16th Marlin Christmas Classic showcases basketball and beach

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Holiday hoops continues in Bay County through Monday, with 16 more teams joining the fray for the 16th annual Visit Panama City Beach Marlin Christmas Classic at Arnold.

Eight boys and eight girls teams spanning from Kentucky and Tennessee down to Georgia make the trip for games Friday through Monday in a double elimination bracket format.

"They're here for the beach," Arnold boys coach Josh Laatsch said," but they're also here to play basketball. It's a really cool dynamic."

Area boys teams include Arnold and South Walton, while the girls side seeds Mosley and Sneads.

The Marlins boys team got a tough draw on their home floor, opening with a 66-43 loss to defending 5A state champ Buford from Georgia.
They rebounded Saturday with a 54-38 win over Shelbyville Central out of Tennessee. Win or lose, the high quality of competition is one of the major incentives for hosting the event.

"Playing teams like Buford, it wakes us up and we have no other choice but to be ready to play because these teams are really talented and well run programs," Laatsch said. "This whole year has been a learning process. It's my first year, the kids' first year with me at the helm and I've only got two varsity returners so there's a lot of JV kids still figuring out what my expectations are and how to play varsity basketball. That's a big learning curve."

With Saturday's result bolstered by 18 points from Andrew Cetrone and 14 each courtesy of Jordan White and Walter Mathis, the Marlins improve to 3-9.

There are no games Sunday in accordance with a state rule, but they aren't letting FHSAA regulations get in the way of fun.

"We also put on a skills challenge," Laatsch added. "Sunday night we'll have a three point shooting contest and different skill events. It's a good chance for them, all the out of town teams, to come and really have that camaraderie with their own teammates and meet some new people from other teams as well."

The skills competition begins at 5:30 on Sunday.

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