Heartland Hoops Classic Goes National

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The Heartland Hoops Classic returned to Grand Island again Saturday. It's become a high school basketball tradition in the years since it began in 2008.

"We've grown it every year, we've had better crowds each year. We've got some really good games, we've been really spoiled in our area with some basketball teams that people follow," said event organizer Tino Martinez.

For the first time this year, organizers brought a team from outside of Nebraska. Oak Hill Academy, from Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, is known for turning out stars such as Carmelo Anthony.

"We're excited to be here. We've never been to Nebraska before, haven't brought my team out to the Midwest since we went to Chicago a couple of years ago," said Oak Hill's coach Steve Smith.

Organizers said that the addition of Oak Hill to the lineup increased interest in the tournament, and with it, ticket sales.

"We're probably going to sell double the amount of tickets, which brings double the amount of people to Grand Island obviously, so economically I think it's going to impact the community with restaurants, probably some hotel stays, gas, food, and beverage. All those types of economic development," Martinez said.

But Martinez said the expansion doesn't mean the Classic itself is going to become a longer tournament.

"We might do a different type of event that include more days, but this particular event will always be a one-day event that features 7 or 8 basketball games," he said.

Instead, Martinez said he's going to take it year by year, letting the tournmanet grow on its own accord.

"I've always said, as long as schools, teams, and coaches continue to support it. When it wears out its welcome, we'll let it do so on its own, or lack of its own momentum I guess," explained Martinez.

That said, Martinez said he's already got another national opponent lined up for Omaha Central next year, with plans to draw even more crowds.

The title game between Omaha Central and Oak Hill starts at 9 p.m. at the Heartland Events Center.