It was only a year ago that the Hoover High Event Center and its 2,800 seats could hardly hold the throng that arrived to see Bullard defeat Central 70-54 for the championship of the Holiday Invitational Tournament.
It was one of the brightest moments of a boys basketball showcase that's one of the oldest in the state.
But while the event blows its 55th candle Wednesday, there's no combination possible that will have fans as sardined for Saturday's 7 p.m. championship as they were for last year's Bullard-Central game.
Not with three-year reigning Central Section Division I king Bullard having bolted for the concurrent Clovis West Nike Invitational.
Along with Central.
Your 3-4-5 sluggers of the HIT.
"No ill will," Hoover athletic director Tim Carey says. "There are a bunch of tournaments and, unfortunately, there's one (at Clovis West) right down the street."
"Simple logistics," Clovis West coach Tom Orlich says. "I'm not trying to hurt anybody. Sometimes it's just how the calendar breaks. There's never a perfect solution."
Two years ago, Orlich's event that matches prominent out-of-area programs with locals was staged a week prior to the HIT.
"Then it didn't conflict," Orlich says. "This time it does, so not everything's the same year in and year out."
Orlich, whose marquee import this week is perennial state power Crenshaw of Los Angeles, says he wants Bullard, Central and Edison to continue coming to his event, calling those programs "the lure for out-of-area teams to come and play. Real good programs around the state want to play against good competition. That's the whole purpose of the tournament."
Carey says he's confident, without being specific, "a couple" of the defectors will return: "They say it's a one-year deal; hopefully, we can take them at their word."
That would appear critical to the HIT's health, if not reputation and survival.
Built on a 16-team foundation, it will operate this week with 14. And that includes a Clovis North junior varsity team -- an unprecedented HIT presence.
Carey says he knew a year ago of the Clovis West impact and the HIT's impending losses. But he was unable to fill the voids in large part because of an additional in-house loss -- Patriots coach Nick French, the tournament's CEO, left for a coaching job at Whitney-Rocklin of the Sac-Joaquin Section.
He was replaced by Jason Le Fore, a former Clovis North assistant, who "burned up the phones" to sustain a 16-team tournament, Carey says.
"He did everything he could," Carey says. "Hopefully, we'll still put on a great show and teams will want to come back."
It's not as if the HIT is stripped of ticket-sellers.
Roosevelt, which played in the first HIT, will arrive 8-0, with four double-figure scorers and another averaging 9.7.
Sunnyside, coming off a 21-7 season, will open today against Clovis of the Tri-River Athletic Conference, which will also be represented by Clovis North's varsity led by former Bullard coach Tony Amundsen and Buchanan.
Washington, a two-time state champion and led by The Bee's 2011 Coach of the Year Tony Petersen, will open against one of the section's newest kids on the block, Sierra Pacific of Hanford.
"We'll be OK," Carey says. "We'll keep plugging away, bounce back, get back to 16 teams and where this thing belongs."
Clovis West tournament loses teams, too
The Clovis West bracket has had its share of setbacks, too: Crespi-Encino and Van Nuys scratched for different reasons in the past two months.
And that essentially torpedoed the tournament blueprint matching four high-profile non-section teams with four local powers in a predetermined, round-robin schedule. That eliminates the chance, for example, of an Edison-Bullard matchup before those teams go head-to-head in the County/Metro Athletic Conference.
Crespi and Van Nuys were replaced at the 11th hour by Redwood and Buhach Colony-Atwater.
An opening feature Wednesday will match the Central Section's sixth-ranked Edison against Crenshaw at 7:45 p.m. in Clovis West's west gym.
The host Golden Eagles (2-2), nine-time section champions relatively humbled with five D-I runners-up finishes in the past seven years, figure to provide offensive highlights this week. Clovis West has averaged 89 points per game against Southern California competition with four returning starters who are averaging 15 points or better: junior point guard Michael Orlich (the coach's son), Jakari McClain, Stacey Leggett and 6-foot-7 Colin DeLaere.
The Golden Eagles open Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. against Redwood.
Clovis West girls coach Campbell loses father
The Clovis West girls are 7-1 -- the loss by two points to Hanford -- under coach Craig Campbell, who's 187-59 with four section titles in nine seasons with the Golden Eagles.
But it's been a trying season for Campbell.
His father, William, died of cancer in Reno on Dec. 9. Craig Campbell coached Clovis West while managing the completion of the Nike Central Valley Showdown tournament on campus two days earlier, and then two days later the Golden Eagles began the four-day Las Vegas Invitational, which they won with a 4-0 record.
Craig Campbell didn't miss a game.
"My school told me to take some time off and my staff offered to take the team to Vegas," he says. "But I told them my dad would have told me, 'Get your ass down there and coach your team.' So I coached with a heavy heart."
After returning from Las Vegas on Saturday, Campbell drove his family to Reno on Sunday, read his eulogy Monday, buried his father Tuesday and came home.
"It's been a roller-coaster," he says. "He taught us how to be strong in the face of adversity, how to lead, how to discipline, how to provide, how to dream and how to fight for what we wanted. He was a great man."
The reporter can be reached at email@example.com or @beepreps on Twitter.