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Arruda: Back and ready for another monumental HHClassic experience

By Joe Arruda

I had the tremendous opportunity in 2020, as a sophomore, to cover the Hoophall Classic thanks to a huge effort from former Springfield Student Co-Editor in Chief Danny Priest and advisor Marty Dobrow, who established The Springfield Student’s relationship with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. When I was invited I knew the event featured loads of future NBA talent, was televised on ESPN’s networks and drew massive crowds, but my subtle knowledge of high school basketball left me naive as to what was to come. 

In addition to spending time with the high-flying IMG Academy team as they toured the Hall, and seeing Jaden Springer play virtual one-on-one with Mark Williams, I sat courtside photographing just about every one of the event’s 30 games and produced multiple stories for the Springfield Student-Hall of Fame partnership. I can vividly remember sitting inches away from what was perhaps the greatest high school team of all time in Montverde Academy, being engulfed by the largest crowd I’d ever seen as Bronny James and Sierra Canyon took over Blake Arena — twice — and watching LeBron read our paper from his courtside seat across the floor. 

The screenshot from ESPN’s broadcast that we have plastered on a wall in our newspaper office shows the NBA superstar grinning as he looks at a photo I captured of his son that covered the entire back page. Above Bronny’s head, in large capital letters, was an eye-grabbing headline that read: UNTIL NEXT YEAR.

Little did anyone know, we wouldn’t be back the next year. No one would. 

Our staff wasn’t blindsided by the news when Hoophall 2021 was cancelled. We had been sent home from campus due to a rise in COVID cases to end the fall semester, and were forced to start the spring in virtual classrooms. Nonetheless, like everyone else involved in this event, we were heartbroken. 

Entering this year, the delayed 20th anniversary of the event, I knew I’d be the only returner from that 2020 group. I had large shoes to fill leading the charge. Thanks to Danny’s leadership, we left Blake Arena on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2020 proud. Exhausted, but proud.

Leading up to this year’s event I fully immersed myself in the extraordinary content we produced two years ago, reminiscing with a tired brain jam-packed with nostalgia and excitement for what is to come. 

With help from the amazing professors in the Communications/Sports Journalism program at Springfield College, Director of Conferences and Special Events Kathy Smith and Greg Procino, Vice President of Events for the Hall of Fame, The Student is back and ready for another monumental experience.

Our coverage will continue Danny and Marty’s vision of getting to know players beyond their ability on the court. We will tell important stories in fun and creative ways, all while using the event as an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the industry.

It is a special moment walking into Blake Arena—a gym where I’ve covered dozens of games—and seeing it completely transformed. I remember being mesmerized by the decals plastered on the doors and  by the way every inch of the building is put to use. It is an environment that is made and designed for the fans, but also made for television.

I cannot go without special thank yous to our advisor, Aimee Crawford, Kathy Smith at Springfield College, Greg Procino at the Hall of Fame and of course, Danny Priest and Marty Dobrow. Without all of their help and guidance, we wouldn’t be able to continue the partnership that Marty and Danny originally envisioned. And, of course, to this year’s staff: Irene Rotondo, Garrett Cote, Cait Kemp, Nico Fiscella, Dan Curren, Chris Gionta, Collin Atwood and Carley Crain.

Long hours and sometimes immense amounts of stress, balanced with extreme excitement and gratitude, have led to this moment and I am grateful for the opportunity to see it come to fruition.

I won’t jinx anything with another “until next year” headline, but this fantastic event is here to stay, and I hope our involvement continues to complement it. 

Photo Courtesy The Springfield Student

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