Bobby Harrell set to be speaker

Bobby Harrell

Brad Nettles

Charleston Classic officials are excited about the future of the college basketball tournament that will bring eight teams together Thursday, Friday and Sunday at the College of Charleston's TD Arena.

For the first time in the event's four-year history, no state schools are involved, and the closest thing to a home team is Georgia Tech. Yet early ticket sales for this year's event are ahead of last year when a record 17,318 attended the tournament, won by Georgetown. Attendance in 2008, when the College of Charleston played in the tournament, was 12,620. The next season's attendance was 9,086.

"I think the tournament is starting to mature. This year we have two national sponsors, DirecTV and Foster Grant. The tournament is starting to resonate with teams," said Dan Shoemaker, vice president for collegiate development for ESPN Regional Television.

"We are now talking to a major, major ACC team about playing. And we're talking to a major, major SEC team about being in the tournament. It's a tournament coaches really like coming to. I had a conversation with a Big East coach recently who has been in all the big tournaments, but he said he really wants to come to Charleston. He said he's never been there and he hears it's a great city."

Chuck Beddingfield, managing director for the tournament, said this year will be an interesting test without a local team involved. Next year, the College of Charleston will be eligible to participate again.

"I've actually been getting calls from people looking for tickets, wanting to know if some are available," Beddingfield said.

--Four area high schools -- West Ashley, Military Magnet, Cross and Timberland -- will be sending pep bands to support the participating teams.

The tournament also has renewed its relationship with area school districts, offering half-price tickets with students admitted for $5 per two-game session and faculty-staff being admitted for $10 per session.

--St. John's High School has developed a program in which students will be adopting a team during the Charleston Classic. Teachers will conduct lessons that will focus on players and schools that the students will watch on Thursday afternoon -- Western Kentucky, Tulsa, LSU and Northwestern.