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Linden set to host tournament

Tuesday night’s play-in game between A.L. Johnson and Sweet Water marked the beginning of the AHSAA Class 1A, Area 5 boys basketball tournament at Linden High School. The event is a monumental one for an athletic program that LHS athletic director Andro Williams believes is heading in the right direction.

“It show where we’ve come from,” Williams said of the tournament. “We want to do that in all our programs. We want to be better at the end of the year than we were at the beginning of the year.”

Linden earned the right to host the area tournament when its boys team finished the season with a 7-1 record in area play and the top seed in its group.

While serving as the tournament host is a big victory for the LHS basketball team, it also gives the program an opportunity to make up for some of the funding it lost earlier this season when some of its key games were lost because of scheduling conflicts stemming from the school’s new gym not yet being completed.

“That’s going to help us. We didn’t have our gym and we lost a couple big gates because of that,” Williams said.

“It helps for the community to have our home crowd here,” LHS boys head basketball Joe Eatmon said. “Financially it helps our program make a couple extra dollars. Any great program has money. We lost some money with the gym not being ready. But hopefully we’ll have a good crowd every night and we can make up for it.”

Even though the Patriots won the right to host the tournament on their home floor —which rests at George P. Austin in Linden—some of the reaction around the area has been less than favorable. Williams and Eatmon have both reported receiving calls from other area coaches who have sought to have the tournament moved to another location due to what they consider sub-par playing conditions.

“Our kids have earned the right to host here. Our principal and our basketball coach want to play here,” Williams said. “The rules, the criteria, we’ve met all that. If it had been mandated that we had to play our regular season games somewhere else, we would have been fine with winning the area and hosting at a neutral site.”

According to Williams the tile floor of the gym meets all the measurements and safety specifications outlined by the AHSAA. He also said the GPA gym measures up to AHSAA standards in terms of capacity and safety regulations.

“We want ti to be a safe atmosphere for all kids that come here,” Williams said. “If it wasn’t a safe atmosphere, we wouldn’t be playing here.”

Eatmon said the decision to keep the tournament in Linden required very little thought on his part.

“There was no thinking in it. These guys came in and worked hard and overcame all kinds of adversity,” Eatmon said of his players. “I thought it was only fair they be able to host it.”

The tournament tips off Thursday at 5:30 when No. 2 seed John Essex takes on No. 3 seed Sunshine.

“We’re expecting definitely a big crowd on Friday night,” Williams said. We want to try to make people feel like it’s a big atmosphere.”