... And they're off! The Daytona 500 of the Minnesota AAU basketball world gets rolling this weekend with the 32-team Minnesota Comets Invitational. Because this event includes so many of the state's top 17 and under teams, it's considered one of the elite Minnesota tournaments. After two weeks of practice, play might be sloppy but already teams are itching to get at one another. So, gentlemen, start your engines! And head to St. Cloud!
Minnesota Preps will be getting after it this week with three previews of the Comets Invite in addition to this Monday kick-start. The coverage will be a combination Comets Preview and pre-season AAU preview, as most of the state's teams are involved.
The 32-team brackets were released last week with squads placed in to eight different pools. The top two teams from each pool will be placed into the "Sweet 16" round while the third place finishers in each group head to the Silver bracket and the last place finishers will be placed in the Bronze bracket. The event has brackets as low as the 13 and Under division all the way up to the 17s.
Why do people get so excited about this event? Because no other Minnesota tournament brings together as much of our state's talent. Of course you can't get everybody - the Howard Pulley Panthers are playing in the Boo Williams event as they always do, and the Southwest Minnesota Stars and the Minnesota Pump N Run won't be in attendance at the 17s level - but just about everybody else will be there.
The favorites? There is a big group to pick from. The Minnesota Comets 16s won the event last season, and they return most the major contributors from their squad (Joe Burt of St. Paul Cathedral, Nate Meyer of Rocori and Damien Reinke of Becker to name a few) plus they've made some upgrades. Super scorer Tyler Vaughan of Braham will be in the rotation, talented Jal Rial from Alaska is ready to go, and fresh off a standout state tournament, Connor Goodwin of B-B-B-E is now playing with the top Comets squad.
The Comets will have a lot of tough teams to go through if they want to repeat. There is the upgraded 43 Hoops bunch, Net Gain Sports, Dakota Schoolers, the Minnesota Heat Elite, Minnesota Select, Minnesota Southside and the Minnesota Fury. All of these teams could possibly bring home the gold.
43 Hoops still has Marcus Marshall, Marcus Tyus, Sean Scott, Cullen Russo and others, but they've also added Ben Glover from Columbia Heights, Nate Kratch of Watertown-Mayer, and Roosevelt Scott, a senior from St. Paul Johnson. It's hard to argue against these guys as having the most talent of any team in the event. But some will, and some may win their arguments.
Net Gain Sports is pretty good with DeLaSalle sophomore Riley Dearring, Rochester Century's Ater Manyang, Johnny Woodard and Taylor Stafford of Duluth East, and a Minnetonka four pack of Tommy McDermott, Nick Latzke, Andrew Turnblad, and Brendan Taylor. That group could win some votes as "most talented at the Comets Invite."
Minnesota Select will also be much improved with Kyle Bauman (USC) and Tyler Flack (Lakeville North) coming over from WOTN, Jack Harrison (Prior Lake) and Brady Wohler (Orono) returning, and Matt Nelson (Rosemount) joining the blue and white.
The Minnesota Southside may have the top senior prospect in the event in Joey King from Eastview. He will be joined by workers in Sam Burt (Eastview) and Latrell Love (Minneapolis Patrick Henry) up front and by Deshawn Patterson (Bloomington Kennedy) and Darin Haugh (Eastview) in the backcourt. They will be as tough-nosed on defense as anybody.
The Fury will throw together a bunch of interesting talents (college coaches will watch them close) in Tony Kuplic (Trinity), Joey Bartlett (St. Peter), Nick Sabatke (Eagan), Sander Mohn (Eden Prairie), and Michael Schreiber (Rogers) on the floor and will win a lot of games.
Minnesota Heat Elite had some big moments last year while playing a strong team game. Scorers Josh Tismer (White Bear Lake), Mitchell Kuck (Centennial), and Justin Pahl (East Ridge) are back, talented wings Emeche Wells (Roseville) and Joe Risinger (Minnetonka) are joining up, and bigs David Simmet (Hill-Murray) and Zach Meyer (White Bear Lake) are ready to bang.
Talent from other squads will definitely have a chance to make tournament noise as well. Jordan Stock's Minnesota Comets have Mike Spoden (Grand Rapids), Scottie Rucks (Cathedral) and Pelican Rapids pair Casey Bruggeman and Luke Halbakken ready to rumble. The Minnesota Glory will be tough to beat with scorers Anders Broman (Lakeview Christian) and Carey Woods (Bemidji), and Triple Threat has several players to watch from the extended west metro and extended northwest metro.
There will also be some outstate teams who will put up a fight. The Dakota Schoolers are at least an elite eight favorite, and rival South Dakota Heat will come to play as well. North Dakota prospects will be on the ECI Select and ECI Prospects rosters, and the Wisconsin Playmakers are back in town.
So stay with Minnesota Preps all week long as we preview the AAU season through the format of the Minnesota Comets Invitational. Pools A-D will be previewed more in depth on Tuesday, Pools E-H will be looked at closely on Wednesday, and Thursday the 16s and 15s will be featured.