December 10, 2012 10:16:11 PM
Sammy Smith can sit back, relax, and wait.
The veteran Columbus High School boys basketball coach can't help it, though. He has organized enough basketball tournaments to know that one phone call can scatter a year's worth of hard work.
This year, Smith hopes that phone call doesn't come because he feels he has put together one of the best fields for the 16th annual Joe Horne Columbus Christmas Invitational.
"All basketball teams look for a quality place to go where they can get great competition and get the kids away and relax," Smith said. "The people don't want to see Columbus and such and such. They want to see some kids that in three years they will be watching on TV and they will say, 'I saw that kid play in Columbus.' "
The two-day event will begin at 3 p.m. Friday and will feature 17 games involving teams from the state of Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee. The Columbus High, Starkville High, and Noxubee County boys and girls and Starkville Academy girls will represent the Greater Golden Triangle area in the event named for the longtime supporter of CHS basketball.
"The closer you get to it and once you finalize your teams, you do feel a sense of relief," Smith said. "I really won't relax until Friday at 3 o' clock when the first ball goes up."
Smith said Monday he already has started working on the 2013 tournament. He said the event has earned a reputation for being one of the region's premier attractions thanks to the support of the Columbus High administration and the support of volunteers and local businesses who provide incredible assistance to help defray the costs.
Smith said the support of sponsors makes it possible for him to provide financial assistance to out-of-state teams so they can stay at local hotels and they can pay for meals while they are in Columbus.
"What makes this so special is it is not about me, but about 16 years of people who have helped me put this on and stepped up to the plate," Smith said. "When I ring their phone, they say, 'I have been waiting on you, coach. What else do I need to do?' That is the good feeling about it."
Smith admits things have gotten easier through the years thanks in part to the quality of the competition. This season, the tournament will feature three 7-footers and some of the top teams from Mississippi (Amanda Elzy, Provine), Alabama (Gadsden and Wenonah) and Tennessee (Ridgeway). The girls field will feature Kiki Patterson, a Mississippi State University signee, and Columbus, and Starkville Academy, the state's top private school.
Columbus will play tonight against Kemper County and Friday against Noxubee County. It will take a week off to prepare for its role as host to one of the area's top tournament.
Until then, Smith will keep his cell phone's ringer on just in case. After all, he knows things have a way of happening when you least expect it, but with 15 years of experience he is prepared for just about anything.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.