The revival of the King Cotton Holiday Classic basketball tournament did just what it was supposed to do, according to organizers: It drummed up interest in Pine Bluff and left those who attended walking away with smiles.
Except, maybe, for the losing teams. Still, all of the coaches interviewed by The Commercial spoke highly of the city and tournament, which was held Dec. 27-29 at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
Tournament director Sam Glover told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
“I tell you what, it’s been more than I could have ever imagined. … it’s so amazing. The anticipation and excitement that it generated has truly paid off. You’re always gonna think about the what ifs when you bring something this big back to this city.
“But the response has simply been tremendous. Everything has been so positive, and I’m so elated to know that it’s only going to get better.”
Around 2,000 people attended the opening game at the Pine Bluff Convention Center’s area, where all of the games were held. Double that number watched Pine Bluff High School later Thursday night. And by the finale between Jacksonville, Arkansas, and Long Beach Poly (California), 3,100 were inside the arena.
The exact economic impact the tournament had isn’t known, but several area hotels and restaurants said they saw an uptick in business during the three-day event. Ticket prices ranged from $6-$40, depending on seating location.
To prepare for the tournament, the Pine Bluff Convention Center received a $500,000 facelift, which included renovated restrooms, a new scoreboard, a new marquee sign and more.
The event was part of Go Forward Pine Bluff’s movement to improve the city through a public/private partnership. On the public side, a voter-approved sales tax provides funds that are combined with donations.
Figures on how much money was spent by GFPB to put on the tournament were not readily available before press time for this edition. The Commercial will publish a follow-up article once that information is provided.
Shelton Diggs, head coach for Long Beach Poly (California), which walked away with this year’s King Cotton crown, compared the event to two other top tournaments that his teams have attended.
“This is a very great tournament in a very great arena,” Diggs said.
“ … I am so grateful that they invited us to it. When you talk about going out of state for tournaments this is one of the best we have been to. It is only going to get bigger and better. We have been to the City of Palms tournament in Florida that is pretty good and we have been to the Chic Fil A tournament that is pretty good, and this one compares to them. It is well run, the community is behind it, and I know it is only going to get bigger and better.”
Park (Buffalo, New York) head coach Rich Jacobs gave a similar review.
“It has been a privilege to come to the King Cotton,” Jacobs said. “This has been a great tournament, and it was a privilege to come play here. Thanks for allowing us to come and play here. We are thankful for how great we have been treated. We are thoroughly impressed with the way we have been treated here.”
Gulliver Prep (Miami, FL) head coach Manny Bloom is another head coach who praised the tournament.
“This has been a great tournament. We have played a tough schedule, and this will help us with that,” Bloom said. “It is a nice arena and everything has been great for us.”
Sam Houston head coach Ralph Barreras said that he believes the King Cotton Holiday Tournament is better than other big name tournaments his team has played in.
“This is a first-class tournament. It has been great,” Barreras said. “We went to the Tournament of Champions in Chicago last year. It is a first-class tournament, and I think this one tops it. They have done everything right. The hospitality has been great. There has been great competition, and I can’t say enough good things about it. I am very impressed.”