Go Forward Pine Bluff announced the teams for the 2019 King Cotton Holiday Classic Thursday morning at Simmons Bank. The Classic will expand to 12 teams this year after hosting eight teams in 2018.


Go Forward Pine Bluff CEO Ryan Watley spoke about the decision to expand to 12 teams.


“We had about 14,000 people over the three day tournament, however, we feel like we could do a better job with filling in those spaces we had during the tournament,” said Watley. “We do not need an intermission, and fans are not going to leave then come back. So, we immediately said we can fill in those gaps with more local teams and exhibition games that will drive attendance.”


Go Forward Pine Bluff received a great reception from the teams that played in last year’s tournament, but Watley said it was still tough to get teams to come to Pine Bluff for this year’s tournament.


“It was still tough. It was not like we could call (last year’s teams) and get a recommendation letter,” Watley said. “The landscape has just changed with the rise of prep schools and the Arkansas Activities Association not allowing Pine Bluff High and other schools to play them. It is tough getting some of those higher ranked people. It was still very difficult to get some of these teams we got.”


Watley said there are a few teams coming in that that he is very proud about being able to pull to Pine Bluff.


“I would have to say Ft. Lauderdale (NSU University School), Memphis (Woddale), Centennial, and Orr Academy,” said Watley. “Those four are going to offer some very competitive competition against teams like Bryant, who come from the 7A. They are going to have great teams and represent some good, quality basketball. I am anxious to see some of those match ups.”


Pine Bluff head coach Billy Dixon said he is proud that the Zebras are able to play in the tournament again this year.


“This is huge,” said Dixon. “It is good for the community, it is good for the state, and certainly good for our program. Last year with us playing in this tournament it was the right preparation that we needed on a high level. We play in the toughest conference in the state, I think we are in the toughest class in the state, so when you face what we are going to face you can’t ask for anything better than this”


The Jacksonville Titans played for the King Cotton Holiday Classic Championship in 2018, but Pine Bluff was able to defeat the Titans in the first game of conference play. Dixon said the tournament helped his squad prepare for the conference season.


“We were fortunate to go down and get what everybody considered an upset, and we were able to knock Jacksonville off in that game,” Dixon said. “Our kids being able to compete nationally and watching Jacksonville compete nationally helped us to realize the improvements we needed to make, and what we needed to do. It gave us a whole new level of confidence going into conference play.”


2019 KING COTTON HOLIDAY CLASSIC TEAMS:


Centennial High School (National Division) – Corona, California


NSU University School (National Division) – Fort Lauderdale, Florida


Wooddale High School (National Division) – Memphis, Tennessee


Bryant High School (National Division) – Bryant, Arkansas


Raymond High School (National Division) – Raymond, Mississippi


Parkview Magnet High School (National Division) – Little Rock, Arkansas


Orr Academy High School (National Division) – Chicago, Illinois


Jacksonville High School (National Division) – Jacksonville, Arkansas


Pine Bluff High School (Regional Division) – Pine Bluff, Arkansas


Yazoo County High School (Regional Division) – Yazoo, Mississippi


Hightower High School (Regional Division) – Missouri City, Texas


Dollarway High School (Regional Division) – Pine Bluff, Arkansas


The 2019 King Cotton Holiday Classic will be held Dec. 27-30 at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.