It’s called the Allstate Sugar Bowl National Prep Classic.
But perhaps they should rename the tournament the Riverside Invitational.
Riverside has been a fixture in the tournament’s championship game, reaching the final in four of the tourney’s five years, including each of the past three years.
The Rebels won it all in 2013 and 2014 and it took current LSU freshman Ben Simmons and the No. 1 high school team in the country (Montverde Academy) to end Riverside’s bid for a 3-peat at the Alario Center a year ago.
Riverside returns to the tournament with its eyes on a third title in four years. The Rebels, ranked No. 2 in The New Orleans Advocate Super 10, play top-ranked West Jefferson at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Timmy Byrd’s Rebels enter as one of the state’s hottest teams, winning the Country Day Tournament and the Holy Cross Tournament in December.
Not bad for a team that started the season 0-3.
“I was excited about this team even when we lost the first three games,” Byrd said. “I knew if this team could stay healthy and stay away from the flu, we would be a hard team to beat.”
Byrd attributes the slow start (losses to West Jefferson, U-High and Scotlandville) to eight of his nine top players being on the football team that reached the state championship game.
“We didn’t get to scrimmage with those guys, but since then we are starting to get in basketball shape and our kids are playing pretty well,” Byrd said.
The Rebels are perfect since that 0-3 start.
“I think we have done a good job playing defense and in the half court we have done a very good job executing,” Byrd said. “And we are starting to shoot the ball well. It helps having Malik Crowfield, Jared Butler and Herb McGee. All three are Player of the Year type guys.”
That trio helped lead Riverside to its third straight state championship last season. Sophomore Jalen Banks, who missed last season with a knee injury, has stepped in to give Riverside an inside presence.
“This team has some similarities of last year’s team,” Byrd said. “We aren’t as deep as last year and don’t play as fast because we don’t have Von Julien (now at Tulane). But Jalen has moved in to the starting lineup and has done a great job defending the post for us.”
Riverside is one of four boys teams in the tournament that won LHSAA state titles last season, joining Scotlandville (Class 5A), Landry-Walker (Class 4A), and U-High (Class 3A).
Westbury Christian won a 4A state title as last year’s Class 4A state champ in Texas. In addition, Salmen (Class 4A) and Lafayette Christian (Class 1A) were state runner-ups last season. Tift County is the top-ranked team in Georgia.
“This is the most competitive Louisiana field we have ever had,” Byrd said. “There about six teams in this tournament that can probably make an argument that they are the best overall team in the state.”
There are two girls brackets (platinum and gold) for this year’s tournament.
The girls bracket features a pair of state champions — Warren Easton (Class 4A) and University (Class 3A) — as well as two state runners-up, Salmen (Class 4A) and Sumner (Class 3A) and four semifinalists, Destrehan (Class 5A), Cabrini (Class 4A), Karr (Class 4A) and St. Thomas Aquinas (Class 2A).