2023 King Cotton Teams Announcements

Overcast skies couldn’t dampen the mood Wednesday outside Simmons Bank in downtown Pine Bluff. High school basketball players, coaches and cheerleaders gathered with community members, all excited to learn the field for the 2023 King Cotton Holiday Classic.

Sixteen teams from eight states and the District of Columbia will participate in this year’s boys basketball tournament, the fifth edition since its revival in 2018. It will be played Dec. 27-29 at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

Pine Bluff High School returns as host alongside White Hall. Benton, Little Rock Christian Academy and Little Rock Central round out the group of five Arkansas schools in this year’s tournament.

The rest of the field includes three teams from Texas, two from Georgia, and one each from Pennsylvania, Alabama, Maryland, Florida, California and Washington, D.C. As before, the tournament will consist of two brackets. The brackets are named “King” and “Creed,” the latter in honor of White Hall shooting guard Jai’Chaunn Hayes (foreground) chats with teammates before the announcement of the King Cotton Holiday Classic teams Wednesday at the downtown Pine Bluff branch. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell) tournament founder Travis Creed, a Pine Bluff banking executive.

Pine Bluff will play in the King bracket alongside Little Rock Christian. Joining the two will be Duncanville (Texas), Archbishop Wood (Warminster, Pa.), Gonzaga College (Washington, D.C.), St.

Frances Academy (Baltimore), Westminster Academy (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), and St Joseph (Santa Maria, Calif.). Pine Bluff senior Austyn Dendy said he is glad to have a tournament of this stature in Pine Bluff.

“You could have it anywhere else, but you have it in Pine Bluff, Arkansas,” Dendy said. “It’s good for the community, because they get to come out and watch basketball. You hear all the negative stuff about Pine Bluff, but this is something positive to bring everybody out.” White Hall will play in the Creed Bracket alongside Benton and Central. The rest of the bracket will consist of Silsbee (Texas), Booker T. Washington (Houston), McDonough (Ga.), Sandy Creek (Tyrone, Ga.), and Pinson Valley (Ala.).

White Hall junior JaiChaunn Hayes said the Bulldogs are excited to play in the tournament again this year.

had anything like this growing up, so it’s great to just play the best players down here so we don’t have to travel that far, and just get the home feeling. Everybody can come watch you play.” The King Cotton tournament is famous for the numerous star athletes who have participated over the years, and this year is no exception with at least 30 blue-chip recruits scheduled to play. At least 35 players who played in King Cotton have gone on to play professionally, including three athletes drafted in this year’s NBA draft.

Tournament director Samuel Glover said bringing in so many highly touted recruits from across the nation does more than give fans in Pine Bluff great basketball. It also helps bring national attention to the Arkansas athletes who participate.

“If … they’re following all of these top-ranked kids, guess what? Their eyes are coming here,” Glover said. “And then they can see Austyn Dendy, Courtney Crutchfield, [Pine Bluff graduate] Jordon Harris, who may not have been heard of outside this region, and then next thing you know, they go back to California, and they say, ‘We just played some guys.’” The King Bracket includes two reigning Arkansas state champions. Pine Bluff won the Class 5A title last year, while Little Rock Christian won 4A.

The Zebras are led by Dendy and fellow senior Courtney Crutchfield, both of whom have committed to play SEC football. LRCA sophomore J.J. Andrews is ranked No. 1 in Arkansas for the Class of 2026 by 247 Sports. Senior Landren Blocker is committed to Louisiana Tech.

LRCA coach Kyle Pennington said the Warriors are excited to join the field this year.

“Anytime you can get a tournament of this size with this grade of talent very close to home, you’re going to jump all over the invitation,” Pennington said. “We’ve got a great team, and we know that all the teams are great, so definitely looking forward to it.” Archbishop Wood features Miami commit Jalil Bethea, ranked seventh nationally by 247Sports. St. Joseph brings junior Tounde Yessoufou, ranked eighth nationally by 247Sports. Westminster is led by sophomore Alex Constanza, ranked eighth nationally by ESPN.

Duncanville features juniors B.J. Davis-Ray and Kayden Edwards. Both are ranked among the top 10 players in Texas by 247Sports and hold numerous Power Five offers. Gonzaga features the No. 1 recruit in the D.C. metropolitan area, junior Nyk Lewis, as well as two others ranked in the top 100 nationally. St.

Frances sophomore Jasiah Cannady has multiple Power Five offers.

In the Creed Bracket, Hayes, son of White Hall coach Josh Hayes, is ranked fourth in Arkansas by On3. Benton junior Terrion Burgess is ranked 17th nationally by 247Sports, and Central senior Annor Boateng is ranked No. 1 in Arkansas by ESPN.

Silsbee senior Jared Harris is ranked seventh in Texas and has committed to the University of Memphis, while Booker T. Washington senior Chris McDermott is ranked 15th in Texas by 247. Sandy Creek senior Micah Smith is ranked 14th in Georgia, and McDonough junior Nigel Thomas is ranked 15th.

Pinson Valley is playing this season in honor of Caleb White in what would have been his senior year. White, the third-ranked player in Alabama, died in August after collapsing during a pickup game.

The King Cotton Holiday Classic was originally played from 1983-99. It was revived by Go Forward Pine Bluff in 2018. Simmons Bank continues to be a title sponsor, but the tournament announced Wednesday a new title sponsor, Central Moloney Inc.

CMI’s ,000 sponsorship is a major boost to the tournament’s funding after Go Forward Pine Bluff lost an election to renew its five-eighths-cent tax in May. Tickets will be available at kingcottonclassic.org beginning in November.