Major changes are coming to the Hardee’s Classic.
The 24th annual basketball tournament at David Crockett High School has been expanded from eight to 10 teams with a total of 17 games and an extra day of play.
The tournament starts on Monday, Nov. 25 at 4 p.m. with three-time Hardee’s champion Unicoi County taking on Cherokee in a traditional quarterfinal. After another quarterfinal between Sullivan East and Unaka, Daniel Boone will face Happy Valley and University High will play host David Crockett in opening-round games.
“One of the oldest tournaments in the region, the Hardee’s Classic has sustainability.” David Crockett prinicipal Andy Hare said at a Tuesday morning press conference. “This is the true start of the basketball season.”
First-year head coach John Good has found out just how much the tournament means to the Crockett program and the Jonesborough community at large.
“I’ve been down here several times to scout games, but you don’t realize how important it is until you’re here,” Good said. “You see how involved the coaches are, how much they enjoy the competition and how much the players look forward to playing in a tournament at home with so much prestige.”
The expanded field allowed both Daniel Boone and Cherokee to return after a one-year hiatus. The Trailblazers have seen their share of success in the Hardee’s in recent years, including a title-game appearance in 2010, but are still looking for their first tournament championship.
“We took off a year and went to another tournament, but I didn’t feel it was as good as the Hardee’s,” Boone head coach Ryan Arnold said. “There are conference teams, a lot of local teams in this tournament. I’m glad to play in it and hope we have the opportunity to play four nights.”
The nightcap of the first night appears to be a dandy with Good’s Pioneers taking on University High, which made it to the final a year ago. It promises to be a stern test for Crockett as the Junior Bucs return all but two players from last year’s team.
“When you have all local teams, you try to spread it out where you don’t have teams from the same conferences playing each other in the first round,” Good said. “It sometimes makes it challenging. There are no cupcakes where we can walk into the finals. UH is a good team which is well-coached.”
For the Junior Bucs, last year’s run was a feather in the cap for the Class A program. They scored wins over Unicoi County and Crockett before losing to Greeneville 73-64 in the championship game.
“Obviously, we’re excited to be back at the Hardee’s Classic,” UH head coach Justin Penley said. “It’s a tournament we all look forward to, a good barometer of where we are and where we want to be. Even though we have some kids back, it’s not the same team we had last year. But, our kids have experience in this environment. They know what it’s like to play in the tournament, in front of some of the big crowds here.”
Greeneville looks to become the first team to win back-to-back Hardee’s titles since Unicoi County in 2007-08. Head coach Brad Woosley didn’t know what to expect last season, but was on cloud nine after the Greene Devils hoisted the championship trophy.
“The championship meant a lot to our program last year,” Woosley said. “We didn’t know what we were going to be like coming into the touranment, but we played well and ended up winning it. It jump-started us and gave us a lot of momentum for last year.”
Sullivan East is the only school besides David Crockett to participate in all of the previous tournaments. The Patriots, who own a record four Hardee’s titles, are back again under the leadership of longtime coach John Dyer.
East lost to Greeneville 53-52 in last year’s opening round, missing a potential game-winner at the buzzer.
“It’s a great tournament, a great way to start the season,” Dyer said. “It’s a balanced tournament where every team feels like if they play well, they have a chance to do well. I think the competition is really good this year with a lot of good teams.
“That was quite a game with Greeneville last year, a tough way to lose on a last-second shot, but we bounced back and won two good games after that. Over the years, it’s been a great tournament for us.”