what we have to do to be successful. And if we don’t do that, we’re vulnerable just like everyone else. If we worry too much about how many wins we have at this point, we don’t get any better.”

Facing a potential three-games-in-three-days stretch, Cain said the tourney will basically take the place of his squad’s holiday practices while also giving the Jags a little postseason primer.
“It’s  a nice time to add a couple things and give the kids some new things to do the rest of the season,” Cain said. “It also gets them ready to play back-to-back days like we do at the end of the season in districts.”

Truman (4-4) also enters with some momentum after knocking off William Chrisman and North Kansas City before Chrisman. The Pats are led by senior guards Antonio Winn (20.3 points per game) and Zach Large (16.1 ppg).

They’re also motivated by some past near-misses.

“In my 21 years here we’ve gotten second more times than I care to think about,” Truman coach Billy Guinnee said. “We were just talking about that (Monday). It’d be really nice to go in there and win it, but we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

But Blue Springs, Fort Osage and William Chrisman could all use a post-Christmas boost. The Indians (2-4) and Bears (2-5) are on three-game losing streaks while the Wildcats (2-4) just snapped a three-game skid with a 92-61 win over Lee’s Summit last Tuesday.

“This is one of the biggest tournaments in the area, let alone the entire state,” Fort Osage coach Josh Wilson said. “There’s a lot of good teams, and to me it’s a really important part of the season. We’ve only had our top 12 or 14 guys in the gym recently, so it’s been a lot more individualized time and we can focus on a lot more things. It’s kind of a true measuring stick of how we’re going to be because there’s been no distractions.”

Blue Springs coach Frank Wheeler said the holiday tournament is a mixed blessing. On one hand, he’d love to have his team in the gym fine-tuning some things before starting the season’s second half.

But at the same time, with no true break, drifting focus isn’t much of a concern.

“I think it gives the kids a purpose every day in practice,” Wheeler said. “... I worry about the approach kids take when they’re coming to practice day after day (over Christmas break) knowing they’re not going to get the chance to play right away. ... The games are kind of a reward for those practices.”