Dacula tournament honors the late Craig Sager

This weekend opens a two-week stretch of what could rightfully be called tournaments with heart. And style. Don’t forget the style. This weekend is the inaugural Craig Sager Memorial Tournament at Dacula High School. Next weekend, Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School hosts HoopsGiving.

The Craig Sager Memorial Tournament features 32 teams – 16 boys, 16 girls – and a bevy of highly recruited players hitting the floor in Dacula’s two gyms. Dacula coach Dr. Russell Triaga said there will be 30 Division I recruits playing in the event.

Triaga, who had a relationship with the Sager family, wanted to have an event that would honor Sager, the late sportscaster who died in December 2016 after two years battling leukemia. He said he pitched the idea to Sager’s son, Craig Sager II, who works as managing editor for ScoreAtlanta. The younger Sager agreed to help organize it.

In particular, Triaga said it was important to acknowledge Sager’s individual spirit, which among other ways manifested itself in his always eye-catching wardrobe. The tournament brackets are named for his signature threads – paisley, chevron, floral and plaid – and the game officials will be wearing fluorescent yellow shirts with the Craig Sager logo.

“Our tournament is based on something that Craig always said, that he wanted to always be shining the light on somebody else. It is our goal is to do the best we can to shine the light on the 32 teams,” Triaga said.

It came together quickly. Triaga said he hatched the idea in January and by April had a full 32-team field.

“I had to turn away probably 25 other schools from seven states,” Triaga said.

Triaga didn’t know what to expect with respect to coaches’ dress code. In keeping with the Sager theme, it’s not a stretch to foresee coaches donning some of those signature patterns.

Holy Innocents’ girls coach Nichole Dixon appreciates the big early-season stage.

“I think it is fantastic for Georgia high school basketball to be able to play in an event that is that promoted and televised,” said Dixon, whose club finished as state runner up in Class A-Private last season. “It’s like playing before a packed crowd in the state championship. It’s a great experience. We get to play on that big of a stage. I think it’s awesome that the girls get to play in front of that many fans and spectators.”

She was interested to see how her team would respond. The Golden Bears have UGA signee Kaila Hubbard and Penn commitment Kennedy Suttle coming back, but Dixon is interested in seeing how the team reacts in a big-tournament atmosphere. They open against Archer and Vanderbilt signee Autumn Newby.

Billed as the largest tournament in the country the Sager Memorial runs Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, with 16 games each day. The first games tip off at 10 a.m. and the last games scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 per day.

A gofundme page has been set up in to raise money for the tournament. By Wednesday night the campaign had raised more than $2,600. https://www.gofundme.com/craig-sager-memorial-tournament. Individuals who make $25 donations receive an official tournament t-shirt.

“I think people that are true to Atlanta and have been here a long time, you identify with the kind of person Craig was,” Triaga said. “He was always going to be who he was.”

Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the purpose of the gofundme account, which was set up to raise money for the tournament.

Craig Sager Memorial Tournament
Saturday’s First-round games:
Boys

Paisley Bracket (auxiliary gym)
Northview vs. Walnut Grove, 10 a.m.
Osborne vs. Owego Free Academy (N.Y.), 1 p.m.
John’s Creek vs. South Gwinnett, 4 p.m.
New Creation vs. Harrison, 7 p.m.

Plaid Bracket (main gym)
Therrell vs. Morgan County, 11:30 a.m.
Discovery vs. Carver-Montgomery (Ala.), 2;30 p.m.
Lakeside-DeKalb vs. Buford, 5:30 p.m.
Harris County vs. Dacula, 8:30 p.m.

Girls
Chevron Bracket (main gym)
Douglass vs. Grayson, 10 a.m.
Archer vs. Holy Innocents’, 1 p.m.
Buford vs. Duluth, 4 p.m.
Dacula vs. Valdosta, 7 p.m.

Floral Bracket (auxiliary gym)
West Forsyth vs. North Gwinnett, 11:30 a.m.
Therrell vs. Shiloh, 2:30 p.m.
Walnut Grove vs. Columbia, 5:30 p.m.
Lakeside-DeKalb vs. Hebron Christian, 8:30 p.m.

Another tribute: Carrollton’s basketball teams will be wearing stickerson their shoes emblazoned with TC23 to honor boys basketball coach Tim Criswell, who sustained extensive injuries in an August bicycle accident and is still recovering from his injuries. The Trojans will play under interim coach Paul Fitz-Simmons.

Trojan girls coach Shon Thomaston, who played for Criswell at Carrollton, said the Carrollton community has provided support for Criswell, his wife Dawn and their two sons.

“I can’t put into words how important it is that he recovers. He develops such a relationship with all his players. You can call him at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning if you’ve been in an accident or have some sort of tough situation.” Thomaston said. “He’ll always be coach to me. He believed in my early in my career when we weren’t good. The community is really supporting him now because he did it for everybody else.”

Clouds of controversy: The nine-time state champion Wilkinson County boys will open Nov. 28 amid an assortment of accusations involving the team and the school system. The Macon Telegraph details the accusations at http://www.macon.com/news/local/education/article183947156.html

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