Year after year, observers agree that the Whataburger tournament routinely features some of the most competitive high school basketball being played in the nation this time of year.
So eyebrows were raised when those who have witnessed many of these gatherings say the competition of 2012, top to bottom, will be more delicious than a super-sized No. 1 with cheese and jalapeños.
The 2012 tournament features the toughest competition in the history of the Orange Division, according to the tournament director and significant basketball others who support his claim.
And it's not just cheap promoter talk. The proof is in the rankings.
Seven of the top 18 teams in Texas' top classification will be joined by out-of-towners Little Rock (Ark.) Parkview and Long Beach (Calif.) Poly -- considered the top-ranked teams in their respective states -- and Bullitt East of Kentucky, the No. 14-ranked team in the blue-grass, basketball-playing state. Poly is No. 5 in ESPN's national rankings.
"I think the one area in which the tournament has evolved -- and I guess it's a good thing -- there are just so many really good teams," said coach Tommy Brakel of North Crowley, which is ranked 15th in Texas.
"You've got first-round matchups that are just really almost unfair. Two state-ranked teams playing each other. That's a first-round game? It's unbelievable."
Texas' No. 17 Plano East squares off with No. 18 Richland in a first-round game at 1 p.m. today.
No. 10 Richardson Berkner found as a treat in its Christmas stocking a first-round matchup with Parkview, the tournament's defending champion and two-time defending Arkansas state champion in Class 6A, at 4:15 p.m. today.
North Crowley opens against Trimble Tech, considered the best team in the Fort Worth school district. The winner gets Berkner or Parkview.
All the games of the Orange Division will be played at Thomas Coliseum in Haltom City through Saturday.
"It'll be the most competitive tournament we've had in the Orange Division, by far," said Tom Rogers, the tournament director. "It's strong."
And it could have been even stronger.
DeSoto, the state's top-ranked Class 5A team with Duke signee Matt Jones, would have played but opted to spend a part of Christmas break at a tournament in North Carolina.
Three ranked area teams -- Class 5A's Nos. 2 and 4 teams, respectively, South Grand Prairie and Mansfield Timberview, and Class 4A's No. 1 team, Arlington Seguin -- are also not in the field. But, in addition to Berkner and Plano East, Class 5A's No. 3 Rowlett, No. 5 Duncanville and No. 13 Spring Westfield will be participating.
"We know we're coming into a situation where we're going to play some quality basketball teams," said Troy Barr, coach of Whataburger first-timer Bullitt East. "We're looking forward to the challenge. Texas has some great individual talent and some really good teams that play together."
Barr will bring with him Derek Willis, a versatile 6-foot-8 senior capable of playing all five positions and who has signed with Kentucky.
"There are very few players who can [handle the ball] and pass the way he can in the open floor," Barr said.
The tournament will host three other of the nation's top players.
Parkview is led by guards I.J. Ready, who has signed with Mississippi State, and Anton Beard, a junior already committed to Missouri. Long Beach 6-7 forward Jordan Bell has signed with Oregon.
"This helps us get ready for our conference and state," coach Al Flanigan of Parkview said. "And we love the camaraderie of the tournament and the fans."