Celebrating its 14th year, the Capital Classic will be played over seven dates at five different venues throughout the state.

Attention turns to the middle school hoopsters this week with the annual Capital Classic basketball tournament showcasing the best middle schools have to offer.

Celebrating its 14th year, the Capital Classic will be played over seven dates at five different venues throughout the state.

Opening Thursday at Central Middle School in Dover, the tournament will close Saturday, Feb. 16 and Sunday, Feb. 17 with championship games at Delaware State University.

Classic keeps growing

Since its infancy, the Capital Classic has grown steadily. After fielding 26 teams last year, this year 36 teams are coming from 14 school districts.

While several teams won’t be returning, the Classic adds talented squads from all three counties, including Dover Air Force Base Middle School, Kirk Middle School, Gunning Bedford Middle School, Laurel Middle School, Milford Middle School and Selbyville Middle School.

Founder Bill Ardito didn’t see jumping to 36 teams so quickly.

“It’s so much work as it is, creating the bracket, in the past I didn’t think we could get past 16 teams,” Ardito said with a chuckle. “But, we had a lot of teams that wanted to get in, a lot of teams on a waiting list, so we did some modifications and tweaking making sure everyone played two games and we didn’t go over the DIAA regulations.”

The effect on middle school basketball isn’t lost on Ardito, but his main goal has always been to showcase the talent in the state.

“Delaware has some good players and as the tournament has grown we’re getting all of the good middle school people in this tournament,” Ardito said. “I think it continues to make these players compete a little bit better.”

With a relatively short regular season, Ardito says, players have an incentive to play hard in hopes of being included.

“Coaches and players say we don’t want to be in the D bracket, we want to be in the A bracket,” Ardito said. “It’s like an unofficial playoff for these teams. It makes them better, it makes the whole level better.

“It gives them a chance to rise to the occasion, most only have a 13 game schedule and most haven’t played in front of these large crowds. Last year we had standing room only at Lake and we’ll have even more room at Del State this year.”

Showcasing the future

In its 13 years, the Capital Classic has showcased athletes who went on to successful high school careers, such as Benijah Laney, Corey Crawford, Anthony Myles, Eric Laster, Juwan Gray and Anthony “Champ” Mosley.

This year’s Classic has no shortage of talented players and teams.

A lot of returning schools look to grow their legacy, while newcomers to the scene hope to make their mark.

Central Middle, a bracket champion last year, is led by head coach Stephen Poole. He has presided over six bracket championships in 13 years. Meanwhile, Postlethwait head coach John Wright has led the program to five bracket titles and is looking for a sixth. Both will battle it out in the same bracket, alongside impressive additions Kirk and Milford.

In the boys brackets, standout Brent Ricketts leads Seaford looking to build off an MVP performance last year. Seaford is one of the many teams looking to show they belong with the big dogs. They will play alongside Gauger-Cobb, Beacon and a Woodbridge squad they’re eager to see again after their regular season matchup.

“We look forward to a possible rematch with Woodbridge in the C bracket after a disappointing loss [last week],” said first-year Seaford head coach Dwayne Bivens. “We hope to showcase that Seaford has some talent coming up the ranks and will be a contender in the Henlopen South and possibly the state in two to three years.”

Chipman Middle is competing in a bracket with Fifer, Holy Cross, Bayard, Dover Air and Providence Creek. All but one team has a record below .500 on the year.

“Our team has only five guys that have been in this tournament before, so it will be a nice experience playing in front of a large crowd and that atmosphere,” said Chipman head coach Dion Miller. “Some things that our players talked about is they want to show teams that we are better than our record shows and they’re looking forward to the competition.”

Girls excel

The girls brackets are filled to the brim with talent.

Undefeated Central Middle and Gauger headline the girls top bracket with Woodbridge and Seaford, a combined 14-4 on the year.

Dover heads into the tourney with a perfect 9-0. Led by standout Azareya Kilgoe they look to surpass their runner-up finish in last year’s Classic. Meanwhile, Gauger comes in at 5-0 looking to capture another bracket title.

Woodbridge and Seaford look to rebound after third-place finishes last year. Woodbridge, led by returning Cap Classic players Iyanna Mims and De’Asya Jones, has one blemish on their record. Seaford, led by returnees Justice Smack and Alyssa Kelam, look to show their 7-3 mark is no fluke.

Like the boys brackets, the girls side has new teams and others who are back after being away a few years, like Millsboro. The team wants to show their class in a bracket including Gunning Bedford, Postlethwait and Shue-Medill.

“Back to back winning seasons has our program on the right track,” said Millsboro head coach Jesse Long. “Our girls are very excited to compete in this tournament as our school has not entered a girls team for quite some time.”

Newcomers like Selbyville are motivated by a second chance at some divisional rivals and their success in other sports.

“[We’re] excited to be in the tournament. It’s our first time entering the tournament and our kids are excited to compete. Many of our athletes have competed on big stages such as the Little League Softball World Series Regionals and in the middle school volleyball championships,” said Selbyville head coach Matthew Mayette. “They’ve developed an appreciation for the sport of basketball and are anxious to measure their improvements in rematches against Milford and either Mariner or Beacon. The girls hope for Mariner as we didn’t play our best game out there and they want to prove they are better than that day.”