The holiday-week high school basketball tournament at the gym known as “the Expo” has been a staple in Portland since the 1980s. The Holiday Hoops Showcase returns this year with a total of 24 boys’ and girls’ games over four consecutive days starting Monday.

James Banks

The event – and possibly even the building itself – would not exist without the contributions of the late James Banks.

Banks’ commitment to the city’s youth, and in particular its student-athletes, was recognized many times over the years, including a final tribute a few weeks before his death, when on Feb. 3, 2020, the Portland City Council voted to renamed the Portland Exposition Building the “James A. Banks Sr. Exposition Building.”

Banks created the Holiday Basketball Classic Tournament. A long-time member of the Portland School Board and active with numerous committees and service organizations, Banks worked out a deal with the city for four days use of the Expo and secured significant corporate sponsorship.

“Jim Banks. He was a doer. He was an advocate of kids,” said Joe Russo, in his 33rd season as the Portland High boys’ basketball coach and the chief administrator of the Holiday Hoops Showcase.

“I knew him really well because I was a teacher in Portland when he was on the school board,” Russo added. “He was really there for the kids. If you said, ‘We need this,’ Jim Banks would get it.”


Banks’ son, Doug Banks, said if it were not for his father, the Expo would have likely been demolished in the early 1980s. At the time, the facility was in disrepair and Maine Medical Center was looking at purchasing the site and turning it into a parking garage. Other developers were eyeing the baseball diamond behind and open space aside the Expo – two sites that would become Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs, and Troubh Ice Arena, built in 1986.

Jim Banks led the charge to keep the Expo, improve it, and to make sure the Portland High girls’ basketball team started playing there, just like the boys’ team.

The Falmouth High boys’ basketball team celebrates after winning the Class A South championship at the Portland Expo in February. The Navigators will return to the Expo for the Holiday Hoops Showcase next week. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

This is Doug Banks’ first season as the Lake Region varsity girls’ basketball coach. He served as an assistant for 12 years under Paul True, who retired from coaching after 18 years and seven Class B title game appearances. On Thursday at 10:30 a.m., the final day of the Holiday Hoops Showcase, the Lake Region girls will play Lincoln Academy.

“My team will be playing in my father’s gym,” said Doug Banks, a 1989 Portland High graduate. “I played in that Christmas Classic. My mom ran the concession stand, which raised a ton of money.”

The tournament benefits the Portland High basketball programs. This year’s presenting sponsor is Maine’s Community Colleges, with additional support from Miss Portland Diner, the Maine Celtics, Hot Radio, Gilbert’s Sportswear, Portland Museum of Art and Casco Bay Sports. Tickets cost $6 for adults, or $3 for students and fans 65 or older. Day passes can be purchased for $10 to watch all six games on the daily schedule.

Most of the games are exhibitions. On Monday, the action starts at 11:45 a.m., with an interclass boys’ game between Class A Westbrook and Class C Old Orchard Beach. The first day finishes with a 7 p.m. boys’ game between Class AA rivals Portland and South Portland.


Russo said he made that match because the teams were only scheduled to play once this season, at the end of the regular season.

“That will be a great game for the players, a great game for the fans,” Russo said.

Also on Monday, the Portland and South Portland girls play at 2:30 p.m., followed by defending Class AA girls’ champion Cheverus against Class A contender Gardiner, led by 6-foot-3 Lizzy Gruber. Gruber, a senior, will play next season in the Atlantic-10 Conference for St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

Lizzy Gruber, right, and Gardiner High will play at the Holiday Hoops Showcase on Monday afternoon. Gruber will play next season for NCAA Division I St. Joseph’s of Philadelphia. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Tuesday’s top game could be a girls’ matchup between Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Brunswick at 3 p.m. Both teams feature several returning players from a year ago, when Portsmouth advanced to New Hampshire’s Division I semifinals and Brunswick reached the Class A South final. The Falmouth boys will play Mt. Ararat at 6 p.m. in a regular-season game, followed by the South Portland boys against Transit Tech of Brooklyn, New York. Last season, Transit Tech went 28-3 and reached the New York City PSAL Class A final.

The Portsmouth girls return at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday for a game against defending Class B champion Oceanside, which features the one-two punch of Audrey Mackie, who recently cracked the 1,000-career point mark, and sophomore forward/center Bailey Breen, who averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds as a freshman.

Thursday’s action starts earlier and concludes with a 4 p.m. boys’ game between Class AA Scarborough and Class B Wells. One of the best games of the entire tournament from a talent perspective could be the 2:30 game between the defending Class AA North champion Oxford Hills boys and Transit Tech.

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