Berkshire County is the epicenter of high school basketball for the next week. There can be very little argument about that.
Ten county teams will be heading to the Pioneer Valley this week to play for the right to participate in a Western Massachusetts championship game. It is possible, depending on the outcome of those games this week, that Berkshire County could be playing for titles in all six divisions that teams play in.
This is the largest number of teams to play in semifinals since eight Berkshire teams were on the docket in 2013. Last year, there were six teams with five games.
It's a far cry from 2014, when only four Berkshire County teams reached the semifinal round.
There are two things I have learned after covering high school basketball in this region for more years than I can count. One, there might be more skilled basketball teams in the Amherst or Greenfield areas, but there are no tougher teams. Two, the coaching here is superior to the coaching there.
The late Jay Fortier, longtime girls basketball coach at Hampshire Regional and Easthampton, used to scrimmage Lee during the run up to the tournament. Once his teams started playing like Berkshire County teams, his squads started winning Division II tournaments. That had been reserved for Berkshire County teams like Monument Mountain, Wahconah and Drury — and now in Division III to Hoosac Valley.
The St. Joseph and Lenox boys started the renaissance of boys basketball on the Western Mass. level earlier in this decade. Hoosac, as it did at the start of the 21st Century, has once again picked up the mantle as the leader of the pack.
One of the best things about all of Berkshire County's success is that a Berkshire team gets to raise the curtain on Saturday.
The winner of the Lee-Mount Everett game will play in the 10:45 a.m. first game of the six-game hoop celebration. The last Berkshire County D-IV team to get the early wake up call was Lee in 2013, when the Wildcats beat Sabis.
This is the best week of the high school sports season. There are so many games shoehorned into a few days. It's going to be a lot of fun.
There is nothing as much fun as this week in college basketball. It's tournament week.
And there's nothing quite like listening to Dick Vitale talk about college basketball.
I was part of a conference call with Vitale last week and he said that tournament week brings out the kid in him. Listening to Dickie V. does the same for me.
The reason this is the best week, even better than the first week of the NCAA Tournament, is because there are so many conference tourneys where teams have to win or go home.
Even the Atlantic 10, where UMass has to win the tourney to get a dancing card — as unlikely as that appears — is not a one-bid league.
"One sleeper team you better keep an eye on, and one of my buddies at ESPN is on Cloud Nine right now, with St. Bonaventure," said Vitale. "I look at that conference. You've got VCU I think will get in, St. Joe's will get in and Dayton will get in. I think Bonaventure, and there's a chance for George Washington."
Let the fun and games begin.
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.