Basketball

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Hoop Dreams

1 Feb, 2018

By: Peter Francesconi

Chances are, if you grew up in the U.S., you were never far from a basketball hoop. Not only were basketball goals in school gyms, playgrounds and parks, but you would find them in parking lots and driveways throughout the country.

Today, despite the onslaught of, well, less physically active pastimes such as video gaming, basketball remains one of the most popular recreational sports in the U.S. — played by boys and girls, men and women, of all ages. When looking to place basketball tournaments and events, there are many excellent locations. Here are a few you should consider.

Billings, Montana
“Sports are a genuine way of life here — we’re a very sports-heavy community,” says Alex Tyson, the executive director of Visit Billings. “Youth play and high school sports are very active, but what sets us apart is our fan base. People here support young athletes; it’s exciting to see all of the community come out.”

And basketball, especially during the cold winter months, seems to get special attention in this city of 110,000. MetraPark, the largest facility of its type in the state, contains Rimrock Auto Arena, a 10,000-seat venue that plays host to the NAIA Women’s Division I National Championship. Among other large tournaments, Rimrock also has been host for the popular Border War men’s basketball series between Montana State and Wyoming.

While Rimrock is a powerful venue for major events, MetraPark also offers the huge Expo Center where Sport Court flooring is brought in to host multiple-court basketball events. In addition, two area colleges — Montana State University at Billings and Rocky Mountain College – have excellent facilities available and host numerous youth and amateur basketball tourneys.

Basketball also is the biggest component for the Big Sky State Games every July, taking over 10 gyms and accommodating more than 4,000 athletes, from third-graders to amateur adults. In addition, nearly 100 teams show up in August for the Above the Rim 3-on-3 tournament, which takes place outdoors in downtown Billings.

Hampton, Virginia
The premier facility for basketball events in Hampton is the 135,000-square-foot Boo Williams Sportsplex, designed specifically for amateur sports events, and in particular, basketball. The facility has eight hardwood high-school-regulation basketball courts and hosts more than 35 basketball tournaments a year, including eight AAU basketball championships. Bleacher seating accommodates up to 4,000 fans, there is computerized scoring, a dedicated meeting room and registration room, training rooms, high-speed Internet and a 4,200-square-foot concession area.

“We also use the Hampton Roads Convention Center, too, especially when the Nike Invitational boys’ and girls’ tournaments come to town each spring,” says Brooks Hierstein, the sports sales & services manager for the Hampton CVB. In April, nearly 250 girls’ teams are expected for the Nike event, which will use courts at both Boo Williams and 12 courts set up at the Convention Center. The Nike boys’ tournament draws more than 200 teams.

The Hampton University Convocation Center also plays host to basketball events, including the Virginia High School League State Quarterfinals and Semifinals. “We also tap into our four local high schools and the Hampton Coliseum,” Hierstein says. “Basketball is our strongest athletic competition; we probably host more basketball tournaments through the year. The community, hotels and attractions all get behind us and are very supportive.”

Hershey-Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
When you consider “family friendly,” what could be more attractive than something called “Chocolate World?” Of course, it’s in Hershey, where you can learn all about how chocolate is made — and treat yourself to one-of-a-kind sweet experiences. And there’s Hersheypark, a family-themed attraction with dozens of rides (including 13 roller coasters), a boardwalk/water park area and more.

But that’s all for off-court. For basketball tournaments and events, the Hershey-Harrisburg area has a ton to offer athletes, fans and tournament organizers. For a large, multi-court venue, the area offers 16 courts at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center, which has a well-lighted, high-ceilinged, 172,000-square-foot facility. For the last 15 years, the U.S. Junior Nationals Hershey Showcase has taken place at the Expo Center in June, growing from about 40 teams to well over 200.

“The venue works well for groups because you can have one site director overseeing the 16 courts,” says Gregg Cook, executive director of the Hershey Harrisburg Sports & Events Authority. But the area also has many high school facilities available, all within a 15-minute radius, and many that have new or refurbished main gymnasiums, often used for state playoff games. There are also facilities at Penn State-Harrisburg and Harrisburg Community College. The state high school championship and other college or pro events are held at the 12,500-seat GIANT Center in Hershey.

Lincoln, Nebraska
Lincoln offers premier venues that suit events of many sizes. The newest and largest facility is the Pinnacle Bank Arena, in the West Haymarket district, which is the home of the University of Nebraska Cornhusker men’s and women’s basketball teams. The arena seats about 16,000 fans and hosts state high school tournaments and even pre-season NBA games.

The 8,000-seat Bob Devaney Sports Center has been one of the biggest attractions in town since it first opened in 1976. “It’s nice to have a smaller-size arena option,” says Derek Bombeck, the sales development manager for the Lincoln CVB. Many high school tournaments are played at the Bob Devaney complex.

Another step down in size is the 2,350-seat Snyder Arena at Nebraska Wesleyan University, which plays host to the Prairie Wolves basketball and volleyball teams, but also hosts a lot of youth basketball tournaments, Bombeck says.

In addition, there are many high school facilities in town that get used frequently, including the massive Midwest Invitational Basketball Tournament, hosted by the YMCA and now in its 37th year. “It’s a boys’ and girls’ national tournament, for grades three through 10, with hundreds of teams and thousands of kids, taking up every gym,” Bombeck adds. “Community support for youth basketball is great. People are always willing to volunteer.”

Raleigh, North Carolina
“In this part of the country, basketball is a priority,” says Scott Dupree, the executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance. “We’re a mecca for college and high school basketball.”

One of the largest events is the Deep South Classic, a girls’ basketball showcase event for ages 14 to 18, held over four days in late April at the Raleigh Convention Center. “For this event, we put down 20 courts,” Dupree notes. “In the last few years, we’ve had more than 400 teams each year, from all over the country. It’s a huge event in this market and usually does about 9,000 hotel room nights, with about 70 different local hotels blocking rooms. Typically, 400 to 500 college coaches come to town to recruit.”

The oldest annual sporting event in Raleigh is the John Wall Family Foundation Holiday Invitational, which has been going on since 1972 and is played between Christmas and New Year’s in Holliday Gym at Broughton High School, where former NBA star Pete Maravich played. “The number of NBA players who have gone through this tournament as high school players is incredible,” Dupree says. “This is a college-basketball crazed market here and people want to see these future stars.” The event raises money for scholarships.

Of course, the 19,700-seat PNC Arena has hosted NCAA basketball, most recently in 2016 and it is slated to again host in 2021. “March Madness is a big deal here,” Dupree says, “and these games always sell out.”

Rockford, Illinois
One of the largest sports facilities in the Midwest is the UW Health Sports Factory, operated by the Rockford Park District. The facility has 108,000 square-feet of floor space and eight hardwood basketball courts, including a championship court. There’s also a restaurant/bar (with selections from a local brewery), meeting facilities and more.

“The Sports Factory is a great spot for athletes, parents and coaches,” says Nick Povalitis, the sports destination and sales manager for the Rockford Area CVB, which books events into the facility. Now in its second year of operation, the Sports Factory has been booking basketball tournaments and events, including tournaments with the Rockford Hoops organization, and State basketball championships, with more than 100 teams expected in March. There also is a Nike Tournament of Champions girls’ event slated for July.

The Sports Factory is in downtown Rockford, and there are three downtown hotel projects in the works. Downtown Rockford also offers restaurants to suit all budgets and tastes, and is all very drivable and affordable, Povalitis says. “We’ve been an amateur sports town for a long time. Recreation and athletics has always been a big part of our infrastructure.”

Rocky Top Sports World, Tennessee
One of the newest indoor/outdoor sports tournament destinations is the four-year-old Rocky Top Sports World in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Located just four miles from downtown Gatlinburg and that scenic town’s famous shopping and entertainment district, the facility has a total of 10 basketball courts (six in an 86,000-square-foot indoor facility) and offers team rooms, referee locker rooms, the Champ’s Grill and a full-service food and beverage operation.

While there’s plenty of parking at Rocky Top, the Gatlinburg Trolley system also provides transportation from downtown. Plus, the venue is just minutes from the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

In the spring, about 100 basketball teams come to Rocky Top for the Tennessee Miracle Classic, in partnership with US Amateur Basketball. “This event has really grown in the four years that we’ve held it here,” says Haley Ellis Fugate, Rocky Top Sports World’s marketing and sponsorship manager. The facility also hosts basketball “play days” for middle-school and high-schoolers, including the “Rumble at the Rock” event.

“Gatlinburg is such a family-friendly destination — you don’t just come here and play your game,” Fugate says. “Everything here is easily within 10 miles, including more than 100 restaurants in the downtown area.”

Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The fully-loaded Denny Sanford Premier Center opened three years ago, with seating for 12,000 basketball fans, and is used for national and regional tournaments. The center offers 3,500 free parking spaces, all types of food and beverage options, and more. Plus, it’s attached to the Convention Center and Sioux Falls Arena. The Arena, with its 7,000 seats, is home to Augustana College basketball, and has undergone renovations in recent years to accommodate some of the bigger NCAA events as well.

Both the Premier Center and the Arena are featured venues for state basketball tournaments. In March, the Summit League Basketball Championships will be held at the Premier Center, along with the state high school boys’ and girls’ tournament.

Then there’s the Sanford Pentagon, which is part of the Sanford Sports Complex. The Pentagon is a 160,000-square-foot venue that can hold nine basketball courts, including a main floor called Heritage Court that can seat 3,250 fans and has 18 suites. (Heritage Court is the home court for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, the NBA G League team.)

The Pentagon has eight locker rooms, so it can host a number of teams all at one time. Recent additions include a video room with theater-style seating and large screen. The Sanford Sports Complex campus also has a hotel and restaurant on site. In 2018 and 2019, the Pentagon is scheduled to host NAIA Division II basketball national championships.

This March, the NCAA Division II men’s and women’s Elite Eight will play in Sioux Falls — the first time that both men’s and women’s events will take place in the same host city. “Our fans really fill the seats, which is why we have so many events and so many different levels of events,” says Krista Orsack, director of marketing for the Sioux Falls CVB. “We’ve built a good reputation around that.” SDM

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