Les Schwab Invitational: 20 years of Great Basketball
In December, the Les Schwab Invitational basketball tournament celebrated its 20th anniversary. According to a USA Today ranking based on talent level and attendance, the LSI is the No. 2 basketball tournament in the United States. John McCallum, president of Prime Time Sports, the tournament’s organizer, has been the director of the event since its inception and is one of its biggest champions.
“For a tournament to last that long and keep getting stronger says a lot about the Oregon fans who come out and appreciate grassroots basketball,” said McCallum.
Two legendary high school coaches, Barry Adams and Nick Robertson, began dreaming of what became the LSI in the 1990s. At that time, many of Oregon’s best high school boys’ basketball teams were already traveling out of state to play in preseason holiday tournaments. Although the players got to pit themselves against other high-caliber teams, most fans couldn’t travel to root for them.
In 1996, with approval from the Oregon School Activities Association and financial assistance from local sponsors, the Oregon Holiday Invitational was born. In 2000, the tournament was renamed to recognize Les Schwab Tire Centers’ continued support.
“Les Schwab has been a tremendous partner and was the perfect fit for lead sponsorship, given the company’s OSAA partnership, commitment to high school sports and dedication to making Oregon communities stronger,” McCallum said.
The LSI benefits schools and students beyond the teams competing because they receive free tournament passes worth $70. The kids can sell the passes and use the money to pay for athletic gear. In addition, clubs such as band and choir at Liberty High School, the home venue, run all concessions for the event and keep the money they earn.
For the 20th anniversary, the concourse at Liberty was full of photos of the players, some of whom have become NBA all-stars. Not surprisingly, McCallum’s favorite memories from his 20 years as director includes two of them: Kevin Love, who played for the Lake Oswego Lakers (and plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers); and Kyle Singler, who played for the South Medford Panthers (and plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder).
The two rivals and their teams met during the LSI on Dec. 29, 2006, in a rematch of their 2006 Oregon State Championship final. The defending state champion Lake Oswego Lakers battled the South Medford Panthers in front of the biggest crowd ever assembled at Liberty High School, a game televised by ESPN. The Panthers evened the score with the Lakers with their 71-63 victory.
The next day, in the final match against No. 1 Oak Hill Academy from Virginia, Kyle Singler brought a raucous crowd to its feet when he spun baseline on his defender and nailed a ferocious dunk to bring the game within 7 points, with 30 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Though Oak Hill prevailed in the end, the match showed the LSI at its finest: Oregon high school basketball players putting themselves on the line against the best teams in the country and Oregon supporters behind them all the way.