Start Your Engines!

And they're off!! The Daytona 500 of the Minnesota AAU basketball world gets rolling this weekend with the 30-team Minnesota Comets Invite. 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 only a week and a half of practice it may be sloppy but already teams are itching to get at one another. So gentlemen start your engines! And head to St. Cloud!
The 2009 season of AAU basketball was filled with a lot of controversial talk surrounding senior players taking part in 17 and Under events. Because of that heat many events have inserted rules preventing teams from having excessive seniors and that includes the Comets Invite, which placed a maximum of two senior players per team. Therefore Grassroots Minnesota and Net Gain Sports will not be taking part (at the 17 and Under level) but there will be a Saturday night contest matching several of the top unsigned seniors in a game separate from the tournament.
Minnesota Preps will be getting after it this week with four 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 30 team brackets were released this morning 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 remaining group will head to the "Silver Bracket" for the consolation round.
The first question on everybody's mind is, "will the Pump N Run 17s and 43 Hoops 17s meet?" They sure can, in the title game if they take care of business. Both Jeremy Miller of the Pump N Run and Chris Carr of 43 Hoops have increased the athleticism and talent level so beating these groups will be a chore all in itself for the rest of the field. Carr still has nine players from last year's team plus the addition of Raijon Kelly of Cretin-Derham Hall and Jerrod Berven of Osseo while Miller has seven guys coming back plus Jordan Jackson from Henry Sibley, Roosevelt Scott from St. Paul Johnson, and Joel Lindberg from Superior (WI) joined on. The only drawback is that Waconia big man Shelby Moats has his hand temporarily in a cast so he is doubtful for the weekend. These teams didn't meet last year but the rivalry between the combatants dates back two years ago when the 43 Hoops 15s took on Miller's Magic Elite in memorable battles. The championship contest would take place 5:20 on Sunday night.
However, that's IF these teams make it through the gauntlet of talent that will descend on St. Cloud. Let's not forget that the Minnesota Comets and Minnesota Heat have teams that will have a huge say in the eventual outcome. The Comets Elite bunch headlined by Jayme Moten, Simon Krych, and Seth Hinrichs won this event at the 16 and Under level last year while the Heat Elite won the 16s state championships last year led by Drew Preiner, Rob Daul, and Max Watts. The Comets added strong talent like Travis Rollo of Mayer Lutheran and Trevor Morlock from Rogers while the Heat Elite added Alex Kreuser from Totino-Grace and Spencer Pankonin from Lakeville South. The Heat and the Comets may not have the notoriety that the Pumps and 43 have but they certainly can play with, and potentially beat, those foes.
There are several others (underdogs maybe?) to watch out there as well. The Minnesota Select line-up headlined by John Clark of Sebeka, Brian Reeves of Willmar, Andy Jones of Minnetonka, and Brendan Canova of Edina will be tough as will the Minnesota Fury Gold team running with Justin Casey of Park Center, Toriano Tatum of Rosemount, and a tri-fector of St. Louis Park talent (Aaron Ziman, Joe Zangel, and Marquealis Edwards). Fury Blue with Tarez Van Pelt of Park Center, Comets Elite II with Nate Golden of C-M-C, Triple Threat with Mitch Wurm of Maple Lake, and Magic Elite with Ethan Petrill of Shakopee are all teams that will provide tough challenges themselves.
How about a couple teams who had some rough times last year but will bounce back tough in 2010? I have two of them for you. One is WOTN who combined with the MSB Roadrunners (the team that fell somewhat last year after a strong 2008) and now have a solid bunch of players. Their talent includes Lucas Brown and David Stanley of Roseville, a top sophomore big in Kyle Bauman of USC, Vaughan Thada from Owatonna, Otto Pfefferle of Northfield, and Ben Sicoli from Eagan. Another bounce back crew has to be the Minnesota Glory. There is no possible way a team can step on the floor with Mark Blacklock of Winona and Benj Figini of Chisago Lakes and not be considered tough.
Some out of state talent is coming to Granite City to play as well. The South Dakota Heat list sophomore Casey Schilling from Ellsworth as well as Taylor Newton from R-T-R on their roster which also includes numerous top performers from the represented state. The ECI Prospects has future division one big man Daniel Yale, a sophomore from Berthold, North Dakota, as well as Joe Hanstad.
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, Thursday the 16s and 15s will be featured, and finally Friday we will wrap it all up.