This year, the Fulton Cup takes centre stage.
The Fulton Cup, now in its 14th year, is scheduled to run Wednesday through Dec. 20 at the Tournament Capital Centre and TRU Gym. There are 26 teams signed up - six in each of the senior girls and senior boys divisions, six in the junior girls division and eight in junior boys.
Over the years, the tournament has served in two ways - as the preseason city championship, as well as a dry-run for the provincial AA championships, to which Kamloops played host for 15 years.
But with provincials having been centralized on the Lower Mainland, the Fulton Cup is the grand-daddy of local basketball tournaments these days. For a lot of the athletes taking part, it will be the only chance to play at the TCC.
"I think it will be a bigger deal for the teams taking part in the Fulton Cup,"said organizer Will Blair, who has taken over from Brian Peters and Lindsey Karpluk, although they remain involved. "This is the only opportunity for them to play up here at the TCC this year. Senior teams still have a chance to move on to provincials, but it's in a different venue.
"This is the city championship, and I think they take a lot of pride in it."
The tournament will kick off Wednesday, 2 p.m., with games on two courts at the TCC and another at TRU.
In a season filled with dark, cramped gymnasiums, playing in a building like the TCC is a lot of fun, especially with some fans in the seats.
"It's a huge deal," said Sa-Hali Sabres forward Haley Cochran. "It feels like an honour still. It's fun. I think the atmosphere is different - people can actually come and watch you. It just feels more . . . important."
"It's one of the highlights of the season, for sure," agreed St. Ann's Crusaders guard Michael Mayhew. "Great atmosphere, great games, nice court."
According to Blair, the head coach of the Brocklehurst Broncs junior boys, the South Kamloops Titans will be the favourites in the junior divisions.
The senior sides appear to be much tighter.
The Titans senior girls could probably be considered the favourite, based on their top-10 ranking in AAA. But the NorKam Saints and Sabres are strong this season, and could push South Kam.
"It's always close," said Tatjana Stone of NorKam. "Everybody comes out and fights really hard because it's a big tournament. It's a big prize to carry in Kamloops, being the Fulton Cup champion."
The Titans, led by Maya Olynyk and Emma Wolfram, their lone seniors, won the provincial AAA title last season. South Kam also won the Fulton Cup, even with Wolfram out of town for the tournament.
The team is different this year, but the expectations are the same.
"A lot of the teams are closer this season," said South Kam's Anna Frenkel. "Maya and Emma were big parts of our team, but we have a lot of people back. It should be close this year."
As it was last year, the senior boys' side is wide open.
The Valleyview Vikings won the tournament in 2012, and should be strong again. The Titans boys also are competitive, while the Saints and Sabres played Wednesday, with NorKam winning by three.
"Coming into this tournament, we've got high expectations," said NorKam's Evan Helgason. "We've had a good start - we won the Westsyde tournament . . . then we beat Sa-Hali by three at their home gym (on Wednesday).
"We've got a good mindset - it's been such a good start, we hope to bring that into this tournament."
The Westsyde Whundas are ranked in the top-10 in the provincial AA rankings, while the St. Ann's Crusaders, the lone A team in the boys draw, always are strong and always seem ready to play at the Fulton Cup.
"Normally, we go in with high expectations," Mayhew said. "There are a lot of tough games in a short period of time, so it's really good for our team.
"Some teams have a little more depth than us; we're a single-A team. I think we can compete, but there are always good games when we play against the other teams in the city."
That basically means that this thing is wide open.
Come Dec. 20, one of these six boys' teams will be holding the Fulton Cup.
"Everybody's good and everybody's here to fight," said Sa-Hali's Arjun Dhaliwal. "We're definitely hoping we're in the mix, but there are a lot of good teams.
"Anybody can win this thing . . . it's all about who wants it most this week."
The tournament, sponsored by Fulton and Co., always gives back to the athletes. In total, 14 bursaries and 14 entries to Red Devils Camp will be doled out.
The bursaries will go to each of the senior teams' all-stars, along with the girls and boys senior MVPs. The camp invitations will go to the junior teams' all-stars.