Each year, the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions brings some of the nation’s top high school prospects to Springfield.
But the National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championships has been delivering more top-notch prospects than you might expect to southwest Missouri each March.
The week-long event concludes with a series of final games today at Hammons Student Center on the campus of Missouri State University. The event has featured nearly 350 teams from 30 states and brought more than 10,000 visitors to the region, according to event organizers.
This year’s headliner is junior Justin Jackson of the Houston Homeschool Youth Christian Association, who is trying help his team repeat as national Gold Ball champions,
Jackson is rated the No. 14 prospect nationally in his class by Rivals.com, and committed earlier this month to North Carolina. The 6-foot-8 forward chose the Tar Heels over Ohio State, Virginia, Texas A&M, Arizona and Washington.
“It took a little pressure off my shoulders (making the decision),” Jackson said. “But it makes me want to push even harder so that I’m more ready when I go to North Carolina.”
Jackson said his strengths are scoring and getting his teammates the ball offensively. He said his defensive game is improving.
Jackson is joined in the tournament by Allonzo Trier, a sophomore standout for Tulsa Northeast Oklahoma Association of Homeschools, who has scored 1,000 points in each of his first two seasons. Trier is rated the No. 22 sophomore in the country by Rivals and has offers from Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Tulsa, and interest from many other top schools.
The players could play in the Gold Ball Showdown at 5:10 p.m. today at Hammons, the last of five national finals being played on the day. The teams played in the semifinals late Friday night at Central Bible College.
Last year, Moriah Jefferson led a Texas team to its fourth straight national championship. Jefferson is now at the University of Connecticut and is a rotation player for coach Geno Auriemma in her freshman year.
Jackson and Houston HYCA are trying to repeat last season’s Gold Ball Championship, and Jackson entered Friday night’s semifinal averaging nearly 35 points per game in his first four games for the week.
Jackson’s father, Lloyd, said the Houston group has enjoyed its time in Springfield, which is hosting the championships for the fifth straight season.
“It really has been a blessing to be in the environment,” Lloyd Jackson said. “And Justin’s opportunities have showed that no matter who you are and where you’re at, there’s a possibility of these things happening. It’s about working hard and staying the course, and that’s important no matter what you do.
“The years we’ve come here, it has been an awesome, awesome environment. It’s kind of one of those peaceful cities, it’s very friendly. We always really enjoy coming here.”