The Mesa Community College men’s basketball team, off to another strong start, will test its talent against one highly ranked team and two traditional powerhouses next week at the Thunderbird Shootout at MCC.
Heading the field is the NJCAA’s Division I No. 6 team, Chipola (Fla.) Junior College (11-1), the defending Florida and Panhandle Conference champion. Also entered in the four-team tournament are Vincennes (Ind.) University and the New York Fashion Institute of Technology. Two games are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday night. The title game will be at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
MCC coach Alton Lister hopes the powerful opponents will prepare his team for the NJCAA Division I tournament at Hutchinson, Kan., later in the season, as well as prepare MCC for the second half of the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference season.
"When you bring the nation’s best teams in here," Lister said, "if you’re fortunate enough to get to Hutchinson, these are the types of teams you’d compete against. It’s only positive for us."
Vincennes is no stranger to the tournament. It captured what was then called the Rotary Shootout five times — once led by Phoenix Suns star Shawn Marion — and has a 78.9 winning percentage under 26th-year coach Dan Sparks. The New York Fashion Institute of Technology won the Rotary Shootout in 1998 and in 2002.
This is the first year the tournament will not be named the Rotary Shootout. The Rotary was run by MCC coach Tom Bennett and has taken place at the start of the new year at MCC for the previous 21 years. Bennett referred to his creating of the Rotary as one of his crowning achievements during his years at MCC.
"I thought it was great for basketball in Arizona," said Bennett, a 19-year coach at MCC and more recently, a seven-year coach at Gilbert High before his retirement last year. "It was the first time that we showed that we could play with the best teams in the country."
In its heyday — the 1990 season — the Rotary featured 16 teams and was won by Mesa.
"We had four Arizona teams in it, and the Arizona teams did well," Bennett said.
Lister hopes to build the Thunderbird Shootout into something similar to the Rotary, but for now, there are four teams with each team playing two games Monday and Tuesday.
"Right now, we’re just trying to get it where it’s manageable," Lister said. "We don’t have the Rotary (sponsorship) anymore. We have to start all over and build it back up."