• What: Inaugural Blue Sunday: The Chattanooga Rail Runners will host its first game. First 300 attendants get free T-shirts.
• When: 3 p.m. March 2
• Where: Rossville Athletic Center on McFarland Avenue
• Admission: $10 for adults. $5 for military and youth 18 and younger
• For more information, call Sports University at 423-402-0332.
Retired Harlem Globetrotter Paul "Showtime" Gaffney thinks he's taking a winning shot at helping local athletes reach their potential at his Sports University.
The sports center, on Dayton Boulevard, will offer athletes instruction on what is needed to play college- and professional-level sports. And he plans to host large basketball tournaments to give athletes the exposure they need for university scholarships.
"We are in the process of giving the best," Gaffney said. "We don't just throw the ball out there and say 'go.' We teach and tell them why they are going the way they are going."
The 46-year-old National Basketball Hall of Famer, who played with the Harlem Globetrotters from 1992 to 2008, plans to close on Sports University by the end of the month. He is buying the building from Chattanooga Sports Complex Inc.
Renovations will start in March and should be completed by the end of the year, Gaffney said.
When complete, the center will increase in size from the current 25,000 square feet to more than 60,000 square feet. The property, located at 6246 Dayton Blvd., is on 6 acres and will include parking. It will have five hardwood basketball courts with an arena, a concessions grill, a cafe, pro shop, fitness center and sports medicine center.
Gaffney is already renting out the indoor soccer field.
He expects his own minor league professional basketball team, the Chattanooga Rail Runners that he formed in January, to play its last two home games in the center in May.
The Rail Runners, affiliated with the Central Basketball Association, will host its first game against Kentucky's Bowling Green Hornets at the Rossville Athletic Center on March 2.
Gaffney hopes that Sports University will attract international basketball tournaments that will give local athletes top training and exposure to coaches from big-name universities.
Dr. Jacqueline Cothran and Kimberly Bowles said their experiences as parents of athletes demonstrate the need for a facility such as Sports University.
Both had sons who participated in Gaffney's amateur league basketball team, the Chattanooga Raging Storm.
Cothran spent $6,000 to take her son, Jorden Williams, to summer basketball camps so he could get experience playing against the best players and playing in front of top coaches. It would have been easier if some of the top basketball tournaments had been played in Chattanooga, she said.
"Chattanooga has the talent," she said. "But parents can't afford to support it."
Cothran's son landed a student-athlete academic scholarship to University of the South-Sewanee and Bowles' son, DJ Bowles, earned a basketball scholarship to Wichita State University after being ranked one of the top 100 players in the country.
Sports University will allow youth to play basketball tournaments in their hometown, Bowles said.
The Sports Center will be home for the Raging Storm, a team that Gaffney started in 2012. Tryouts for the team will be held this spring.
The former Globetrotter moved to Chattanooga nearly three years ago. He graduated from Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens, where he is in the Hall of Fame. After spending his college years in Athens, he said being in Chattanooga feels like home.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or call 423-757-6431.