After his University of Alabama basketball team spent three days in Huntsville last December, “We feel like we’re family now,” said Tide coach Avery Johnson.
Consider this, then, another holiday family reunion.
Alabama will be returning to Huntsville for the second annual Rocket City Classic, set for Dec. 19 at the Von Braun Center’s Propst Arena.
The Classic has a new twist this year: It will be a doubleheader, featuring the University of Alabama in Huntsville Chargers in the opening game. UAH will play Gulf South Conference opponent Shorter at 5:15, followed by Alabama against Mercer at 8 p.m.
Tickets are on sale now at the VBC box office and through Ticketmaster.
The Rocket City Classic is being promoted by Birmingham’s Knight Eady sports marketing firm, with assistance from the Huntsville Sports Commission. Huntsville International Airport is the presenting sponsor, with Intrepid and Dynetics as contributing sponsors, the Hiley Automotive, Maynor & Mitchell Eye Center and Thompson Gray as supporting sponsors.
The Huntsville community means an awful lot to us. One of the strategic things we wanted to do was take the program around the state…We feel passionate about exposing our players to the fans.”
A packed house watched Alabama defeat Arkansas State by 15 points in the inaugural game last December.
“It really was a great success,” said Mark Whitworth, Chief Operating Officer at Knight Eady. “This community came out, sold the venue out, welcomed Coach Johnson’s team over a couple of days and we’re looking forward to building on that momentum. The opportunity to expand the format to include UAH … is just a great winning combination.”
Alabama’s team was involved in a number of events prior to last year’s Rocket City Classic and Johnson again plans to have his team arrive early for community outreach and educational opportunities. One will be “Liftoff Day,” in which Tide players will spend time at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.
It will be a literal family reunion for one Alabama player. John Petty, a two-time Mr. Basketball for the state of Alabama, is a freshman with the Tide. He led his team to three consecutive state championships, two at J.O. Johnson, then one at the new Mae Jemison High.
“The Huntsville community means an awful lot to us,” Johnson said. “One of the strategic things we wanted to do was take the program around the state … We feel passionate about exposing our players (to the fans).”
UAH has gone to the NCAA Division II Sweet 16 in five of the last seven years and Lennie Acuff has won 397 games in his 20 years at the school. He is one of the most well-respected coaches in the country and serves on the board of directors for the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
Because UAH plays at the Division II level, a UAH vs. Alabama game in the Classic would not benefit Alabama as it wouldn’t count in the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) numbers to build an NCAA tournament resume. However, they will meet in a Nov. 6 exhibition game in Tuscaloosa.
“It’s an honor for us (to be included in the doubleheader),” Acuff said. “I was there last year … and anybody walking into that building knows it was a great night for Huntsville just because it brought the community together. It really validated that we’re a basketball town.”