Duncanville's Zarielle Green drives inside during the 2015 McDonald's Texas Invitational girls championship game. The Pantherettes' 39-0 run last season included a sweep of the Texas Invitational field.
It has long been said that the “road to state” starts with the McDonald’s Texas Invitational Basketball Tournament. That “road,” you might say, is more like a freeway. And that freeway has many lanes.
All leading to the future of basketball. In Texas. And around the nation.
As an example, consider a few of the 80 teams invited to participate in the 2016 edition of the Texas Invitational, which opens on Thursday (Nov. 17) at 10 venues in the Pasadena area and Deer Park:
*There’s defending boys champion Atascocita, rated as contender for the 2017 Class 6A title after finishing second at state last spring. Pacing the Eagles’ attack is 6-foot-7 forward Fabian White, who a year from now will begin his basketball career at the University of Houston.
*There’s Lancaster, which finished second to Atascocita in last year’s Texas Invitational before plowing ahead to the Class 5A boys title. The Tigers pack one of the nation’s best point guards in T.J. Starks, who’ll be playing for Texas A&M this time next year.
*And on the girls’ side, there’s Duncanville, almost as much of a Pasadena fixture as the San Jacinto Monument – a team for whom the future always seems bright. The Pantherettes are coming off a Texas Invitational title in 2015, a Class 6A championship last spring, a 39-0 record and -- according to some ratings sources -- a national championship season.
It’s all part of the fabric of the Texas Invitational, a launching pad for state champions, state tournament contenders and some of the nation’s most heralded high school players since its inception in 1999.
The tournament -- considered one of the nation’s premier early-season high-school events – will feature 48 boys and 32 girls teams. The lineup features many of the top squads in Texas. Those 80 teams will play close to 200 games at Pasadena ISD and Deer Park ISD venues.
The Division 1 boys championship game is set for Saturday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m. at Phillips Field House. The Division 1 girls championship will be decided that same day -- at 3 p.m. at Phillips.
All 10 boys and girls from Pasadena ISD high schools will compete in Division 2. A year ago, South Houston’s boys team became the first from the Pasadena ISD to compete in Division 1. The Trojans went 1-4 against Division 1 competition – but then went on to finish second in the District 22-6A race.
Dobie’s boys team last spring emerge as one of the state’s surprise playoff teams. The Longhorns raced all the way to the regional semifinals before losing to Cypress Lakes.
The boys’ side will feature six schools ranked in the Class 6A pre-season Top 25 by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches – and four schools ranked in the Class 5A Top 10.
Along schools competing in the Texas Invitational: Lancaster is ranked No. 1 in 5A with Fort Bend Marshall at No. 3, Fort Bend Elkins at No. 9 and Manvel at No. 10. In 6A, Fort Bend Bush is ranked No. 2, North Crowley No. 5 and Dickinson No. 8.
In pre-season ranking by MaxPreps.com, Atascocita is ranked fifth in the state.
Duncanville’s girls carried the No. 1 pre-season ranking, according to the coaches’ poll, but other Texas Invitational participants were right behind: Clear Springs at No. 3, North Shore at No. 5, Cy-Rank at No. 12 and Cy-Woods at No. 18.
The Pantherettes, led by junior Zarielle Green, are the clear tournament favorites. Under the guidance of Coach Cathy Self-Morgan, Duncanville won the Texas Invitational in 2011, 2012 and 2013. After failing to reach the title game in 2014, the Pantherettes came storming back last year, blistering 2015 tournament champ North Shore, 75-49, for the championship.
Duncanville went on to a post-season sweep, beating seven opponents in the state playoffs by an average of 30 points a game. Green, rated the No. 14 prospect in her 2018 class, averaged 14 points a game last season.
Three girls players were recently named to the USA Today Pre-season All-America team. Selected were Deauzya Richards of Cy-Ranch, a Baylor recruit who averaged 22.4 points last season; Chasity Patterson of North Shore, a University of Texas recruit who averaged 24.5 points and Charli Collier of Barbers Hill, who averaged 24.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
Atascocita’s boys, coached by David Martinez, will be gunning for their third straight tournament title, something no team has done since Kingwood won four straight in the early years of the tournament.
All boys teams compete in pool play on Thursday (Nov. 17) before starting bracket play on Friday (Nov. 18). The girls teams complete in pool play on Thursday and Friday (Nov. 17 and 18) with all bracket play to follow on Saturday.
The Division 1 boys title game will be televised live statewide by Fox Sports Southwest with prime time replays the following week. A live stream of the boys and girls title games in Division 1 will also be available on Fox Sports Southwest’s website (www.foxsports.com/southwest). Streaming will also be available on the Fox Sports Go app.
Both championship games will be also be carried live on the Texas Invitational website (www.texasinvitational.com).
The tournament also has agreement with ABC-TV, through the local Channel 13 affiliate, to live stream select games on Friday and Saturday. Those selections will be made as the tournament progresses.
The tournament is sponsored by the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Pasadena ISD Education Foundation and the Deer Park ISD Education Foundation. All proceeds are returned to those two education foundations.
The 2016 tournament will follow the same format as in recent years:
*On the boys’ side, 48 teams have been divided into two 24-team divisions. Each division has been divided into eight three-team pools. After two pool-play games on Thursday, the teams are divided -- by record -- into Gold, Silver and Bronze brackets, each bracket working toward a champion in bracket play on Friday and Saturday.
*On the girls’ side, 32 teams are divided into two 16-team divisions, and each division is divided into four four-team pools. Three pool games are held Thursday and Friday. After pool play, teams are placed – by record – into Gold, Silver and Bronze brackets. All bracket games are played on Saturday.
Images of intensity: Coaches Ferrin Douglas of Lancaster, Cathy Self-Morgan of Duncanville and David Martinez of Atascocita.
North Shore's Chasity Patterson guards the perimeter during the 2014 girls championship game.
The 2015 McDonald's Texas Invitational Division 1 champions: Atascocita boys (top) and the Duncanville girls (bottom).