The Portsmouth High girls’ basketball team will travel from New Hampshire once again for another matchup with Brunswick at the 2023 Holiday Hoops Showcase at the Portland Expo. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The tournament setup is long gone, as are the crowds that used to pack the Portland Expo to watch high school basketball teams duel in a playoff atmosphere between Christmas and New Year’s.

As the Holiday Hoops Showcase enters its 33rd year, however, the value to playing the games hasn’t gone away.

“Anytime you get an opportunity to get on a court like that, I think it’s good,” Greely girls’ coach Todd Flaherty said. “It’s good for the kids, and we get to play somebody we don’t normally see. It’s all good, it’s all positive. We’re looking forward to it.”

The showcase, which runs from Tuesday to Friday next week at the James A. Banks Sr. Exposition Building, will feature 38 boys’ and girls’ teams and 27 games in total, mostly exhibitions. Three New York schools – New Dorp, Transit Tech and High School for Construction – and one New Hampshire school (Portsmouth) will be among the teams included, and funds raised will benefit the Portland High basketball teams.

“The excitement is based more about the opportunity,” said Portland boys’ coach Joe Russo, the event’s organizer. “In past years, it was more about that tournament. Win, go on, win the tournament and get trophies and stuff. The showcase is a different purpose, but nevertheless, the excitement is still there.”


The event underwent a change in 2014 when the Maine Principals’ Association limited teams to five exhibitions per season, causing the Christmas tournament to turn into a slate of exhibitions, since many teams only had the flexibility to play one or two games. When the previous format was in place, fans would turn out in droves to watch good teams play high-caliber basketball.

“I remember that place being jam-packed,” South Portland boys’ coach Kevin Millington said. “It was such a great experience for our student-athletes to play in that tournament before. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have that anymore.”

Russo acknowledged that it’s been difficult to maintain the enthusiasm for the showcase without the elimination format, but that the organizers have made it a point to give the event a new kind of appeal.

“We know it’s important to still use that venue,” Russo said. “We’re trying to make it as interesting as we can. I try to do that by getting out-of-state teams to come in, trying to find matchups of coaches that want to play each other. … We’re still trying to tweak it to make it so it’s exciting again. We want to see that place packed. We haven’t achieved that yet, but we’re trying.”

Manny Hidalgo and the South Portland boys’ basketball team will play three games at the Holiday Hoops Showcase. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

As it is, the showcase offers the teams that play a variety of benefits. Competition remains a key factor – when a championship-caliber Brunswick girls’ team played Portsmouth last year, the result was a game that was decided in the final seconds and had all the feel of a playoff game.

The showcase can offer that kind of situation, or it can offer teams a chance to give role players more minutes and experiment with scheme or lineup changes that could pay dividends later in the season.


“Every team has a different approach,” said Russo, whose Bulldogs will play Wednesday against Lisbon at 2 p.m. and New York’s High School for Construction at 6:30 p.m. “Maybe a coach will find out that an individual can play (more) and contribute, so it gives them a chance to do it in a game that, (and) if it’s not successful, it doesn’t hurt the team.

“That’s one reason I’m playing a couple of games in one day, to give everybody a chance to play meaningful minutes, long minutes.”

The South Portland boys have three games, against Biddeford at 1 p.m. Tuesday, against Transit Tech at 8 p.m. Tuesday, and against Kennebunk at 6:30 p.m. Friday. In years past, a championship-hopeful Red Riots team might have looked for chances to replicate the playoff atmosphere. With South Portland 0-4 this year, however, Millington said these exhibitions can serve a purpose as a workshop and confidence-builder.

“It’s good to have to go against different styles and different defenses,” he said. “Some of our guys might fare well against pressure, and some might fare well against a zone. We can’t simulate that in practice as well.”

Greely’s Kylie Crocker dives to save the ball from going out of bounds and fires a precise pass to teammate Asja Kelman during a game last season, The Rangers will take part in the 2023 Holiday Hoops Showcase at the Portland Expo. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

For others, just getting an early look at the court where they’ll hope to play in the Class A South and B South tournaments is the big gain.

“It’s huge, especially for the young players that haven’t been there,” said Flaherty, whose Rangers play Spruce Mountain at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. “The whole event, getting on the bus, figuring out where you get off, how you get into the arena, the court itself, the background. I think the whole experience is important. … There’s really nothing but positives for going down there and playing.”

Greely’s game with the Phoenix, the defending B South champions, should be one of the better ones.

“You always want to play the best around,” Flaherty said. “It’s a great measuring stick, and I think you learn a lot more in a game like that than in practice.”

Tickets are $10 for an adult day pass, or $35 for a week pass. For seniors and students, day passes are $5, and passes for the week are $15.

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