Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
Every year in November, as teams get ready for the season, there are always the big games that teams gear up for, events they can’t wait to play in. With everything that has happened in the last year with the COVID-19 pandemic, many have been longing for the day that they could one day play in front of crowds again.
This past weekend at the Thanskgiving Hoopfest in Texas, that became a reality. In its 13th year of existence, the event has grown to be one of the best national events in the country. Since the very beginning of the event in 2010, founder and CEO Glenn Smith has prided himself on making his event one that is a must-see.
Many NBA draft picks and college stars have played in this event and the event has grown into places such as the spacious Sandra Meadows Arena on the campus of Duncanville High School in Duncanville, Texas and the American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas, the home of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, where two years ago, more than 12,000 spectators packed the stands to witness the matchup between Duncanville and the sensational Sierra Canyon squad out of Chatsworth, California, square off.
Last year’s event came out to the same venue, but it was limited attendance due to the pandemic and also there were only two games played: Lancaster High School and John Paul II High School in the opening game and in the main event, Duncanville squared off against the now-defunct Ypsi Prep Academy and their star, Emoni Bates, who is now a freshman at the University of Memphis.
This year, the Hoopfest returned to a large field of teams. Along with Sierra Canyon, Duncanville and John Paul II, there were teams such as Arizona Compass Prep, Coronado (NV), Richardson, O.D. Wyatt, North Little Rock (AK), McKinney, Centennial (CA), Kimball and Wagner. There were also girls teams in the event such as Duncanville, Montverde Academy (FL) and DeSoto, the undisputed No. 1 team in the nation.
At the Hoopfest, you’re likely to see a vibe that rivals one at a historically black college, as it is festive, with music being played by DJ Magic and a professional announcer calling the games as players are scoring, substituting or if it’s a foul situation. It’s always a party.
The amount of big-time players in the event was astounding, as many of the best players in the state of Texas showed out over the weekend. From Duncanville, they had a group of Division I players in Ron Holland, Anthony Black, Cameron Barnes, Davion Sykes (Texas State) and C.J. Ford (Northern Arizona). At Richardson, there’s two commits in Rylan Griffen (Alabama) and Cason Wallace (Kentucky). With Kimball, there is Arterio Morris (Texas) and Chauncey Gibson (Clemson). McKinney has Ja’Kobe Walter. And Wagner has Austin Nunez (Arizona State).
With all of that assortment of talent, it is safe to say that Texas is a hotbed of talent at the present moment in time. And so much so, that a great portion of Saturday’s games were held at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, a venue that seats about 14,000 spectators and is usually the home of the American Athletic Conference tournament and will be the host of the first and second-round games for the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
And the best part were there was a vast group of media outlets in attendance at both venues, with large outlets such as SLAM, SportsCenter Next and The Circuit (also a partner in the event) and even small media outlets, many from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Three of the games were televised on ESPN +, in which Richardson beat Arizona Compass Prep, the No. 1 boys team in the nation, by the score of 61-38. Then DeSoto proved why they were the premier girls team in the nation by beating Montverde, 51-46, to stay undefeated at 7-0 on the season.
And lastly, the star-studded matchup with Sierra Canyon and Duncanville, the rematch from 2019, which once again sparked a large crowd of over 6,000 spectators, had a large impact as that was the game to watch. Although the Panthers started out on top for three-quarters of the game, the Trailblazers came back in the fourth quarter. But Duncanville held on until the end, and avenged their defeat, winning, 80-73.
As always, the Hoopfest is bound to attract stars. This weekend, they had former NBA player Jermaine O’Neal, who is also the founder of Drive Nation, a Nike-sponsored grassroots program based out of Irving, Texas. There was also sports influencer, Brittney Elena, who was out and about with SEQL Sports (another sponsor of the event), a promising new brand, handing out gear to the crowd.
Also, there were college coaches in attendance from many of the state schools such as Texas, Houston, Rice, Texas State, Abilene Christian, TCU, Paul Quinn College and Sam Houston State, and other schools such as Arkansas, Oregon and Oklahoma State were also in the building. Head coaches such as Houston’s Kelvin Sampson and TCU’s Jamie Dixon were also courtside to watch the talent.
Moving forward, the Hoopfest will always be an event to watch. But it’s not done yet, as they are expanding to other venues: On Dec. 3-4, the Red River Hoopfest will be taking place at Texas High School in Tekarkana, Texas and on Dec. 10-11, the Holiday Hoopfest will be taking place at Lehi High School in Salt Lake City, Utah.
No matter what, the Hoopfest will keep getting better and better.