©Dale Zanine 2019_10_16 00588.JPG

Grayson’s Deivon Smith is one of numerous high-profile players who will be on display during the Jared Cook Invitational at North Gwinnett High School beginning Saturday.

Every year, organizers of the Jared Cook Invitational have lauded the strength of the field and talent of the now-annual high school boys basketball showcase that has become a tradition in Thanksgiving week.

The same outlook remains the same on the eve of the 2019 Jared Cook Classic, which tips off three full days of basketball Saturday at North Gwinnett High School.

“This is easily the strongest field we’ve ever had,” Bulldogs coach and tournament director Matt Garner said of the event, which once again will benefit the Susan G. Komen organization for cancer research. “The 16 games are the most we’ve never had. We’ve go three five-star (prospects), six four-stars and a number of state championship coaches. So we’re pretty excited, for sure.”

Eight different Gwinnett schools — host North, plus Archer, Discovery, Grayson, Lanier, Mill Creek, Peachtree Ridge and South Gwinnett — will be involved for at least one game in the expanded field, which also includes a number of Georgia powerhouses like Pace Academy, St. Francis, Marietta, Wheeler, Sandy Creek and Lambert, among others, as well as South Carolina representative Powdersville.

Given the field, the games figure to be a major early-season challenge for each team participating.

That includes the host Bulldogs, and Garner is curious to see how his young team responded, particularly with several players still busy with the North football team.

“I definitely didn’t do us any favors by not scheduling any cupcakes,” Garner joke about the Bulldogs’ schedule of game against Heritage-Conyers on Saturday, Lambert on Monday and Pace Academy on Tuesday. “Even though we’ll be missing some of our football players, we have a core of guys that are returning we can count on. I’ll be a challenge, and we do that on purpose.”

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Graduated from GSU in 1990. Have worked in sports journalism for the past 28 years, covering a variety of sports at the Gwinnett Daily News, AJC, Lafayette (La.) Daily Advertiser and Marietta Daily Journal before returning to Gwinnett at the Post in 2007.