The week before Christmas always is a slow week for high school basketball in Orange County.

An event that fills that void again this season is the Orange County North/South Challenge.

The four-game event is Thursday at Tesoro High School. The schedule: Aliso Niguel vs. Portola, 3 p.m.; San Juan Hills vs. Beckman, 4:30 p.m.; Tesoro vs. Cypress, 6 p.m.; and San Clemente vs. Foothill, 7:30 p.m.

Cypress is the only North/South team that is north of the 22 Freeway that is often seen as Orange County’s north-south line of demarcation. Aliso Niguel vs. Portola is more of a West/East challenge. But the North/South has its usual array of fine county teams.

Tesoro was 11-2 going into this week and ranked No. 7 in the Orange County Top 25.

Foothill is No. 10, Portola is No. 14, Beckman and San Juan Hills have been in the county Top 25 this season.

Among the players to watch in the North/South are Tesoro senior guards Carson Brown and Blake Manning, who were All-Orange County second team and fourth team, respectively, last season, and Foothill guards Carlo Billings and Travis Paleo.

San Juan Hills, which won a CIF Southern Section championship last season, is led by senior point guard Rylan Kies and sophomore forward Mason Hodges.

This year’s North/South Challenge is dedicated to Tim O’Brien, who coached basketball for 35 seasons in Orange County. O’Brien died of cancer in 2020 at age 66.

Tesoro coach Steve Garrett, now the lead organizer of the North/South, is like many other area coaches in that he puts O’Brien in the “great coach, even better person” category.

“When I came to Tesoro when I was 28 years old, we played in the Pacific Coast League and Tim was really good about helping me out even though he was coaching at Northwood and we were in the same league,” Garrett said. “We didn’t have a gym yet at Tesoro and Tim was the only coach who offered me to use his school’s gym whenever we wanted. He was a super-secure person, and sometimes us coaches can be so insecure.”


Canyon lost starting junior guard Joshua Goodall to a broken leg two weeks ago. His twin brother Jaden Goodall, averaging 23 points a game, recently incurred a knee injury that could mean his season is over, too. Canyon, 11-1 and No. 2 in the county Top 25, showed in a win over Cypress last week that it has ample depth and retains its high pace and defensive intensity no matter what combination is on the floor. …

The Pio-Naut Tournament is being played at Western and Garden Grove high schools this week. The tournament name is a combination of the nicknames for the two schools — Pioneers for Western and Argonauts for Garden Grove. …

Three of the area’s top teams — No. 1 Mater Dei, No. 3 JSerra and No. 4 Santa Margarita — are in Las Vegas this week to play in the Tarkanian Classic tournament.