LONGVIEW -- Houston Sam Houston served notice to the region Wednesday with lopsided wins against Nacogdoches and Hallsville in succession. It's doing what you would expect the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches' top-ranked Class 6A team to do early on in the Leroy Romines Memorial Tournament.

The Tigers could shortly be Center, John Tyler and Longview's problem. Like those three local teams plus Conroe Lifestyle Christian and Houston Pro-Vision, it is firmly in the Gold Bracket picture with one pool game remaining today ahead of single-elimination competition this afternoon. 

"We were scheduled to play in the National Showcase tournament (in Houston)," Sam Houston head coach Ralph Barreras said just after handing Hallsville an 80-41 loss to clinch a Gold Bracket appearance. "That cancelled at the last minute. We started looking for tournaments right away and we saw this one had an open spot.

"We were more than excited to come here. Obviously, this place, they have great facilities and great traditions. Plus, Leroy Romines was a great coach, so I just felt like it was a good tribute to him to come and be a part of this thing."

Pro-Vision, a charter school in Houston, joined Sam Houston (21-0) in the trek to Longview after the National Showcase's cancellation.

Both teams added to the Houston flavor of the East Texas-centric tournament. Longview High School already had Conroe Lifestyle Christian and Houston C.E. King on board when the two National Showcase castaways came calling.

This is a big test for the regional teams participating in the tournament, but Longview head coach Billy Goffney thinks it's important for a region that will run across similarly styled Dallas-Fort Worth area teams early on in the state playoffs at the Class 6A and 5A levels.

John Tyler and Lufkin fell to Metroplex teams in the postseason last year as 5A programs. Since then, both have been promoted to 6A.

Hallsville lost to John Tyler while Nacogdoches and Longview itself failed to reach the playoffs.

But, if any of the those aforementioned teams reach the state bracket this season, the squads will most likely run across Dallas-Fort Worth district teams in the first round. The only exception is if John Tyler, Tyler Lee or Longview draws Lufkin from the adjacent district.

"You need to know what it's like to be No. 1," Goffney, a Houston native, said. "To be on the floor with No. 1. The way that they play, sometimes I think we get caught up in just playing each other. It's big to get them. (Sam Houston) is ranked in the nation. If we can do some things right, put ourselves in a position to get a win or just to make it tough, that's an accomplishment in itself.

"What we preach is, regardless of who you play, you've just got to play and do the things you do. Those guys are just a new marker. If you're fortunate enough to get first or second round in the playoffs, Interstate 20 still runs through Dallas. That's what you've got to see. It's good basketball all the way around. I think it was good for everybody that got on the floor with those guys regardless of what the score was."

For Sam Houston, which indeed expects a long run toward the state championship, this is the last chance to forge its team before district play begins.

It's also the first opportunity to hit the road and simulate a deep-round playoff game where an overnight stay may be necessary.

"Coming back right after Christmas, this is great," Barreras said. "We can get up to six games here. I think it's going to be great for our conditioning. Getting our legs back and sharpening for district. I think when you get out of town, you get the chance to bond as a team and have some fun. We're 2-0 right now, looking forward to (today) and hopefully we can win this thing and make it a great experience."

If Sam Houston beats Liberty-Eylau this morning, an 0-2 team in the tournament from Class 4A, it will draw either Center or John Tyler in its 7 p.m. elimination game. It depends who loses the 10 a.m. head-to-head game between the Roughriders and Lions.

Center is the only other team in the tournament ranked by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches. It's the 15th team in the group's 4A poll and earned an impressive win Wednesday against Lufkin.

John Tyler? It's a team flying high on the heels of a win against Lufkin and might have the best pure athlete in the tournament -- University of Houston quarterback commitment Bryson Smith.

The road will get steeper for Sam Houston. That's the way Barreras wants it for his team.

"I think it's a great, competitive field," Barreras said. "I've seen some of the other teams play, and there have been very competitive games. Obviously, we're playing at a very high level right now, but that doesn't mean we're way above the level here. There are some good teams, and the competition will get tougher in bracket play.

"This is a tournament that's been well put together. I have nothing but praise for the way they've done it. The hospitality has been tremendous, and we're just glad to be here."