Talk about a memorable Christmas present.
Big Spring boys basketball players will get a rare opportunity this season when they get to play James Buchanan on Dec. 21 at Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, home of the 76ers, Bulldogs coach Jason Creek told The Sentinel on Tuesday afternoon.
It is part of Philly’s participation in the NBA Court of Dreams program, which allows high school teams to play on the same floor as NBA pros.
“It’s gonna be a great experience for the kids,” Creek said. “I’m always looking for those ways where we can do something different, something bigger.”
The sixth-year coach was inspired by York’s game against Steel-High last season in Philly, also part of Court of Dreams (the Rollers won 58-51). And with three seniors who have been a part of Creek’s five-year tenure in Newville — Peyton Bechtold, Nick Black and Ethan Lee — the coach felt there was no better time to treat his players to a once-in-a-lifetime experience.(York Dispatch’s column on the pros and flaws of last year’s game.)
“As soon as I saw that I just thought we’re gonna do whatever we can to get this done,” said Creek, who reached out to the Rockets’ coach and athletic director Larry Strawoet because of their relationship.
Strawoet said he talked to Steel-High AD Willie Slade when Creek first broached the idea to the Rockets and was told without a doubt to take the opportunity.
“We try to give our kids the experience outside of our basketball program,” said Strawoet, who believes he and Creek have similar philosophies with their teams. “As many of those kids [in our entire program] as we can take along to experience that, even if it’s just to shoot the ball, who cares. … I’m speechless, and that’s not normal for me.”
It’s also a good bit of publicity for James Buchanan after the school was granted a release by the Mid-Penn Conference for football this year because of dwindling participation and safety concerns.
“We’ve had nice backing at both home games [this year],” said Strawoet, who agreed this is good news for the school but did not want to take away from the football program’s progress in recent months. “We’re at a point right now where we’re [improving].”
Creek said it was about a six-month process involving contacting the 76ers, and it was finalized last week. And Dec. 21 worked because neither school has class the next day with the start of the Christmas holiday break. The game was originally scheduled for Dec. 18, a Monday, at Big Spring High School. The Bulldogs will be the home team.
“I certainly appreciate what Coach Creek has done,” Strawoet said.
“We just had to really work on it,” Creek said. “I contacted the Sixers. I think it all started about six months ago, maybe a little bit more.”
The varsity game, scheduled for 1 p.m. with warmups beginning at noon, comes before the Sixers host the Toronto Raptors at 7 p.m. The court is reserved until 3 p.m., when the Sixers will begin warmups, so the hope is there is no need for overtime.
While not a guarantee, Creek said he was told it’s possible players will meet 76ers like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons or others as the pros may well step on the court right after the varsity game to start warming up.
The coach hopes to have an itinerary set in the coming weeks and plans to talk with Strawoet next week about it. Both schools will have to leave Wells Fargo for a few hours before the start of the Sixers-Raptors game, but Creek already brought up the possibility of reserving space in Xfinity Live, the sports bar and entertainment center located in the middle of Lincoln Financial Field, Citizens Bank Park and Wells Fargo.
“We’re just gonna try to soak up the experience,” he said. “We’re gonna treat it like a bowl game.”
Tickets appear to be on sale now for $25 online at groupmatics.events/event/BigSpring. JB and Big Spring are required to sell a minimum 249 tickets combined, and JB has already had pledges for 18. Neither coach said there is a limit to the number of tickets available. The ticket package includes a seat in the lower bowl wherever one wants for the varsity game and a ticket to the Sixers game that night in sections 216 or 217 (tickets sold beyond the first 249 will likely be in another section).
Creek also said Bulldogs AD Joseph Sinkovich is working on getting bus transportation for fans and students to the game. Details are not yet finalized.
“He sees this opportunity and knows how special it would be for the boys,” Creek said.
Strawoet also said they are looking into ways to “defray” costs with fundraisers, but that process is still in its infancy. But first he needs to inform his team. He said some of the veteran players were sharing the information with others, but they thought it was a joke at first. Creek texted his players Tuesday afternoon with the good news.
He said a deposit has already been made for a “total of $800.” The sale of the 249 tickets will cover the rest of the cost charged by the 76ers. Part of the reason Creek and the Sixers chose the Raptors game was for cost. A game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, for example, would’ve cost significantly more, Creek said. (The Cavaliers do not play in Philly during the PIAA regular season, but the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder do, among others.)
Big Spring went 8-14 last season (2-10 Colonial), going 2-1 against James Buchanan (7-15, 3-9).