Pictured Above: Alabama Men’s Basketball Coach Avery Johnson
As his Alabama basketball players paired up with students from the Boys & Girls Club of North Alabama to begin a tour of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, coach Avery Johnson had a simple order: “Wait for me,” he pleaded.
“I’m like a big, 51-year-old kid right now,” Johnson said, marveling at all the Space & Rocket Center has to offer.
Johnson and his team were participating in Liftoff Day, the first of three days of events climaxing in Wednesday’s #RocketCityClassic basketball game between Alabama and Arkansas State at the Von Braun Center. Tip-off is at 8 p.m. and some tickets remain through Ticketmaster and at the VBC box office. The Huntsville-Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau is the presenting sponsor.
The game will be televised by the SEC Network, providing a “unique opportunity to showcase this world-renowned city to a national audience,” said Mark Whitworth, COO of Knight-Eady Sports Group, the event’s promoter.
Liftoff Day, presented by Dynetics, enabled the Alabama players to bond with the Boys & Girls Clubs students, who competed in an essay contest to earn this special tour of the Space & Rocket Center. (Read the winning essays below.)
“You are role models to them,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle told the Tide players.
This is not a typical game experience for college basketball, but with school dismissed for the semester, Johnson took the opportunity to bring his team to Huntsville early for a broader experience.
“We are the Rocket City. Many times we have countdowns. We go 5-4-3-2-1, and every time we start those countdowns, we make sure that we’re buckled up. We’re ready to go and we’re ready to say Roll Tide.”
“You can see what put us on the pages of the history books,” Battle told the team.
“We not only wanted to play a game (in Huntsville) … we wanted to do something where we could educate our players, partner with the Boys & Girls Club and impact some kids that look up to our players and give back to the community. If we can have a comprehensive effort in all those areas, we think it will be a successful trip.”
His players, Johnson said, “do a great job in the community and they’re improving on the court. They really represent The University in a first-class manner. It’s a thrill for us to be here.”
There are hopes the Rocket City Classic will become an annual event, a neutral-site game for either Alabama or Auburn. Johnson recognizes the importance of the visit here, both for recruiting and “because we want to expose our team to areas around the state.”
Knight-Eady’s Whitworth had special praise for the work of the Huntsville Sports Commission and singled out Huntsville City Councilman Mark Russell, a long-time leader on the Sports Commission, for being “very instrumental, helpful and encouraging” to make this event happen.
Battle invoked one of Johnson’s catchphrases – “buckle up” – in speaking to the audience at the Space & Rocket Center’s Davidson Center.
“We are the Rocket City. Many times we have countdowns,” Battle said. “We go 5-4-3-2-1, and every time we start those countdowns, we make sure that we’re buckled up. We’re ready to go and we’re ready to say ‘Roll Tide.’”
The winning essays from the Boys & Girls Club of North Alabama:
Read more about the Rocket City Classic:
Behind the Scenes: Putting on the Rocket City Classic