Pine Bluff High School Zebras junior Courtney Crutchfield (left) and senior Jordan Harris talk Thursday to Little Rock television reporters to promote the upcoming King Cotton Holiday Classic in Pine Bluff. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Suzi Parker)
Two Jefferson County basketball teams are ready to host this year’s King Cotton Holiday Classic.
Pine Bluff and White Hall players and coaches traveled to North Little Rock Thursday to meet media at the Simmons Bank Arena about the upcoming basketball tournament at the Pine Bluff Convention Center on Dec. 27-29.
The King Cotton basketball tournament is a legendary Arkansas sports tournament with several high school players who have participated over the years later becoming NBA stars.
For Pine Bluff Zebras senior center Jordon Harris, the tournament is a great opportunity to showcase not only his high school but his city.
“There’s a legacy here,” said Harris, who plays Zebras football and basketball. “It gives us a slate to play teams from all over the country and play right before conference season really gets going.” The Zebras and the White Hall Bulldogs will join two other in-state teams — Mills University Studies and Jonesboro High School — for the tournament. The other 12 teams are from around the country and as far away as California.
Courtney Crutchfield, a junior Zebras guard who also played football this past season, said the tournament gives him more opportunities to adjust from football grass to basketball hardwood before conference season catches fire.
“You have to get your body back and prep for basketball,” Crutchfield said. “In football, you get banged up pretty hard every week and you have to adjust.” While the focus is obviously on winning the tournament, it’s also about highlighting Pine Bluff and bringing back the tournament to its glory days of the 1980s.
“We have a high-quality tournament to offer,” said Samuel Glover, director of Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Department. “Elite is in in our DNA. We get to show the state and the country what we are about and invigorate our own citizens. King Cotton is bigger than just basketball.” Bulldogs Coach Josh Hayes said he has a deep connection to the Pine Bluff Convention Center, having won a state basketball championship for Little Rock Parkview High School in the late 1990s on that arena’s court.
For the first time in the school’s history, the Bulldogs played in the King Cotton tournament last year. Hayes’ son, Jai’chaunn Hayes, who is averaging 40 points a game for the Bulldogs, will be playing again this year in the tournament.
“A tournament like this lifts up the entire area,” said Hayes, who is in his third year of coaching the Bulldogs. “When you have something like this, it helps with in-state recruiting and out-of-state, really, and you get your players experience, too. It lets us give our guys exposure to the nation.” While Crutchfield is about highlighting the tournament, the ultimate prize for Pine Bluff, he said, would be for the Zebras to win the King Cotton championship just blocks away from their high school.
“I wish all of the teams luck,” Crutchfield said. “But we are the hometown team, and we want everyone to come out and energize us. We plan to play hard, never give up. We don’t play to the competition. We play better than the competition is what we say. We want to win it.”