December 26, 2012 11:04:00 AM
Billy Thomas knows how Sammy Smith feels.
For the next day, Thomas will dread each time an unrecognizable number pops up on his cell phone. The Immanuel Christian boys basketball coach knows one of those calls could be a basketball coach calling to tell him his or her team won't be able to make the third annual Immanuel Christian School Christmas Invitational, which kicks off Thursday.
If Thomas makes it another day without one of those calls, he likely will be able to take a sigh of relief because action in the third annual event should be able to go off without a hitch.
"This year has probably been our best year," Thomas said referring to the 29-team invitational that will feature boys and girls teams from the Mississippi High School Activities Association and the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools. "This year is as good a mix as we have had, especially with the local teams."
Immanuel Christian's boys and girls, Columbus High's girls, Caledonia High's girls and boys, Oak Hill Academy's girls and boys, Heritage Academy's girls and boys, West Point's girls, and Aberdeen's boys are just some of the local teams that will be involved.
"We're real excited about it," Thomas said. "This year, we have matched up teams with really good matchups. If you like to watch basketball, this will be a good tournament to come out and sit down and watch some good basketball."
Thomas credits Immanuel Christian Headmaster Bob Williford, Greg Watkins, the school's athletic director, Jenny Hutcherson, the school's girls basketball coach, the school's Sports Booster Club, and all of the volunteers and supporters who assist each year with the event. He said many of the Immanuel Christian boys and girls basketball players also will be involved behind the scenes making sure all of the details are handled.
Thomas' hope is that the finished product provides different matchups for teams and great competition for everyone involved. He said this is the third year in a row the school has played host to the tournament after it took a year off. He said the hiatus hasn't been a stumbling block because schools like Oak Hill Academy and Winston Academy contacted him to get involved.
As for the Immanuel Christian boys (6-8), Thomas hopes to use the three games to give his young team added experience. He said seniors Joel Meek and J.D. Dantzler have done a great job after not playing basketball last season. He also said captain Brendan Bailey, who saw limited action last season on the varsity team, also has emerged as a leader.
"We play a tough schedule, so this year we have taken some hits and lost a couple in overtime, but we are playing a lot better from the beginning of the season to now," Thomas said. "We want to get a little more experience and more floor presence. When we come out of the tournament we expect to be a better team and will get ready for the playoffs."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.