February 1, 2018. Louisville, KY. – The all-star game known for bringing recruits from the nation’s top college basketball programs to play in Louisville every spring will not be on the Kentucky Derby Festival’s schedule in 2018. Festival officials have decided to reevaluate the annual Basketball Classic after declining attendance and increasing financial loss.
“The Basketball Classic is a Derby Festival tradition and it’s hard to remember a time when it wasn’t part of our spring calendar,” said Mike Berry, Kentucky Derby Festival President & CEO. “This was not a decision we made lightly. It’s our mission to produce events for the entire community and in this case the community was speaking with their feet.”
First held in 1973, the Derby Festival Basketball Classic is the oldest high school all-star game in the country. In the event’s heyday, game attendance broke records with more than 18,000 fans packing Freedom Hall to see college basketball’s newest class of recruits. However in the last few years, the game has struggled to get more than 5,000 fans through the door.
Organizers plan to reevaluate the historic basketball event to see if adjustments can be made to enhance its viability and add it back into the schedule in the future. The game also took a hiatus from the Festival schedule in 1983, facing similar challenges.
Said Berry, “Every year we evaluate what we do and where we can improve. That process has helped us grow from a single parade to more than 70 events each spring. We want to produce a basketball event that the community is excited about, especially when we’re putting it on in a basketball town.”
Players such as Isiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins, Darrell Griffith, Derek Anderson, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, Donovan Mitchell, Zach Randolph, Kyle Lowry, Michael Beasley, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe, Russ Smith, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Victor Oladipo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Malik Williams, Darius Perry, Jordan Nwora, among many others are alumni of the Basketball Classic.
“Over the years, this game has showcased some of the nation’s finest high school talent,” said Keith Conrad, the event’s recruiting chair. “Many of those players went on to become stars at both the collegiate and professional levels, some becoming household names.”
The Festival’s basketball event was not unlike the NBA All-Star weekend, with spotlights and lively music. The night before the Derby Classic was the Night of the Future Stars event, which allowed fans to see the players up close as they participated in slam-dunk, two-on-two and three-point shooting competitions.
The Derby Festival is an independent community organization supported by 4,000 volunteers, 400 businesses and civic groups, Pegasus Pin sponsorships and event participation. It entertains more than 1.5 million people annually. This involvement has made the Festival the largest single attended event in Kentucky and one of the leading community celebrations in the world.