By MARK F. GRAY, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]
Howard and Hampton may no longer be conference rivals but the “Battle of the Real HUs” will continue. The Bison and Pirates will renew acquaintances once again in the District just three days before Christmas as part of a college basketball doubleheader at the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Arena in Southeast.
These HBCU blue bloods will be the main event in the first Holiday Hoops Festival sponsored by Events DC. This event features two games featuring mid-major programs representing three conferences. While the contest between Hampton and Howard figures to resonate more with the local masses, the preliminary game features one of college basketball’s all-time best coaches leading his team a perennial contender from a mid-level conference.
When Richmond faces High Point University to tip off the afternoon’s pre-holiday festivities, legendary coach Tubby Smith will lead the Jaguars back to his home area. Smith, who led the Kentucky Wildcats to the 1998 NCAA national championship as head coach, is a native of Scotland, MD. in St. Mary’s County, and will be one of two teams representing the Big South – including Hampton – who are competing in the showcase.
Smith, who most recently coached at Memphis, is in his first season as head coach at High Point. He has already made a major commitment to the Jaguars program. Not only has he brought name recognition to its basketball brand, Smith has contributed to the University’s fund raising efforts to building a new arena on campus.
“A lot of the guys in our program are from the D.C. area, including myself, so it will be great to come home and play in front of our family and friends,” said Smith in a statement from Events DC.
The Spiders are familiar with playing in the DMV after competing in last year’s Atlantic 10 Tournament at the Capital One Arena. Richmond visits George Mason and George Washington during the conference regular season. While this contest won’t have the importance of a game with major postseason ramifications it does gives their program an opportunity to continue marketing itself to the nation’s deepest recruiting territory.
“We love having the opportunity to play in the nation’s capital over the Christmas holidays,” said Richmond head coach Chris Mooney. “We had a great turnout in Washington, DC for our conference tournament last year and we feel like it’s a short trip for our local supporters”.
Hampton continues integrating itself into the Big South after 22 years competing in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. While the Pirates lose HBCU rivalries – such as the matchups with Howard – the decision to leave the MEAC is fiscal over emotional. They no longer are required to travel as far south as Daytona Beach for conference games versus opponents like Bethune Cookman in non-revenue generating Olympic sports such as soccer or track that reduces strain on their athletic budget while keeping the visibility alive in the DMV.
“We are extremely happy to continue our games with Howard due to the always competitive nature of them and the rivalry between the schools,” said Hampton coach Ed Joyner, Jr. “Playing the game in the new Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington will be an exciting day for the Battle of the Real HU.”
Howard will be the first local college to christen the arena which gives the Bison a chance to play before a new local fan base that will visit Burr Gym for on campus games sometime during their MEAC schedule.
“It’s always exciting to face Hampton wherever you play,” said Howard Men’s Basketball Head Coach Kevin Nickelberry. “It brings a lot of energy into the building.”