Once again the nation is looking to Chattanooga.
The subject this time is not pro cycling, or college football's second highest division, or NCAA or USGA golf. But for the sixth time it's AAU youth basketball.
The AAU seventh-grade girls' national tournament will run Friday through Tuesday in three divisions, with the opening ceremony Thursday evening at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's McKenzie Arena. It will start "around 6 p.m." according to a release Tuesday from the Chattanooga Sports Committee.
The tournament will include 107 teams -- 48 in Division I, 50 in Division II and nine in Division III -- with the host Tennessee Xtreme organization fielding one in each division. The participants truly span the nation, from as far away as Oregon.
"Division I are the more talented players who have had previous AAU national championship experiences," said Dr. Leroy Fanning, the tournament director and a UTC professor emeritus. "Division II [players] are talented but need experience of national competition, while Division III are young clubs who are testing the waters of national championships for the first time.
"The play in Division I will be similar to your better high school play."
Four UTC facilities will be used: McKenzie, Maclellan Gymnasium and two courts in the Aquatic Recreation Center. Games also will be held at Girls Preparatory School, East Hamilton, East Ridge High and 21st Century Recreation Center. Play will start at 9 a.m. Friday at all of them, and daily passes will cost $12 for adults and $8 for youth.
Tournament passes will be available Thursday only for $40, $25 for youth. The program costs $8 but just $5 if bought with a tournament pass.
"We are extremely excited to be hosting one of the AAU's largest championships for the sixth time," Sports Committee president Tim Morgan said in the release that predicted more than 5,000 visitors to the area and an economic impact of $1,875,000. "The attendees always generate such a great buzz around the city, and it's a lot of fun to have them here."
"Hosting the AAU national championships in the past led to Chattanooga demonstrating its ability to host large athletic events," Fanning said, noting that the city's handling of 16-, 17- and 18-year-old AAU nationals helped secure the Southeastern Conference women's tournament for seven years.
"The seventh-grade [tournament] is a non-certifiable event according to the NCAA, so college coaches generally will not attend," Fanning added. "I suspect we will, however, see some assistant coaches and graduate intern coaches scouting."
Juan Hansford, the Tennessee Xtreme co-founder and director who is coaching the local club's Division I and III teams this week, said he was sure that would be the case.
"Oh, yeah, there will be some colleges represented," Hansford said.
He has coached older girls in the past, but with the seventh-grade nationals being set for Chattanooga he started putting together a Division I entry right after the Hamilton County middle school season ended in December.
"And the Division II team Patrick Shepphard coaches basically has been together three years," Hansford said. "They could hold their own in Division I."
Hansford's Division III team has no such history. He put that group together in a matter of days; Tuesday was its second practice.
Another Xtreme team, the ninth-grade girls coached by Keisha Hunt, won its AAU state tournament and qualified for a national tournament, but it is being held in Boston and that team instead will play in a college exposure event at Franklin, Tenn. The Xtreme organization, which is in its 13th year, has 10 teams this year, including fifth- and sixth-grade boys' squads. The sixth-grade boys are at the YBOA nationals this week in Orlando, Fla.
Seven of the Xtreme's nine 2014 high school graduates are headed to college basketball programs this fall, Hansford said. Dating back to 2006, the program has had more than 50 earn college scholarships.
Contact Ron Bush at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6291.