Column: High school basketball tournaments tip off amid COVID concerns

Sierra Canyon's Bronny James moves the ball up the court against Corona Centennial's Ramsey Huff.
Sierra Canyon's Bronny James moves the ball up the court against Corona Centennial's Ramsey Huff during the Southern Section Open Division championship game last spring. Huff and the Huskies will be a favorite in the La Verne Damien tournament this week. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

It's insanity week in high school basketball with tournaments and more tournaments. The only question is with surging coronavirus cases, can games go off as planned?

In Los Angeles County, the recommendation is to reduce seating capacity, so tournament title games won't have full gyms. That doesn't mean gyms won't be loud. It will be important to wear a mask as a safety precaution for others, even if you like yelling at officials or coaches.

The fun and games begin Monday at La Verne Damien with the biggest and best basketball tournament. It will be four days and nights of great games. There are six divisions and 79 teams, down from 88 after seven pulled out this last week, including Sacramento, Long Beach St. Anthony and Lake Balboa Birmingham. Changes in scheduling was finalized Sunday night.

Damien coach Mike LeDuc has used his ties to many coaches and programs to attract top teams. The Platinum Division is loaded with quality first-round matchups. Corona Centennial, the defending Southern Section Open Division champion, is seeded No. 1.

Two teams with top young players face off, Riverside Poly taking on Santa Clarita West Ranch. The other divisions also are packed with top teams and matchups, particularly the Gold Division, where unbeaten Rolling Hills Prep is seeded No. 1 but will face competition from Irvine Crean Lutheran, Capistrano Valley Christian and Ontario Colony.

Damien is off to a 14-0 start and delivered the 1,000th coaching victory for LeDuc last week. Only Gary McKnight of Santa Ana Mater Dei has reached that figure in California high school history.

This coming week will be a chance to take a look at Damien guard RJ Smith, a Colorado commit who continues to impress.

"He's been doing a tremendous job," LeDuc said. "What makes him so good is he does everything well. He can defend the point guard, defend the center. He can play point guard and be a center at the wing. He doesn't have an area in his game he can't do a great job in."

KDOC plans to televise games Tuesday and Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., and Bally Sports will put on the web the Platinum championship game Thursday night. Here's the link from CalHiSports that has all the tournaments taking place in the Southland. There are boys' tournaments at South Pasadena, Newhall Hart, Rancho Mirage, Ventura, Gardena Grove Bolsa Grande and Torrey Pines.

Some teams decided to stay home during Christmas break. Studio City Harvard-Westlake was scheduled to travel to Rancho Mirage for a boys' tournament and its girls' team was headed to Northern California. Both canceled this week as a precaution as COVID cases increase.

The No. 1 girls' tournament is the Gold Crown Holiday Tipoff at Bonita Vista High in Chula Vista. No. 1 Rancho Cucamonga Etiwanda is in the tournament, but unbeaten Chatsworth Sierra Canyon pulled out because of COVID protocols. The SoCal Holiday Prep Classic in San Diego is a 40-team, five-site tournament. North Torrance also is hosting a tournament.

In boys' soccer, there's a terrific tournament that begins Tuesday at Chapman University. The SoCal College Showcase includes Anaheim Servite, Los Angeles Loyola, Los Angeles Cathedral, Orange Lutheran and Santa Fe Springs St. Paul.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.