Brad Reinhart was around to help organize the first Midwest Players Classic in 2011, and he had a good feeling — even back then — that the event would turn into something special.
The Aquinas High School boys basketball coach smiles when he thinks about the talent that has swept through the La Crosse Center for one day each January the last seven years.
“It’s come to mean quite a bit to us and the community, I think,” said Reinhart, who gave credit to former Aquinas coach Rick Schneider for the concept. “We get to showcase the high level of talent we have in the Coulee Region on a regional level against the best competition we can find.
“I think that’s great for the basketball fans in this area.”
What started with Linn-Mar’s Marcus Paige (under a two-way contract with the Charlotte Hornets), Aquinas’ Bronson Koenig (signed with the G League’s Grand Rapids Drive) and Onalaska’s Matt Thomas (playing professionally in Spain) seven years ago continues Saturday with another swarm of top teams and players for seven games with start times that begin at 10 a.m. and end at 8:15 p.m.
Robbinsdale’s Rashad Vaughn (Milwaukee Bucks), Whitefish Bay Dominican’s Diamond Stone (G League’s Windy City Bulls), Rochester’s Michael Hurt (Minnesota), Rice Lake’s Henry Ellenson (Detroit Pistons), Sioux City’s Daniel Tillo (Kansas City Royals system), Maple Grove’s Brad Davison (Wisconsin), Kaukauna’s Jordan McCabe (a senior but headed to West Virginia) and Central’s Kobe King (Wisconsin) — among others — have continued to raise the profile of the showcase over the years.
The event drew well from the start and has risen gradually to the 4,000 mark last season.
“We get a couple hundred more each year we have it,” Reinhart said. “Little by little, it keeps going up. But the important thing is that it keeps going up.”
The work that goes into that is a year-round process for Reinhart, Mike Malone and Mike Klauke. Reinhart said Thursday that he is nearly finished putting together the games that make up next year’s schedule.
“We are always networking and keeping our eyes on young talent,” said Reinhart, whose Blugolds play Spring Grove in a game scheduled to tip off at 1:10 p.m. “Managing that, making sure we have a volunteer base in place, working with sponsors and trying to improve on the event each year takes a lot of time, and it’s something we work on all year.”
That work pays off with getting teams like Minnehaha Academy to the La Crosse Center.
The Redhawks, who won 10 of their first 12 games this season, have three high-profile players — sophomores Jalen Suggs and Terry Lockett and senior JaVonni Bickham — on their roster and will play Stoughton at 4:40 p.m.
Suggs is considered to be one of the best guards nationally in his class, and he and classmate Terry Lockett are being recruited in both basketball and football. Minnehaha has played in four MSHSL state tournaments since 2011 and won AA titles in both 2013 and 2017.
Stevens Point has won three straight WIAA Division 1 championships and is trying to become the first Division 1 — or Class A — team to win four in a row. The Panthers are 7-3 with one of their losses a 58-55 setback to Central.
Marquette recruit Joey Hauser was expected to the main cog in the quest for four straight titles, but ankle surgery — an aggravated football injury — took him off the floor after one game. That has paved the way for a starring role for senior Drew Blair, a Division II Northwest Missouri State recruit who is averaging more than 30 ppg and can light up opponents from the perimeter.
Aquinas senior Randy Jacobson, who is averaging 13.2 points per game for the Blugolds (7-4), said that’s a bonus to the fact that his team gets a good game to play in front a big crowd at the La Crosse Center.
“We like it because it’s a day we can spend a lot of time together as a team,” said the 6-foot-6 Jacobson, who had 20 points and 15 rebounds Thursday night in an 80-70 win over Holmen. “We can tire ourselves out by going as hard as we can in a big game, then help out with whatever is needed and watch some good basketball the rest of the time.”
The Blugolds play Spring Grove at 1:10 p.m.