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The winds of change continue to sweep through the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe sports scene.

Under a new plan — instituted in last month’s European volleyball and cross country championship events — DODDS-Europe sports officials have implemented a four-division format for the season-ending basketball tournament.

That means teams such as Richard Elliott’s Naples Wildcats will play in Division II instead of Division III this season, and that’s just fine with Elliott.

“We want to play in Division II,” said Elliott, who coached the Wildcats to the European D-III crown last February. “That’s where we belong.”

Under the old system, only the two Mediterranean-based schools qualified for the six-team European D-III tournament.

This season, all schools automatically are invited to Mannheim to vie for European crowns in one of four divisions, based on enrollment size. That pits Naples — along with fellow Italy power Aviano — against D-II schools from the rest of Europe instead of the smaller D-III schools they have faced in the past.

But don’t feel sorry for the Italy-based teams.

Senior-laden Naples returns 6-6 All-Europe second-teamer Mark Peayrer and point guard Josh Kaimakua from last year’s championship squad, while Division III runner-up Aviano brings back Dustin Miller, who averaged 28 points a game last season. The Saints also have Carl Cephas and three other starters for this year’s run.

The Italy teams will need all that, and more, according to Mannheim coach John Crockett.

“For a team to win [Division II],” he said, “they will have to play six games in three days. That might mean sloppy play in the semis and finals as the players will be very tired. The teams with the deeper benches usually win in this type of format.”

Crockett said he would prefer an all-divisions-in-one-bracket event.

“I think the ideal end-of-the-year tournament,” he said, “would be to have all the divisions together and crown an overall European champion.”

That’s a concept that appeals to Kaiserslautern girls’ coach Corey Sullivan, too.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing one tournament from top to bottom, like the old Indiana high school system,” he said. “Except for Heidelberg and Ramstein, most of the schools are pretty close in enrollment, whether they are in Division I or Division III.”

For Baumholder coach Carter Hollenbeck, an all-in-one-place is as good as an all-in-one tournament.

“I love the idea that all the teams will meet for the tourney,” he said. “It gives a ‘March Madness’ effect.”

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