WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Girls’ basketball will take center stage at Lakota West on this opening weekend around the state.
And what better venue to host the Ohio Girls’ Basketball Report’s inaugural Journey to the Tourney event.
“We have so much going for us,” Lakota West coach Andy Fishman said. “OGBR has confidence that they know when they team with us it’s going to be a first-class event.”
Lakota West hosted the first Crystal Ball event this past summer so it’s a natural fit for the Firebirds to host 23 varsity teams including elite programs from Indiana and Forest Trail Academy from North Carolina.
Several college coaches will be in attendance this weekend as 15 varsity games are played over two days with a number of high-caliber college prospects showcased throughout the day.
"Through the years Cincinnati has produced long-lasting programs, players and great basketball," OGBR Director Tenishia Benson said. "We are excited for this unique combination showcasing some of the best girls basketball teams both in Ohio and within the United States while enjoying Cincinnati's unique personality under one roof."
The Butler County Visitors Bureau estimates the event will bring 300 athletes and 2,500 spectators to the region.
This event will pump over $872,000 into the local economy, according to Tracy Kocher of the Butler County Visitors Bureau.
“It’s really cool,” Fishman said. “It’s a blessing to have that opportunity (to host the event). It’s a source of program pride that we get to do these things.”
The Journey to the Tourney has five of the state’s top six uncommitted players in the 2018 class, including Lakota West guard/forward Abby Prohaska.
Prohaska, who played on the USA Basketball Women’s Under-17 team this summer, is considering the likes of Notre Dame, Florida, Iowa, Tennessee, Stanford, Florida State, Indiana, UCLA and Vanderbilt.
The event also will include 16 of the state’s top 25 players in the 2019 class including Mason guard Sammie Puisis, who has several significant scholarship offers.
Mason, the Division I state runner-up in 2016, plays North Carolina powerhouse Forest Trail at noon Sunday.
Mason coach Rob Matula says it will be a good indicator of what strengths the Comets have early this season. The Comets are loaded with talent again. Senior 6-foot-1 guard Samari Mowbray is one of the key returning players and she committed to Miami University this week.
“Probably the biggest benefit is allowing players to assess their performances and begin the long journey of improving so that you are ready at the end of the season,” Matula said. “As a team, I will be looking at our level of competitiveness and how we handle adversity.”
Other top teams in the event include Solon (Division I state semifinalist), Gilmour Academy (Division III state semifinalist), Waterford (Division IV state champion) and Columbus North (Indiana state runner-up).
Ursuline, which features senior post player Maddie Stuhlreyer (Harvard signee), opens the event with a 10 a.m. Saturday matchup against Centerville.
Glen Este plays Hathaway Brown at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Glen Este has just two starters returning but the environment will help the younger players.
“I think it’s a great way to open the season,” Glen Este coach Jeff Click said. “The kids get excited for it and it really is a great way to preview all the talented teams from around the state of Ohio.”
Lakota West plays Columbus North Saturday night and Fairmont on Sunday. Fishman said he likes the back-to-back games in a showcase event because it simulates the quick tournament of the state tournament in March.
Perennial power Mount Notre Dame plays Gilmour Academy at 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Toledo Notre Dame at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
MND, Mason, Glen Este and Lakota West will also participate in the annual Classic in the Country Challenge Jan. 14-16 in Berlin, Ohio so this will be a tune up for that mid-season opportunity.
"We expect to grow this tournament to be one of the best high school events in America, just as we have done with our MLK weekend event, Classic in the Country and there is no better place to do it than Lakota West High School," Benson said.
Lakota West is already starting to consider expansion plans for next season’s Journey to the Tourney by possibly adding a Friday night. Fishman said programs from Illinois, New York and New Jersey are being considered.
“The vision is all of the best teams not only in Southwest Ohio want to play here but the state,” Fishman said. “We want top teams from other states to be here too.”
Journey to the Tourney schedule
(All games at Lakota West)
Saturday, Nov. 26
Ursuline vs. Centerville, 10 a.m.
Miami Trace vs. Benjamin Logan, 11:30 a.m.
Bellbrook vs. Waterford, 1 p.m.
Solon vs. Lawrence North (Ind.), 2:30 p.m.
Canton McKinley vs. Toledo Notre Dame, 4 p.m.
Mount Notre Dame vs. Gilmour Academy, 5:30 p.m.
Lakota West vs. Columbus North (Ind.), 7 p.m.
Huber Heights Wayne vs. Forest Trail Academy (N.C.), 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 27
Glen Este vs. Hathaway Brown, 10:30 a.m.
Mason vs. Forest Trail Academy (N.C.), noon
Mount Notre Dame vs. Toledo Notre Dame, 1:30 p.m.
Toledo Whitmer vs. Gilmour Academy, 3 p.m.
Ursuline vs. Toledo Rogers, 4:30 p.m.
Huber Heights Wayne vs. Pickerington Central, 6 p.m.
Lakota West vs. Kettering Fairmont, 7:30 p.m.
Ohio Teams/Players In Event:
3 Top 25 Players rated by ESPN in the 2019 class participating;
No. 5 Sammie Puisis (Mason)
No. 8 Kierstan Bell (Canton McKinley)
No. 13 Zia Cooke (Toledo Rogers)
-5 of the top 6 uncommitted 2018’s participating
-16 of top 25 2019’s participating
-2016 Division I State Final Four Finalists (Mason, Solon)
-2016 Division II State Final Four Finalist (Hathaway Brown)
-2016 Division III State Final Four Finalist (Gilmour Academy)
-2016 Division IV State Champion (Waterford)
JJHuddle/OGBR State Poll
-8 of top 10 Division I teams in the state participating
-4 of the top 10 Division II teams in the state participating
-No. 1 in Division IV (Waterford) participating
Out of State Teams:
Columbus North ranked No. 1 in Indiana (as of Nov. 13.
Columbus North is No. 22 out of 25 in USA Today Poll
Record Last Year: 27-2
Senior Imani Guy turned down Division I offers to sign with Southern Indiana
Senior Maliah Howard-Bass signed with Ball State
Lawrence North ranked No. 11 in Indiana (as of Nov. 13)
Record Last Year: 20-4
Note: They play each other on 11-19-2016
Senior PG Destiny Perkins signed with Akron
Forest Trail - No rankings out in NC
Lost in overtime in the NISAA National Tournament in 2016
Overall record of 31-5
Senior Leah Church signed with University of North Carolina