While the Choctaws are off and running toward another 30-win campaign for the seventh straight season, starting Thursday, Jan.10 the fast and furious ones will welcome some serious talent from across the nation for two days of hoops action sure to thrill basketball fans from all over the area.
The event is the 2nd Annual American Residential Services Penny Hardaway National Hoop Fest. Preparations for the event that benefits the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital are complete and all that remains is the Thursday, 4 p.m. tip-off for the opening game.
Event Director Travis Haddock, who was present at the press conference in November, is looking forward to bringing two days of top-talent basketball to DCHS. Haddock did his part to get the crowd in a frenzy during the announcement concerning the event in November, ripping off his shirt to reveal a Choctaw jersey as the crowd went crazy.
"That is a day I will never forget. The support of the people in Newbern is unbelievable and the fine people in the community are about to see some of the top teams in the entire country in their gym," said Haddock. "Bringing the Hoop Fest to Dyer County could turn out to be the best decision we've ever made."
The event will be broadcast around the world at iHigh.com and Haddock believes it will be an opportunity for Choctaw fans to show how well they support such a coveted event, currently listed as the No.2-ranked event in the entire country.
"It's imperative that Dyer County shows that they have the best fans in the world. The event will be broadcast live all over the world and we hope to have a packed house of fans just like it was for the press conference," added Haddock. "We're excited to bring the event to Newbern and fans will not be disappointed with the basketball action they are going to be able to witness on Thursday and Friday."
In most cases, when Dyer County takes the floor at home, the Choctaws are the favorites. Playing in the 2nd Annual Hoop Fest however, the speedy squad with the tenacious defense and explosive offense will be put to the test during both of their contests. On Thursday, DC will face Missouri's No.1-ranked Charleston (15-1) in the final game of the day, before facing Illinois' No.1-ranked Harrisburg (14-0) on Friday.
"It would be a difficult task to play those two even if the games were spaced out a little bit, but playing them back-to-back is going to be a tough go for the home squad," laughed DC head coach Derek McCord. "They're two totally different teams, but they're both better than anybody we've faced so far this season, so it's going to be a great test for us."
McCord is not used to having his squad face such talented teams back-to-back, but feels the event will do nothing but provide positive exposure for both the Choctaw and Lady Choctaw programs. The Lady Choctaws will also be a participant in the event, kicking off the Hoop Fest on Thursday by hosting Gibson County at 4 p.m.
"I think it will put us on the map, not just locally but nationally. There will be a multitude of D1, D2 and NAIA coaches here for the event and that creates nothing but positive exposure for our programs," added McCord.
While the DC squads have proven to have drawing power, a large number of visitors are expected to be on hand on Thursday when Memphis signee Nick King (6'8, 215) and defending 3A state champion Memphis East take the floor to face undefeated Sunrise Christian from Kansas at 7 p.m.
On Friday, though the Choctaws will face their second straight No.1-ranked team in the final game against Harrisburg at 8:30 p.m., all eyes will be on the 7 p.m. matchup involving the No.1-ranked team in the entire nation, Findlay Prep from Henderson, Nev.
With six players already signed to major NCAA Division I programs like Indiana, UCLA, UNLV, Washington, Auburn and Mississippi State, the Pilots are ranked No. 1 in USA Today's Super 25 and will face Ft. Walton Beach at 7 p.m.
Findlay Prep features a towering lineup of players, five of which are 6'9 or taller. The roster includes four nationally ranked players such as Allerik Freeman (6'3, guard, UCLA), Nigel Williams-Goss (6'3, guard, Washington), Stanford Robinson (6'3, guard, Indiana) and Christian Wood (6'10, forward, UNLV). In addition to those four, the Pilots also are bringing the talents of Benas Griciunas (6'10, center, Auburn) and Fallou Ndoye (6'10, forward, Mississippi State).
"We have the No.1 team in the country coming to Newbern to play basketball. I mean, it just doesn't get any bigger than that," said McCord. "This is great for us at Dyer County, but for fans all over West Tennessee as well. People all over the region can make the short drive to Newbern to see the best team in the country play. I think that is pretty special."
All total, there will be eight games played in two days at Dyer County High School before the event returns to White Station High School in Memphis on Saturday. The final day of the Hoop Fest will feature six games beginning at 1 p.m.
The cost for admission for the event is $12 for adults and $10 for students. On Thursday, fans will be able to re-enter at no cost since there are two games to be played in between the Lady Choctaw and Choctaw contests. On Friday however, for those choosing to leave and come back, there will be no re-entry without paying additional admission.