Basketball’s Fast Break
30 Jan, 2017By: Peter Francesconi
March Madness (and its brackets and its spectatorship and, of course, its resounding economic impact) is ready to stomp into arenas across the U.S., but even that is just one symptom of the popularity of basketball.
The sport, after all, is played everywhere by those of all ages. In the U.S., more than 23.4 million participants trod the hardwood each year, according to 2015 data from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. This is an increase of 1.5 percent from the year before. The upward trend in participation is good news, of course, since many team sports, including basketball, had dipped slightly in participation going back over the last five years.
Basketball courts are not hard to find. But these venues can offer top facilities along with guidance to help make any basketball event or tournament a success.
Easley, South Carolina
By many standards, Easley, South Carolina, with about 20,000 residents, is not a huge city, But this area is huge in basketball, says Scott Price, director of marketing for the city of Easley. “Last year, we did 18 tournaments, with anywhere from 40 to 120 teams playing here.”
The biggest venue for basketball is the city-owned, 50,000-square-foot Larry D. Bagwell Gymnasium, which has three courts available, each of which can seat up to 500 spectators. There is also the Rock Springs Impact Center, which also has three basketball courts. “We also have 21 gyms at our disposal in Pickens County,” Price says, “including 10 gyms all within a three-mile radius.” Five high schools in the area offer two gyms that can each accommodate basketball.
“We’ve hosted everything from Big Shots national tournaments to a lot of local AAU events,” Price says. “I’m a big basketball guy, and it’s great to see that basketball is certainly continuing to grow here — we’re seeing more and more interest in events with more teams playing. A lot of our economic impact comes from basketball, so we do all we can to help promote it here.”
Easley is in the northwest part of South Carolina, about 12 miles west of Greenville and an hour and half from both Charlotte to the northeast and Atlanta to the southwest. For visitors, the area is full of things to do, with the mountains to the west, miles of hiking and cycling trails, water sports, shopping, arts and crafts and much more.
Greensboro, North Carolina
“There’s like a fever for basketball here in Greensboro,” says Brian Ambuehl, the sports sales manager for Visit Greensboro. “We’re right in the middle of ‘basketball central’—with the University of North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest and NC State. Parents and kids grow up watching all this. Kids just grow up rabid for basketball, so the grassroots level has really exploded in the last 10 or so years. Tournaments are popping up everywhere.”
It’s because of this growth that the Greensboro Coliseum complex and the city of Greensboro have invested in the purchase of a sports flooring material that allows eight basketball courts to be set up (the purchase includes 16 basketball goals and eight digital floor clocks). “That was a big investment,” Ambuehl says. “But tourney organizers didn’t want to spread out too much, so now we can have eight courts going on at the same time.” In fact, in addition to the eight courts at the Greensboro Coliseum complex, the adjacent Field House can house a ninth, wood-floor court, in an arena that can seat about 2,500 spectators.
A brand-new facility for the area is the Leonard J. Kaplan Center for Wellness on the campus of UNC Greensboro, which opened this past fall. The Kaplan Center can accommodate seven basketball courts (five wood floors, two poured rubber) and is less than half a mile from the Greensboro Coliseum. A third facility, the Greensboro Sportsplex, has eight wood floors.
“We’re doing well with basketball,” Ambuehl says. “In July, for example, we’ll have the AAU 13-and-Under Division I and II Boys’ Basketball National Championships, which will bring in from 120 to 190 teams. We’ve hosted this event since 2015 — it’s a big deal for Greensboro.”
One of the premier venues for basketball in Lincoln is the 16,000-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena, which is the home of the University of Nebraska men’s and women’s basketball teams. The facility, which opened in 2013, also has hosted, among other events, NBA pre-season games and the 2014 women’s NCAA regionals. It also is the site of the state high school basketball championships for boys and girls.
For events coming into the area, says Derek Bombeck, the sales development manager for the Lincoln CVB, “we’ll also use multiple facilities around the city.” Among the venues is the remodeled Bob Devaney Sports Center on the University of Nebraska campus, which can accommodate more than 7,000 spectators. The multi-purpose indoor facility at the Abbot Sports Complex offers four basketball courts, and other courts are available at the high schools in the area, along with Nebraska Wesleyan University. Among the large events that come to Lincoln will be the 36th Annual Midwest Invitational Basketball Tournament March 11-12, presented by the local YMCA and bringing in thousands of youth players.
New in the pipeline is the Speedway Village sports complex, an indoor/outdoor facility offering 65,000 square feet. “My goal is to have five or six basketball courts in Speedway Village, so we’ll have a larger facility that can host multiple games at one time,” Bombeck says. “The indoor complex opened a year and a half ago, so it’s just coming online and beginning to book events.”
Raleigh, North Carolina
Scott Dupree, the executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, is convinced that “no state loves its basketball more than North Carolina. Youth sports in general are big business here, but in particular basketball is huge. We’re fortunate to have unique venues that host very prestigious annual basketball events.”
For instance, the downtown Raleigh Convention Center, with its 150,000 square feet of space, each April hosts the Deep South Classic, for high-school girls ages 14-18. “Each year, we partner with the organizer, who sets up 20 courts for the event,” Dupree says. “This past year, we had 488 teams from all over the U.S. There were 500 college coaches there to recruit. We’ve had the tournament here for 10 years, then four years ago we put it all under one roof at the Convention Center. It’s an incredible event to see, and it’s a first-class event, with a huge economic impact for us.”
Raleigh’s Broughton High School is also a hotbed for basketball activity. The home of the late “Pistol Pete” Maravich of NBA fame, the school, and its Holliday Gym, now claim John Wall of the Washington Wizards as an alum. Every year between Christmas and New Year’s, the John Wall Family Foundation Holiday Invitational brings top high school teams together from around the country to play in front of 2,200 fans at Holliday Gym. “It’s absolutely packed for four days,” Dupree says. “These are top teams with top recruits, and fans want to see these future stars.”
Raleigh also is home to the 20,000-seat PNC Arena, a regular site for NCAA March Madness, hosted by NC State. In addition, the historic Reynolds Coliseum, on the campus of NC State, reopened in August after a renovation. Home to NC State women’s team, Reynolds can seat 5,500 spectators and plays host to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association State Basketball Championships.
Robertson County/Springfield, Tennessee
Robertson County sits just north of Nashville and offers five high schools with large facilities for basketball, along with a civic center (called “The Center”) in the city of Springfield that can be set up with two gym floors for basketball courts.
“We’re a large county in area, encompassing 11 municipalities and 21 schools, but with only 70,000 residents,” says Jordan Osborne, the vice president of operations for the Robertson County Chamber of Commerce. “We have lots of options for basketball in the county, and a lot of local support for the sport.” One of the bigger events is the Southeast Middle School Basketball Tournament hosted by the Springfield Middle School athletic association.
For families, the area offers a lot of agri-tourism options, including hiking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing and more. Plus, it’s just a 45-minute drive from Nashville. “Visitors can experience rural America, and have very quick access to a large metropolitan area,” Osborne says.
South Sioux City, Nebraska
“Siouxland,” says Jim Steele, the president of the South Sioux City Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB, consists of South Sioux City, Nebraska, Sioux City, Iowa, and North Sioux City, South Dakota, a metro area with about 100,000 residents that “you can drive through in about 10 minutes.” For basketball events, though, that means there are plenty of facilities to choose from, all close to each other.
“We partner up with the school district and use many of their facilities for basketball, along with the Norm Waitt Sr. YMCA,” Steele says. Among the facilities available are the five courts at South Sioux City High School. Across the river, in Sioux City, is the 10,000-seat Tyson Event Center/Gateway Arena.
In March, the Siouxland area will host, for the 20th year, the NAIA Division II Women’s National Basketball tournament. Throughout the summer, the area partners with Kansas-based Mid America Youth Basketball to host tourneys that take place in both South Sioux City and Sioux City for boys and girls.
Springfield has reason to celebrate when it comes to basketball. The city recently won the rights to the state basketball championships for 2018 through 2022, which had been in Columbia, Missouri, for 40 of the last 43 years.
“Southwest Missouri is kind of known for its basketball,” says Lance Kettering, the executive director of the Springfield Sports Commission. In March, the city will host for the ninth straight year the National Christian HomeSchool Basketball Championships, bringing in more than 330 teams from around the country in elementary, junior high school, high school junior varsity and high school varsity age groups.
The tournament is the largest homeschool sporting event in the world. “We’ll use 30 courts, at 18 different facilities,” Kettering notes. Among venues available for basketball events are the Fieldhouse Sportscenter, which offers four basketball courts, and The Courts E-Zone, which has three courts.
The 11,000-seat JQH Arena (which is adjacent to the 8,800-seat Hammond Student Center) on the campus of Missouri State University is home to the nation’s highest attended high school basketball tourney, the four-day Bass Pro High School Tournament, which last year brought out 26,000 fans.
Yakima Valley, Washington
The Yakima Valley SunDome has hosted the high school state basketball championships every March since 1999, says Rich Austin, the director of sports development for the Yakima Valley Sports Commission, which is one of three large hoops events that take place in the venue every year. The facility is large enough to place two courts in one building, with seating for about 6,200 fans. “Since 1999, we’ve had 32 teams at the event,” Austin says. “In 2017, we’ll have 48 teams coming, over four days.”
For basketball events, the area also has the gym at Yakima Valley College, which can accommodate two courts, along with several high schools, some with two gyms, and some recently renovated. Austin says the area hosts two large tournaments in May, both with more than 200 teams each.
Ground was broken in September for the Sozo Sports Complex, an indoor/outdoor venue that is a partnership between the city of Yakima and Sozo Sports. The 58-acre complex will include a 75,000-square-foot indoor facility with basketball courts. “Once those are done, it will give us an opportunity to have several courts at one location,” Austin says.