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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Long a staple of January basketball on Okinawa but absent the past four years due to a shortage of players and teams, the Martin Luther King Invitational Basketball Tournament is back.

Twelve men’s and six women’s teams representing bases in Okinawa, South Korea and Guam — and Kadena High School’s boys and girls teams — will take to the courts at Foster Field House starting Friday and continuing through Monday’s title games.

“I’m excited it’s back. I’m looking forward to seeing the teams, the people come out to watch, and hopefully it will continue long after I’m gone,” said MCCS Semper Fit director Steve Rowland.

The event began in 1992 and continued until 2004, after which the tournament went on the shelf as the global war on terrorism escalated.

“We had to do our part for the war effort,” Rowland said. “We had a lot of Marines, people from all the services, out there and that diminished the number of players and teams available. Nobody wanted a four-year hiatus. This tournament is part of our history here at Camp Foster.”

The tournament in past years has welcomed as many as 30 teams, and Rowland expressed confidence that it will grow from its current crop of 18 teams in future years.

“Once they see the format, the awards and the other stuff that goes with it, it will grow,” Rowland said. “What comes down has to bounce back up again.”

The 12-team men’s field will include the winners of last month’s Pacificwide Holiday Tournament at Osan Air Base, South Korea. Yongsan’s men (26-3) and Camp Humphreys’ women (17-7) are both unbeaten (12-0, 8-0) in Korea Traveling League play.

High school teams have been invited to the tournament since 1997, and Rowland has made a policy of waiving the $250 entry fee for them. Kadena’s girls finished third in the last MLK tournament in 2004, the only time a prep team has placed in the event.

“I want them to experience the physical part of the game and raise their level of play,” Rowland said.

While Kadena, whose boys have won nine Far East Class AA Tournament titles and the girls five, is entered, Kubasaki declined, citing a prior commitment to four games with Japanese teams on Saturday. “It would have been nice to have Kubasaki here, too,” Rowland said.

14th Martin Luther King Invitational Basketball TournamentDates: Friday to Monday

Site: Foster Field House, Foster Athletics Complex, Camp Foster, Okinawa

Format: Single round-robin, 12 men’s teams divided into two pools of six teams each, one women’s pool of six teams. Top three or four teams in each pool qualify for single- or double-elimination playoffs; specifics to be determined at coaches’ meeting.

Schedule of events: Pool play begins at 6 p.m. Friday and continues through Saturday evening. Playoffs begin Sunday and continue through Monday’s championship games, at noon for women and 1:30 p.m. for men. Skills competition, three-point long-distance shootout, begins Sunday with finals on Monday, time to be determined.

Participating teams: Men, Camp Red Cloud Warriors, Camp Humphreys Bulldogs and Yongsan Garrison Runnin’ Rebels, South Korea; Kadena High School Panthers, Torii Station Army Knights, One Time, The Other Kadena Team, Okinawa Ballers, God’s Way, United, Lock Down and Rim Rockers, Okinawa. Women, Camp Red Cloud Warriors, Yongsan Garrison Runnin’ Rebels and Camp Humphreys Bulldogs, South Korea; Andersen Air Force Base, Guam; Kadena High School Panthers and Mystics, Okinawa.

Awards: Team trophies to top three finishers, five-player male and female All-Tournament teams, MVPs and All-Tournament coaches.

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