Ask John Rhodes and he’ll tell you the Beach Ball Classic is the best high school basketball tournament this nation has to offer.
Guess it is no secret a host of the coaches participating in this year’s event tend to agree.
“I can’t tell you how first class this event is,” said Clark (Nev.) basketball coach Chad Beeten. “I knew about (Beach Ball Classic) as a kid growing up in the Philadelphia area, and it is something you aspire to one day play in.
“We finally had a good enough team to get invited, so we’re happy to be here.”
Anticipation for this year’s tournament was at a fever pitch nearly a year ahead of its opening tip. Blessed to have the top two prospects in the Class of 2018 – Montverde Academy’s (Fla.) R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson of Spartanburg Day – and a host of other college-bound players, Rhodes said his phone has been ringing off the hook for the past few months.
“I received in upward of 50 calls per day weeks ahead of the tournament requesting tickets. Even with the tournament going on, I’ve had 15 to 20 per day,” he said.
A lack of star power and the untimely arrival of the flu bug has hindered attendance the past few years, causing some to wonder if this is a “make or break” year for the Beach Ball Classic.
Not so fast claims Rhodes, citing daily attendance numbers for this year’s event last seen when NBA journeyman and former Latta standout Raymond Felton made himself a star.
“The first day we brought in about 2,500 people, then the second day we had 3,700 come through,” he said. “We followed that with another solid showing on Thursday, where paid admission was around 2,500 as well.”
Rhodes expects similar attendance figures for the final two nights of competition, headlined by top-ranked Montverde Academy and two more squads ranked among USA Today’s top 50 in DeMatha (Md.) and Long Island Lutheran (N.Y.).
Currently, the Beach Ball Classic receives approximately $50,000 in accommodations tax funds. According to Rhodes, the large share of that was used to rent “end zone” seating behind the basket on each end of the floor.
“A lot of that was done to create an arena-like effect,” he said.
The Beach Ball Classic also recently split the $45,000 cost of a new basketball court with the City of Myrtle Beach. In addition, the event provides $1,000 worth in scholarships to each high school in Horry County.
Rhodes is quick to mention, however, none of this would take place without the help of those in the community who provide time and resources.
“This tournament belongs to the residents, business community, basketball fans and the City of Myrtle Beach,” he said. “That’s why this event is successful, and we’re doing all we can to continue ensuring that it is a great tournament – on and off the court.”
With the help of team ambassadors, players are given a personal tour of the town and all it has to offer. The ambassadors also serve another purpose, according to Rhodes.
“Their presence allows coaches to simply have to worry about basketball, that’s it,” he said. “We want to make sure they enjoy their stay to the fullest and not worry about getting from point A to point B or what jersey they have to wear for that particular day.
“It is these things that make us the best tournament in the country, in my opinion. No one else does that for teams coming in.”
Even with this year’s tournament going on, Rhodes already is working on plans for the 2018 edition of the Beach Ball Classic.
Scott County (Ky.) has already committed to return to Myrtle Beach for a third consecutive year, while Cox Mill (N.C.) will make the trip to the Grand Strand following Christmas as well.
Also tabbed for the 2018 Beach Ball Classic are tournament regulars Myrtle Beach and Socastee, as well as Christ the King (N.Y.) and Bishop O’Connell (Va.), and Dominican (Wisc.).
“It’s an honor to be one of those schools selected to take part in this prestigious event,” said Cox Mill (N.C.) coach Jody Barbee. “You really want to come test yourself against the best teams in the country, and this tournament tends to offer that year in and year out.”
Rhodes, the former Myrtle Beach mayor, hopes to land schools from Alabama, California, Georgia and Texas as well.
Though still somewhat in the planning stages, Rhodes said he hopes to give teams a minimum of four games to play during the week. Currently, teams are assured of at least three games, with a win offering them a fourth contest.
“We want teams to be able to leave here and win state championships,” he said. “Win or lose, our hope is that teams got better. If so, the Beach Ball Classic has done its job.”