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American hoops aces will serve up a special spectacle: Maguire



American dream: Towson College celebrate winning the Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic at the SSE Arena in December

American dream: Towson College celebrate winning the Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic at the SSE Arena in December

American dream: Towson College celebrate winning the Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic at the SSE Arena in December

Former Irish international Gareth Maguire says local sports fans should expect the Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic to be bigger and better than ever when it returns to the SSE Arena.

Last year the SSE Arena was rocking as the final of the event, featuring top American colleges, was beamed coast to coast on CBS in the States.

The ending could hardly have been scripted any better as Mike Morsell hit a baseline jumper with 1.5 seconds left to give Towson a 56-55 victory over Manhattan in the inaugural event.

CBS will once again roll into town and this time there will be eight, rather four, teams competing in two groups.

The exciting NCAA Division One line-up for the event, which runs from November 29 to December 1, is: University at Albany, University at Buffalo, Dartmouth College, LIU Brooklyn, Marist College, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of San Francisco and Stephen F. Austin State University.

Maguire, the CEO and co-founder of Sport Changes Life which is bringing the event to Belfast, was delighted that over the two days last year there were 9,300 people attending the event but now he expects that number to be dwarfed such is the interest he has already received from fans locally and further afield.

"It's just crazy to think that we are bringing such a prestigious event to Belfast. Last year was such a big hit for people here and back in the States and it just seems to be getting bigger and better in every way," said Maguire.

"The plans that we have for this are very exciting, so much so that we are planning to book out the SSE Arena until 2025. The response in America has been phenomenal, the broadcaster CBS was thrilled with the viewing figures - for the final they had the biggest figures they've ever had for such an event.

"For the whole country and for Belfast it is such an amazing opportunity for tourism and businesses to benefit from.

"I recently spent time visiting five of the universities who are coming this year and really if they all bring the people they are talking about it's not going to be easy to get a hotel room in Belfast that weekend.

"The standard of basketball last year was great and it's going to be even better this time and I'm expecting 15,000 to be in the arena over the three days. We're also looking to have talks with the very biggest basketball universities in the States because every top basketball college in America now knows about the Hall of Fame Belfast Classic.

"But this is more than just about basketball, this is about inspiring young people and that's what we do at the Sport Changes Life Foundation. Our Victory Scholars and our community engagement programmes are truly making an impact in thousands of young people's lives."

Head coach Kyle Smith of San Francisco University commented: "We're thrilled to be a part of this event. We've spoken to other people who have played in this tournament and they have all said that it's a spectacular event. We couldn't be more excited."

Star of the Sea coach Adrian Fulton, a former Belfast Star and Irish team-mate of Maguire, believes the event adds extra excitement to the local scene - particularly for the young players.

"It was great for the kids out of our club to go along last year and experience the Belfast Classic. To see that level of basketball and the atmosphere was great and we're looking forward to supporting it again this year," said Fulton.

"It just adds to the development of the sport at a grass roots level."

Meanwhile, Marc Mulholland, Executive Director of the BHOF Belfast Classic, commented: "We are so excited to welcome eight fantastic teams to the city of Belfast. We are extremely thankful to our returning partners the Rory Foundation, Aer Lingus, Belfast City Council, Basketball Ireland, Velocity World Wide, STATS Sports and Chaka Travel."

Belfast Telegraph