AAU tournament kicks off

By Dave Wagner

Basketballs will fill the air this weekend as 42 teams converge on Clovis for the New Mexico state AAU girls basketball tournament.
Play begins early this afternoon with games in six age divisions — 17-and-under, 14U, 13U, 12U, 11U and 10U — scheduled for Clovis High’s Rock Staubus Gym, as well as at Yucca, Marshall and Gattis junior highs. Championship games are slated for Sunday.
There is no 16-and-under or 15-and-under division because neither had the required four teams.
Eight of the teams are from Clovis, including two apiece in the 14-and-under and 10-and-under brackets and one in each of the other age groups.
The tournament has moved back to Clovis after a hiatus of several years, Clovis AAU Association president Becky Hilburn said.
“Clovis had it for many, many years,” she said. “It got moved to Los Lunas for three or four years, and is back here again this year. I hope we can keep it here and show everybody a good time, and some good competition.”
Of the Clovis teams, Regina Downing’s Clovis Wildcats are looking for a fourth-consecutive trip to national AAU competition. The Wildcats were 16th in 13-and-under competition in 2002 last year in Florida, and the same basic group also made it to national competition the previous two years in Indiana and Connecticut.
“We’re pretty excited,” said Downing, whose team has won 3 of 4 tournaments this year playing at the 16-and-under level. “We’ve played up all year and done well. We’re just kind of anxious to see where we’re at. In the other tournaments, against older girls, we’ve held our own.”
Another group of Wildcats, coached by Brian Bunce, is representing the city in the seven-team 11-and-under division. Bunce said his squad has faced all the other teams this year except today’s opponent, the Los Lunas Rockers, and the Lamesa Panthers.
Hobbs has two teams in the division, while Albuquerque and Portales have one apiece.
“It’ll be good basketball,” Bunce said. “The Hobbs teams are just like the (high school team) — they play to win.
“The state tournament is quite a deal because it’s 10 hours a day of basketball. It’s quite entertaining, and whether they’re 10 years old or 20 years old, they all want to win.”
Bunce said he and assistant coach Kent Ware have enjoyed their squad of eight girls.
“They’re neat kids,” he said. “Most of the girls have played for several years, but this is the first year we’ve had them.”
Tournament winners advance to national AAU competition scheduled for late June and July at various sites around the country.