Beach Ball Classic planning committee members likely won’t need a billboard or a brightly-lit marquee to sell the public on this year’s edition of the prep hoops extravaganza.
The star power inside the Myrtle Beach Convention Center from Dec. 26-31 will take care of that.
Already receiving a commitment from Spartanburg Day School — home of the nation’s No. 2 prospect and viral sensation Zion Williamson — this year’s tournament looks to be one of the deepest in recent memory.
The finalized list of this year’s participants recently was released. In addition to the Griffins — two-time state champions at the SCISA Class AA level — seven other programs that earned top billing in their respective states are part of this year’s field.
“Williamson is the prize of the recruiting class for a reason. He competes with NBA all-stars for SportsCenter Top 10 honors and can do things with a basketball in his hand that 99 percent of people on this planet can’t,” said Ian Guerin, author of “The Beach Ball Classic: Premier High School Hoops on the Grand Strand. “In many ways, the Beach Ball is going to be a precursor of the McDonald’s All-America game for him, and I have a hard time believing we aren’t going to see some of his high-flying abilities come December.
“... As far as the overall strength, I would probably compare it to the 1994 tournament, the first in the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. … Like Vince Carter in 1994, there is a highlight-reel type player in Zion Williamson. There were also four nationally ranked teams that year, and the name recognition this time around is awfully similar.”
Heading up that list is Imhotep Charter out of Philadelphia, Pa., the winner of the 2016 Beach Ball Classic crown. After claiming last December’s tourney title, the Panthers went on to earn city and state championships in Pennsylvania, along with a top-five ranking in national polls.
The opportunity for teams to sharpen their sword against quality competition serves as a lure to the event, said Myrtle Beach mayor and Beach Ball Classic executive director John Rhodes, citing the fact teams that have participated in the tournament have gone on to success in their respective states.
“If they have a host of good juniors with a solid track record, we look forward to them as seniors playing real well and coming here looking to impress,” the Myrtle Beach mayor said in March. “What we hope for us that teams that come here, that when they do happen to lose, can learn from that experience and take it with them back to their respective states, and hopefully win state championships.
“It’s not a disappointment necessarily to come here and lose a game or two, but more so an encouragement that they competed and can take that confidence earned into playing for and maybe winning a state championship.”
Other champions set to show off their wares include Albany Academy (N.Y.), regular tournament participant Bishop Gorman (Nev.), Cox Mill (N.C.), Lanett (Ala.) and Long Island Lutheran (N.Y.).
A trio of teams that finished just short of a state title in their respective states will also head for the sun and sand this December. Lone Peak (Utah), Moeller (Ohio) and Clark (Nev.) — which fell to Bishop Gorman in the teams’ Nevada state final this past winter — will look to pad their resume at this year’s event.
And that is before getting to a pair of perennial powerhouses, both of which have a track record of success at the Beach Ball Classic.
After taking a year hiatus, Montverde Academy (Fla.) returns to the fray. In their last appearance, the Eagles cruised to the 2015 tournament title.
DeMatha Catholic (Md.) also is back on the docket, set to make its 11th appearance — second only to Archbishop Molloy’s 12 showings at the Beach Ball Classic. Of those opportunities, the Stags have left with the championship on four occasions, their last coming in 2005.
Joining them will be another event regular, Scott County (Ky.), along with mainstays Myrtle Beach and Socastee.
Rounding the field out is tournament newbie Fairland (Ohio) — which went 25-2 a season ago and features three players scoring in double figures.