By Cait Kemp
The Birthplace of Basketball is a monumental place for people who have made the sport a part of their lives. For locals of Massachusetts and surrounding states, it is an easy trip to get to the Hall of Fame for a day and take in the grand history, or make a drive through the Springfield College campus to see where it all began. It’s a typical attraction for New England residents.
At the 2022 Spalding Hoophall Classic presented by Eastbay, however, many of the most prestigious high school basketball teams have never stepped foot in Springfield until now.
“I’m just happy to be down here; this is my first time having a national schedule with Coach [DeCesare],” said De LaSalle High School (IL) player Marcelius Cohen. “This is my first time having a coach like this, so I’m just happy to have the opportunity to come here and play basketball.”
Traveling from all over the country, the Hoophall Classic is the shining moment for these kids to showcase their talents at the mecca of basketball. Teams from states such as Kansas, Utah, Florida and Missouri get the chance of a lifetime to participate in the weekend’s events, a chance many dream of.
“It’s pretty awesome because Dr. Naismith invented the game, obviously affected all of our lives, changed my life for the better,” said Sunrise Christian Academy (KS) coach Luke Barnwell.
“He has roots deep, deep in Kansas, so his name rings loud to me growing up in Kansas and just the opportunity to be where it began is really special.”
Most people who are asked about the meaning of traveling to the Birthplace to play basketball would all agree — it is an honor to attend.
“To be able to come up and play, it means a lot,” said Chaminade College Prep (MO) coach Frank Bennett. “You know you’re going to play a really good team, like Long Island Lutheran, and a game like this will make us better down the road for our state tournament run and in preparation for guys for the next level. So all the way around it’s a great experience.”
De LaSalle coach Gary DeCesare mimicked Bennett’s notion. Hoophall is the ultimate opportunity, and he and his team soak in the memories on and off the court.
“We’ve traveled — now this is our third tournament. We went to Vegas, Arkansas, and obviously Springfield, Mass. and, you know, this is the daddy of them all. I’ve been here a few times with three different teams now,” DeCesare said.
“Just to see it grow on the national stage and national level it is now, we’re just very appreciative and fortunate enough to be able to participate.”
The factors of travel can have potentially negative effects on these teams. Flights with different time zones, long bus rides, hotel stays and an unfamiliar court can be daunting to face.
However, the talent and maturity of the players seem to combat those factors. With ample experience playing in high-pressure situations and attending tournaments all over the country, it’s clockwork for these athletes.
“So far, knock on wood, we haven’t been delayed, canceled, late. We are hoping for one more when we get out of here tomorrow. These guys play so much basketball, so getting on a plane and going to travel is nothing new to these guys,” said DeCesare.
The Hoophall Classic will be a lasting memory for the players who have been able to compete, and has already been for others for two decades. Whether it’s a 20 mile or 2,000 mile trek to get to Springfield, people consistently attend year after year — all to watch and play at the Birthplace.
Photo: Joe Arruda/The Student