The week between Christmas and New Year's Eve holds a special place on the Myrtle Beach calendar. That's when the Beach Ball Classic tips off and brings some of the top high school basketball teams and talent to the nationwide tournament.
Held at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center's Lambo Arena, this six-day holiday hoops showcase features another top-notch field in 2014, including three teams ranked in USA Today's Super 25 preseason poll, along with several blue-chip college prospects.
Slam dunk at the Beach Ball Classic — Photo courtesy of Beach Ball Classic
This year's 16-team field boasts No. 4 Bishop Gorman (Nev.), led by Duke commitment Chase Jeter and seven-foot center Stephen Zimmerman, who is one of the most highly recruited players in the country. The Gaels won the 2008 Beach Ball Classic title.
Other teams include East Carteret (N.C.); Franklin (Ohio); Hough (N.C.); Knott (Ky.); Mullins (S.C.); Myrtle Beach (S.C.); North Little Rock (Ark.); Northland (Ohio); Sagemont (Fla.); Scott County (Ky.); Shadow Mountain (Ariz.); Socastee (S.C.); Spring Valley (S.C.); St. Edward (Ohio); and St. Francis (Ga.).
This high school hoops showcase was one of the pioneers of what has become a nationwide trend of holiday tournaments. The Beach Ball Classic put Myrtle Beach on the sports map by attracting such future college and NBA stars as Kobe Bryant, Mario Chalmers (pictured), Kevin Garnett, Danny Green, Jason Kidd, Jermaine O'Neal and many more.
The 16-team tournament tips off Saturday, Dec. 26, with a full slate of games. Then the following day, because some states prevent their schools from playing on Sundays, is the most popular exhibition, with the slam-dunk and three-point shooting contests.
Games continue through New Year's Eve, when the championship games are held to sellout crowds.
After 34 years, the Beach Ball Classic has become much more than a sporting event. Deep community involvement and the absence of other activities in the area over the holidays have transformed this hoops tournament into one of the biggest social events of the year.
Food and souvenir booths are manned by local business owners who support the event, and the between-game and halftime entertainment feature some of the most popular attractions in town, giving patrons a sneak preview of shows and theaters on the Grand Strand.
The Beach Ball Classic has added a sister event. The CresCom Bank Holiday Invitational – scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 17, to Monday, Dec. 22 – features girls' high school teams in action, and the nationally ranked University of North Carolina women’s team will play at the MBCC on Dec. 19 and 21.