January 29, 2014 8:22:42 PM
Starkville High School boys basketball coach Greg Carter has never been one to make plans last minute.
Thus it seems to reason that plans are already underway for this year's installment of the Travis Outlaw Slam Dunk at the Hump basketball tournament.
The annual year-ending high school basketball tournament completed its third run in December at the Humphrey Coliseum on the Mississippi State University campus.
While the tournament continues to see growth, it is readily apparent the event is going to continue to need some heavy nurturing before it reaches its full potential.
The original purpose of the event was to bring out-of-state teams to the southeast to play in a big-time environment in a big-time event.
Starkville has been among the state's elite programs under Carter's watch so the event allows his team to play three contrasting styles against unfamiliar opponents in a large arena, similar to the Mississippi Coliseum, where the state championship tournaments are held each year.
In 2013, teams from Memphis, Tenn., Parkview, Ark., and Mt. Lebanon, Pa., helped complete the tournament field.
BIGGER AND BETTER
At this year's event, Carter and athletic director Dr. Stan Miller start researching possible invitees for the next event as early as January and February, about 10 months in advance of the tournament.
"We put a lot of time and energy into who we are bringing in," Carter said. "You would like teams with a lot of seniors, who are traditionally among the best in their respective states. Fortunately, we have now developed a waiting list. There are a handful of elite tournaments and we are trying to push ourselves in that direction."
This season, two days of girls' games took place in the three-day event. Tournament organizers were waiting to see if the event took full flight before taking that big -- and correct --move.
This season, the best-attended game of the tournament involved the New Hope and Starkville girls. The rivals met last season in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A playoffs.
Somewhere between 500 and 1,000 people were scattered throughout the arena for a well-contested game won by New Hope.
The remainder of the girls field included traditional power H.W. Byers and Aberdeen, which joined its boys team in this year's event.
New Hope coach Laura Lee Holman was pleased her squad won twice in the event. She also liked the concept of playing in the big area, as a possible forerunner of playing in the state championship.
"I thought this was a tremendous atmosphere for the girls," Holman said. "It is hard to get down the depth perception of playing in a big arena. For some, they will not have this chance again, so this was a great opportunity to come over here and play a couple of games. I think you learn a lot about yourselves when you play in these types of situations."
For the event to continue to grow, more rivalry games such as this one will be needed.
The only local boys matchup included Aberdeen vs. New Hope. Tournament officials must now strive to find the perfect balance between giving out-of-state teams an outstanding tournament experience and hosting intriguing area matchups which will put some fans in the stands.
On an annual basis, the Joe Horne Columbus Christmas Classic has the knack of bringing in local teams, highly-ranked teams from the state and a handful of out-of-state teams looking for a big-time atmosphere. The tournament has played each season to overflow crowds.
Granted, this tournament will host as many as 10 games on one particular day, with the ability to play on two different courts as well.
The Travis Outlaw event is working against certain limitations. The Columbus event usually involves either Murrah or Provine. However, such teams can't play the week after Christmas because they are already obligated to the Jackson Public Schools tournament.
Starkville is limited on the days it can hold the Travis Outlaw event, since the coliseum is only available when both the men's and women's teams at Mississippi State are not in action. Fortunately, the MSU teams now have a practice facility, so practice schedules for the university do not impact the high school event.
WHERE TO FROM HERE
With these limitations, the Travis Outlaw event has some obstacles to work around. That does not mean the event can not grow and turn into one of the southeast's premier hoops showcases.
The possibility of playing some games at Starkville High School should be examined. While the overall purpose of the event is to give kids the opportunity to play in the coliseum, most schools would be willing to travel to Starkville to play a guaranteed game or two in the coliseum, as well as a game in the high school gym.
The possibility of adding some area private schools to the equation should also be addressed. An afternoon game involving the Starkville Academy girls or Oak Hill Academy girls would provide a boost at the box office. Those teams could play out-of-state opponents or perhaps another academy of their stature.
The tournament appeared ready to grow this year with as many as five game being played on two of three days. However, that should be only the beginning. The arena is rented for the entire day, so go for it.
Already in place is a strong booster club helping run the event. Carter, Miller and the rest of that booster club have worked tirelessly to secure corporate sponsors. It is not cheap to have teams from the northeast to travel to Starkville for four or five days during the holidays. However, the tournament appears to have strong financial backing, including the support for current National Basketball Association player Travis Outlaw, for whom the event is named.
However, now is the time to go to the next level. It is time to aggressively market the event and put enough people in the stands to continue to make it bigger and better.
The good news is Carter and Miller have always thought out of the box. It is a safe bet their long-range plans are even more detailed and very good.
Scott Walters is a sports reporter for the Commercial Dispatch. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter