While the Panthers were away, the Black Tornado played.

While the Panthers were away, the Black Tornado played.

And North Medford played well, winning the past two Abby's Holiday Classic boys basketball tournaments while South Medford participated in high-level events elsewhere.

Now both host schools are back in the fold and will try to add to their championship totals when the eight-team tournament begins its three-day run Monday.

The tournament is celebrating its 20th year.

North Medford has appeared in all of them, posting a combined record of 38-19 with five titles.

South Medford is returning after a four-year hiatus in which it played in the prestigious Les Schwab Tournament in Portland. The Panthers have won the Abby's seven times, including a streak of five straight from 1999-2003, and has an all-time tourney mark of 36-9.

North Medford (4-3) begins its title defense against Rex Putnam (2-5) of Milwaukie at 7:30 p.m. Monday at North Medford High. It follows a 6 p.m. contest between Churchill (4-2) of Eugene and West Salem (1-5).

At South Medford High, the Panthers (4-3) open against Redmond (3-5) at 7:30 p.m. That game will be preceded by Red Bluff, Calif., against West Linn (5-2) at 6.

All four games Tuesday and Wednesday will be at South Medford.

"I think it's a pretty good field," says Black Tornado coach Scott Plankenhorn, adding that he's glad to see South Medford back. "It'll be fun to have them back. They'll bring some good attendance and pique interest in the tournament."

Murphy is a founding father of the tournament and is glad to be returning.

"We started this 20 years ago with the intent that it could be one of the better tournaments in the state," he says. "It gave us the opportunity to bring good teams down here, and I think we've done that and we still are doing that."

South Medford was among the state's best teams in recent years and got the chance to play in elite national tournaments.

"You have to go play at that level if you have the opportunity," Murphy says of the Les Schwab. "That's what that tournament is designed for. We can say with a very good and clear conscience that for the last four years, we were one of the better teams in the state. We certainly deserved to play there and needed to go there. That's why we did it. And right now, we're not at that level."

North Medford, which had gone 12 years without winning the Abby's crown before doing so in 2007, defeated Hillsboro for the title last season, 63-57.

"We've been very successful the last two years," says Plankenhorn, "and we're hoping to continue that."

North Medford is coming off a 49-39 victory over Camas, Wash., Wednesday, earning it fourth place in the Lakeridge Holiday Tournament.

The Black Tornado is led by 6-foot-2 senior wing Matt Maurer, who has a 30-point game to his credit this season, and 6-7 senior post Mike Levos.

"I think we're getting closer to where we want to be," says Plankenhorn. "We're a little more consistent and starting to play a little more as a team. Everybody's finding out what each other does best. That's part of the experience when you only have two varsity returners."

North Medford faces a Putnam team that has two starters back from last year, but its mostly senior roster is made up of players who were on the junior varsity a year ago.

Point guard Brandon Scherier and 6-4 post Cole Helgerson, both seniors, lead the Kingsmen with scoring averages of 10 points per game.

"We like to press and run, play up-tempo," says coach Gregg Griffin, in his fifth year at Putnam. "We've got four post kids who are 6-4, 6-5, so we try to take advantage of that. But we're still very inexperienced."

Putnam, which is moving from Class 6A to 5A next year, is making its second tournament appearance. It went 2-1 and placed fourth in 2004.

South Medford takes on a Redmond team that owns a 70-66 victory over North Medford but has dropped five straight games.

Redmond played in the Abby's in 2001 and placed second to South Medford.

South Medford is coming off a runner-up finish in the Red Bluff Holiday Classic last weekend. The Panthers fell to ninth-ranked Lake Oswego, 56-54, in the title game as Mike Brassel scored 17 points and Josh Havird 16.

"We played good opponents and we played better," says Murphy. "I'm happy with the effort. Are we where we'd like to be at this point? Probably not, but we're taking steps to get better.

"We're so young and inexperienced, do we build on that or was it a flash in the pan how we played against Lake Oswego? The Abby's will tell us that. Are we capable of playing and staying that level and playing with a top-10 team? I don't know that."

Red Bluff and West Salem were also in the field last year.

Red Bluff is making its seventh appearance, breaking a tie with two other schools — Aloha and Lakeridge — for most appearances apart from the host schools.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com