(La Porte, IN) - Fast-paced basketball in an old-school environment like the film "Hoosiers" is what the city of LaPorte and ESPN are bringing to the area.
LaPorte's near century-old Civic Auditorium will host a three-day invitational featuring eight college-prep basketball teams, including powerhouse La Lumiere. More than 20 of the players from different teams are ranked within the nation's top 100 college basketball recruits.
Mayor Tom Dermody said the event represents the high expectations set when he took office in January 2020.
“We’re not talking about New York City. We’re not talking about Washington D.C. or Florida. We here today as LaPorte are on the national stage,” he said.
There will be four games each day through January 6-8, and ESPNU or ESPN+ will televise every contest. Those interested in attending can purchase tickets for $20 per day at civictix.eventbrite.com. Civic Auditorium Director Brett Binversie said 60 tickets were already sold just hours after Thursday's announcement.
J.J. Starling, a 6'4" senior guard for La Lumiere School in northern LaPorte County, said he's excited about playing in a vintage basketball setting and, hopefully, before a sellout crowd. Starling from Syracuse, New York, recently committed to playing next season at Notre Dame.
“We don’t have many opportunities like this to play in such a historic gym like this. It’ll be amazing to have LaPorte fans out to support us,” Starling said.
All of the top-ranked teams in the invitational are from the new U.S. Marines National Interscholastic Basketball Conference.
The rest of the teams competing are Bishop Walsh School in Cumberland, Maryland; IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida; Legacy Early College in Greenville, South Carolina; Montverde Academy in Montverde, Florida; Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia; Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas and Wasatch Academy in Mt. Pleasant, Utah.
La Lumiere Head Coach Pat Holmes said the invitational stems from a tour of the Civic Auditorium taken by him and his team several years ago. Holmes believed it would be interesting to play at the old gymnasium and approached the city of LaPorte about the possibility.
“To finally make it happen and come to fruition is exciting for us,” Holmes said.
Basketball teams at LaPorte High School called the Civic Auditorium home until 1977. Since then, action on the hardwood has been primarily from recreational leagues but, several years ago, the high school began hosting basketball games there again occasionally. When not in use, the court is covered by over 500 panels weighing about 75 pounds apiece.
LaPorte County Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Jack Arnett said the invitational was secured from being the highest bidder out of several other communities represented in the conference. He sees it as an investment producing returns, especially from the national TV exposure given to LaPorte.
“This is going to put us on the map if we weren’t already there,” he said.