Some of the NBA’s brightest stars pounded the court at previous Jayhawk Invitational tournaments including Brandon Rush of the Indiana Pacers and Cole Aldrich of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
For the last 12 years, high school hoopster phenoms have flooded Lawrence to play in front of college talent scouts and to catch glimpses of their competition. This year, however, the New Century Fieldhouse will play host to the grassroots tournament.
LJ Goolsby, one of the tournament organizers, said the event started as a way to raise funds for a Kansas City club basketball team, K.C. Pump and Run, now called the KC Run GMC.
The basketball club affords high school age Kansas City metro players the opportunity to travel around the country and play against really good competition.
“This tournament is a non-profit fundraiser for those teams,” Goolsby said. “That’s really how it kind of got its beginning. It’s just blossomed into a bigger event.”
Its first year, the tournament saw 10 to 12 teams from around the region pounding the court. Fast forward a dozen years, and now, Roger Morningstar, tournament organizer, said he anticipates up to 80 teams from as far away as California.
Organizers were sad to move the tournament from its original home in Lawrence, but are looking forward to hosting the event in the Kansas City suburbs. Morningstar said the event kind of outgrew Lawrence. Organizers needed more hotel rooms and more basketball courts than the community could provide. NCAA rules prevent the organization from using facilities at the University of Kansas.
But, Goolsby said, they’re excited about having several games at once in New Century Fieldhouse.
“Four courts in one spot at New Century. It should be a lot of fun,” Goolsby, who also coaches teams with KC Run GMC, said. “Teams will enjoy playing there.”
The facility and tournament will offer plenty for basketball fans as well. With nine different divisions and teams ranging in age from 9-years-old-and-under to 17-years-old-and-under, the tournament promises dozens of games and player skill levels.
Additionally, some of the best-known talent scouts in the country including Rivals, ESPN, Prep Stars and Mullen Sports, all eager to report on the top teams and prospects, attend the tournament.
There’s also always a chance that alumni of the tournament will be in attendance. It’s not unusual for former tournament players like Brady Morningstar and Travis Releford to watch a few games.
“We might have a few of our guys over there,” Roger Morningstar said. “They might be hanging out over the weekend watching some of the events.”
The tournament website features six tournament sites including Gardner Edgerton High School and Olathe South High School, but a majority of the games will be at New Century Fieldhouse.
The first games of the three-day event will tip-off at 6 p.m. on Friday, April 27. Games will continue from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, and then again on Sunday, April 29 from 8 a.m. to about 4 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased at the door. A one-day ticket is $8 and a tournament pass will be available for $18.