For many college seniors, the last time they put on their college jersey was in their final game with their respective team. However, a select group of seniors from colleges across the Southeast will get to put on their jerseys once more when they participate in the Music City Classic event in Nashville this Saturday April 28th. The Music City Classic began as an all-star game in 2008 designed to showcase the top college talent in the state of Tennessee, but has grown to include schools from across the South. The event features a game, a three-point contest and a dunk contest, and will be held at Belmont University’s Curb Events Center.
You can purchase tickets here and $1 from every ticket sold will be donated to the Soles 4 Souls charity.
I caught up with the founder and organizer of the event, Penny Collins, this week to talk about Saturday’s festivities.
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Dime: How did you get involved with the Music City Classic?
Penny Collins: It started in 2008, myself and a lady by the name of CC Shell, started the Tournament and the goal was to get the top seniors from the state of Tennessee to play in the game. We held it at Tennessee State University the first year and we had some big names the first year like Andre Allen from Memphis and Alex Gordon from Vanderbilt as well as players from Belmont and Tennessee State in the game. We held the first year and wanted to see what kind of interest there was in the game, and the game generated a ton of interest so we have continued to do it every year after that.
Dime: This year you have players from outside of Tennessee and you’ve expanded the game, talk about that process.
PC: The first time we had somebody from out of Tennessee in the game was last year. We had Kenneth Faried, who is on the Denver Nuggets now, and his teammate at Morehead State, DeMonte Harper. DeMonte Harper is actually from Nashville and he went to the same high school that I did, so I had a connection with him, he’s like my little brother so DeMonte and Faried came to the game and that took the game to another level.
Both of those guys are pros, DeMonte is playing in the top league in Croatia right now and of course Faried is in the NBA. So that was the first time we had somebody from out of town and since then I think that the notoriety of the game has grown where we have guys like Kenny Gabriel from Auburn, Dee Bost from Mississippi State, and Gerald Robinson from Georgia playing in the game this year. Gerald is actually from Nashville and played at Tennessee State for his first two years in college.
Dime: How has the reception and buzz of the event evolved from when it began five years ago?
PC: We had the event the first year at Tennessee State and we had a great buzz about it that first year. We had maybe 1,000 people show up for the event, but the gym at TSU was 10,000 people so maybe we should have had it at a smaller gym because it would have looked better. The next year we had the game at Belmont which was great, we had a good turnout and a lot of excitement. The following year we had booking issues and held the game at Cumberland University, which is where I coach at, and last year we had it at Fisk University. This year we are bringing it back to Belmont, and the media coverage has always been pretty much the same. Our ultimate goal is to get the game on a local television station and I think that will happen as long as we keep getting talented players. Articles like this, in Dime Magazine and promotional ads out in the Nashville TV and radio market have helped us grow the game.
Dime: How do you go about choosing who you invite to the game?
PC: We send a letter to the player’s university at the end of the season because we don’t want to cause a distraction for the program or the players. So we send the letters out in March saying that a given player has been selected and see who responds because some guys have conflicts with NBA workouts or school so once we get the responses back then we dwindle down the list of who can come and try to get the most talent.
Dime: How do you go about choosing the roster for the game?
PC: At the beginning, it was always Middle Tennessee area schools like Belmont, Middle Tennessee State, Vanderbilt, Lipscomb and others versus schools outside the Middle Tennessee area. Now that the game has grown so much, we try to divide it up and make the game as even as possible. We try to keep teammates together and we do the game where the players wear their actual home or away jerseys from their school in the game, like the old NBA All-Star games.
Dime: Who is participating in this year’s game?
PC: As I mentioned above we have Dee Bost, Gerald Robinson, and Kenny Gabriel coming. We also have James Justice who won the college slam dunk contest this year and plays at Martin Methodist. People get it twisted cause they think he is only a really good dunker, but he is actually a great player. He was NAIA Player of the Year last year and Co-Player of the Year this year so he’s a really good player. We have Mick Hedgepath and Scott Saunders from Belmont. Those two guys had a great career at Belmont and to have the game at Belmont, having them play in it is a big deal. I’m going to tell you about another guy you’ve never heard of and his name is Anthony Sampson who played at Freed-Hardema, an NAIA school, and he led the country in assists. He will be a fun player to watch. We have a guy named Ricky Taylor from Tennessee-Chattanooga, the sixth-leading scorer in school history is also playing.
Dime: Have any scouts come to these games in the past?
Penny Collins: We have had some scouts come to the games, but more so a lot of agents come. That’s what I try to tell these guys, I tell them it’s a showcase and they should have fun but they should also take the game seriously. I had a player who played for me at Cumberland a few years ago and he had 25 points in the All-Star game and he used the game film to get a job in Germany.
For me though it’s a time for these guys to put on their jersey one last time. It is a chance to play in front of the fans who have been supporting you and play with guys who you have been battling against the last few years.
Dime: What do expect this year’s turnout to be?
PC: I think this will be the best turnout we’ve ever had. I can’t put a number on it, but I think this will be the best turnout because of the amount of talent we have and the publicity we’ve generated so I think it will be one of our biggest years.
Dime: Talk about your involvement with Soles 4 Souls.
PC: We wanted to find a charity that had some type of connection to being an athlete. So when we looked at coordinating with a charity, that’s why we chose this one. We encourage people to bring an old pair of tennis shoes or sneakers to the game and the shoes will be donated across the country and the organization delivers shoes all over the world to people who don’t have shoes. A dollar from each ticket sold will go to Soles 4 Souls, and this is our first year partnering with them but we hope it will be a long partnership. This year at Cumberland University, we gave away 25 pairs of shoes, because our players went through a lot of shoes throughout the year and the ones they no longer used we donated. I know a lot of athletes have shoes they don’t wear anymore and we encourage our players to bring shoes they aren’t using anymore as well.
Are you interested in checking this game out?
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