The motivation to start the East Baton Rouge Parish/Bob Pettit/Coca-Cola basketball tournament was simple. Its impact on boys basketball in the Baton Rouge area has been profound.
“In those days, most of us were limited to 20 games and three tournaments,” Zachary coach Kenny Almond said. “We wanted the chance to play a few more games.
“Some schools, including some of the private schools, got four tournaments because their coaches didn’t work with football. The idea was to have a tournament during the holidays as a lead into the district season. It’s turned into more than that.”
The 30th edition of the annual tournament begins Friday at Southern’s F.G. Clark Activity Center with two of the state’s top teams, top-seeded Scotlandville and No. 2 Madison Prep, leading a field of 15 teams.
Madison Prep’s Brandon Sampson is the latest high-profile senior recruit to play in the tourney that runs through Monday when the 7:30 p.m. title game is scheduled.
Almond teamed with then-Glen Oaks High coach Joe Mercier to pitch the EBR tourney to EBR Athletic Director T.H. “Tommy” McCoin in the early 1980s. Their ideas included naming the tournament after Pettit, a former Baton Rouge High and LSU star who was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1970.
Almond returns to the EBR tourney for the first time in a decade as head coach at Zachary after a successful stint at East Ascension. His fifth-seeded Broncos (9-4) play No. 12 Northeast at noon Friday, one of seven first-round games.
One of the players in that first EBR tourney held at four sites was Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample, then a top player at Istrouma.
“I remember playing in it and thinking it was a big deal,” Sample said. “We didn’t get to play everybody in the parish then. As a player, there were guys you’d read about in the paper or see highlights of on TV, but you didn’t get to play them or see them in person. This tournament gave us a chance to play against those guys.”
Baker High won the first EBR tourney in 1985. Lee High (1987-88), Baker (1989-90) and McKinley (1995-96) were two-time champions. Scotlandville, winner of the past three EBR titles, is the first school to win three in a row.
Sample’s Hornets and McKinley have won the EBR tourney four times. Glen Oaks, with six titles, has the most.
Almond contends that a game the Panthers didn’t win helped take the EBR tourney to the next level in the 1990s. Tara edged a Glen Oaks team led by star Lester Earl, who went on to play at LSU and Kansas, in a game that attracted an overflow crowd in 1994.
“That was a close, hotly contested game,” Glen Oaks coach Harvey Adger said. “Larry (Grantham, Tara’s coach) had a great team. I don’t remember names or faces as much, but I do recall the intensity.
“At the time, I think the tournament was becoming an event. Guys who came home for the holidays wanted to go see their school and their players.”
The EBR tourney now attracts crowds so large that it’s impossible to hold it at a high school-based venue. This marks the third year it has been held at Southern.
Almond notes that the EBR tourney served as a bit of a jinx for nearly two decades. His 2002 Woodlawn High team became the first to win EBR and state titles in the same season.
Adger has the most EBR titles as a coach with six. Scotlandville’s Sample has five, including a 2005 EBR title won at Istrouma.
One tradition that is tied to Pettit remains a part of the tourney. In addition to having their team name placed on a trophy, each champion is presented with a green-and-gold banner, representing Baton Rouge High’s colors.
The banner obviously pays homage to Pettit, a two-time All-American at LSU who led the Southeastern Conference in scoring three times. He played for the Milwaukee/St. Louis Hawks for 11 NBA seasons through 1965, winning the league’s first MVP award. Pettit also was a four-time NBA All-Star MVP, a feat equaled by one other player, Kobe Bryant.
The colors also stand out in most gymnasiums in which green-and-gold aren’t the dominant colors.
“We wanted something that would stand out,” Almond said of the banner.
Of course, now both the EBR tourney and its banners stand out.