Dayton Chaminade Julienne High School girls basketball coach Duane Williams has no qualms about bringing a younger team back to the KeyBank Holiday Classic at Pickerington High School North.

Dayton Chaminade Julienne High School girls basketball coach Duane Williams has no qualms about bringing a younger team back to the KeyBank Holiday Classic at Pickerington High School North.

"We can go to Pickerington and not win a game and still get better," he said.

Last year, Williams accompanied a far more experienced team to North, where the then-undefeated Eagles dropped their opening game before regrouping to win their next two to place fifth. They didn't lose again until reaching a Division II state semifinal and finished 29-2.

Chaminade Julienne, which now starts three juniors and a pair of sophomores, is the only squad in this year's eight-team field that participated in the event last season, aside from North. The host Panthers are the defending champions after defeating Louisville (Ky.) DuPont Manual 56-46 in last year's final to win their home tournament for the first time since 2003.

Still, even holding home-court advantage is no guarantee of success. In between titles, the Panthers twice had to settle for being runners-up and posted four fourth-place finishes, including 2008.

This is the 25th year North coach Dave Butcher has organized what has become one of the nation's premier tournaments. It began as a four-team event at the school now known as Pickerington Central in 1986. It has featured future WNBA stars such as Sue Bird and Logan native Katie Smith in addition to a slew of nationally-ranked teams, including Pickerington's USA Today national championship squad in 1998-99.

"We've only won maybe half of the tournaments since we started it," Butcher said. "It's not easy. You see a lot of different styles, and it's about making quick adjustments. Playing three games in three days is pretty tough, too. To win it, you have to be the team that can hang the longest."

Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit, Twinsburg and Warrensville Heights are the other in-state participants. The field is rounded out by Lebanon (Ky.) Marion County, Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Blackman and Pittsburgh Mt. Lebanon, which captured a second consecutive big-school state championship a year ago while finishing seventh in the final MaxPreps national rankings.

Twinsburg coach Julie Solis said she couldn't resist an invitation to play in the event, which begins at 3 p.m. Tuesday with the first of four first-round games. Tipoff for the final is slated for 8:15 p.m. Dec. 30. Solis said she moved some games around and even dropped some traditional opponents to make room on her schedule.

"It seemed like it was going to be a great opportunity for us," she said.

"We've heard it is a well-run tournament and we're excited to see all the great competition. We can't wait to get down there and get going."

Twinsburg, which opened the season by defeating Walsh Jesuit 76-41 on Dec. 1 and could face the Warriors again in a KeyBank semifinal if both win their openers, is bringing one of the state's top juniors in 6-foot-4 post player Malina Howard. Another underclassman to watch is Marion County sophomore point guard Makayla Epps, who was listed as the nation's top freshman a year ago by some recruiting services.

The tournament also will feature several seniors who already have committed to Division I colleges, including North's Kavunaa Edwards (Villanova) and Shelby Olszewski (Austin Peay). Among the others are Mt. Lebanon's Madison Cable (Notre Dame) and Anna Kestler (William & Mary).

"I contacted another team that's been to the Pickerington tournament before, and I've only heard good things about (North's) program and the tournament they run," Blackman coach Chad Hibdon said. "We know that it's a prestigious tournament that takes care of the girls and has a great atmosphere and great facilities.

"From what I hear from other high school and college coaches, it's definitely going to be the best tournament that we've played in so far. It's the most prestigious and maybe has the best competition."

Several other hot prospects, including Warrensville Heights' Nautica Davis and Blackman's Amy Duke and Kortnay Cox, are sure to help themselves by playing in a tournament that attracts college coaches from every level.

"Nautica Davis is (a Division I) player," Warrensville Heights coach Eric Mitchell said. "I just have to get her as much exposure as possible, and the idea of going down to this tournament was to put her in front of some people and also put her up against some great competition."

Last summer, Butcher related a story about the time when two of college basketball's most famous personalities showed up at the event when it was still being played across town at Central.

"(Tennessee coach) Pat Summit was here on one side of me signing autographs and (Connecticut coach) Geno Auriemma was on the other," he said. "Geno parked his white Mercedes right outside the front doors and gave some kid $100 to keep an eye on it."

KeyBank is in its second year of sponsorship for the tournament.

At a glance

What: KeyBank Holiday Classic Where: Pickerington High School North When: Tuesday through Dec. 30 Participants: Dayton Chaminade Julienne, Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit, Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Blackman, Lebanon (Ky.) Marion County, Pickerington North, Pittsburgh Mt. Lebanon, Twinsburg and Warrensville Heights Tickets: Daily wristbands are priced at $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.