The Jam On It Basketball Academy, which makes the Truckee Meadows its home, is hosting the eighth annual Memorial Day Weekend Basketball Tournament. The yearly spring event has 742 teams registered. Jam On It officials estimate the event brings more than 25,000 people to the Truckee Meadows, who infuse millions of dollars into the local economy.
“This is the world’s largest AAU sanctioned event,” Jam On It Director Matt Williams said. “This is pretty much the West Coast championships.”
Williams, a former University of Nevada basketball standout, started his Jam On It basketball club in the mid 1990s and his built it into one of the top clubs on the West Coast. As his program has grown, he’s taken on a larger role in Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). He is now an AAU Governor, who oversees all AAU sports, not just basketball, in northern California and Nevada. He is also the girls basketball AAU national championship chairperson.
It was nearly a decade ago when Williams began exploring the idea of a Memorial Day weekend tourney.
“Because I’m on the AAU board and the board made a decision to move one tournament to a destination-type location, I said, ‘let’s go to Reno,” Williams said. “At the time, there was another (Memorial Day weekend) tournament that our program could not get into. It was a crap shoot, but I said, ‘let’s do another event.’ I had thought about the concept for a while after watching the volleyball festival.”
Williams was referring to the former Volleyball Festival that brought in thousands of teen-age club volleyball players to the area for an annual late spring tournament. Williams’ vision must have been pretty realistic. He turned the vision into a huge success.
His holiday weekend tournament continues to grow each year. It has nearly doubled in size over the past three years. It started with just 200 teams in its initial year, 2004. Now, there are 200 teams from the Oregon-Washington region alone.
This year’s event has 8,000 players, both boys and girls. Teams will play in brackets for kids ages eight to 18. The Jam On It Academy has 24 teams alone.
Nearly all games in the tournament are being played at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. Due to its ever-growing popularity, Williams has had to add satellite sites around the area to accommodate needed gym space. He also has games being played at McQueen and Reed high schools.
“Putting the Memorial Day weekend tournament together is a year-round project,” Williams said. “We are talking to teams, negotiating contracts and building equipment. The month before the event is 18-hour days. It’s 12 people working, setting up schedules, brackets and making phone calls.”
In an effort to spread the economic wealth a bit, Williams, who is a Sparks resident, set up team registration at Scheels near the Sparks Marina.
“We wanted people to see Sparks, see the whole area. We worked out a deal with Scheels and put the sign ups over there,” he said. “It’s an impressive event. It’s been fun. We work on the little things every year to get it better. We get more wood floors. We get better rims. The event’s popularity spreads by word of mouth. We don’t have to do a lot.”
The tournament is indeed popular. The sheer numbers prove that.
“It’s fabulous. I love it,” said Mary Adcox of Boise, who was attending the event Saturday to watch her 14-year-old daughter play for the Boise Hoop Dreams club. “You don’t have to drive all over town. You can watch other players from your area because it’s all under one roof. And it’s great basketball.
“I’ve been to similar events, but they haven’t been this big. I feel like I’m an expert on club basketball and this is a great event.”
Adcox’s sentiments were not unique to out-of-towners. Sparks resident Frank Cervantes has a daughter that plays for one of the Jam On It teams and has played club basketball for years.
“It’s great to have this event here. It gets expensive to travel all the time,” he said. “I feel like this event is more competitive and it’s all in one place.”
Rick Murdock is in management at the Eldorado Hotel-Casino in Reno and has young daughters that were competing in the tournament this weekend.
“It’s fantastic to have this event in Reno,” Murdock said. “Club sports are like camping. They’re interactive and fun with family and friends.
“And it’s nice to have the good competition come here. I’ve always said, you have to go out of state to play. If you want to be good, you have to play the teams from southern California and northern California and Seattle.”