BRIDGEPORT >> Hamden boys basketball coach Jarrad Beck first heard about the possibility of being invited to the third annual Martin Luther King Classic over the summer.
The event returns today at Webster Bank Arena, with five games scheduled for the second straight season. Hamden plays in the nigthcap, against Bassick beginning at 7 p.m.
“When he (Bill Dixon, one of the event’s organizers) offered us the opportunity to play in something as enriching as this, we couldn’t pass it up knowing what this means,” Beck said at Wednesday’s media luncheon.
The day carries plenty of significance to a great many people, much more than just the five games being played at Webster Bank.
“The kids understanding that in order for them to be where they are now, there had to be people who made sacrifices earlier,” Beck said. “It also helps them reflect what their parents may have gone through, what their grandparents may have gone through and yet how far they need to go to bring their culture and their families with them.”
Said St. Joseph coach Paul Dudzinski: “Just to be part of it, for the guys getting to play on the arena floor in this venue and be part of a special day, it was a quick yes.”
Dudzinski is in his first year coaching at his alma mater after almost two decades coaching at Stratford. The Cadets, who gave up their home game, are facing fellow FCIAC opponent — and undefeated — Wilton in the opening game at 11 a.m.
“It’s good to be a part of a special day,” Dudzinski said. “We (at Stratford) have practiced on that day and talked about the significance of the holiday, but to be able to play an actual game on Martin Luther King Day at a special place like the arena, it’s all positive.”
East Haven gave up a home game and moved it back one day in order to play in the Classic for the first time. The Yellowjackets face second-ranked Notre Dame-West Haven, another first-time participant, at 1 p.m.
“For me it was a no-brainer. It gives our kids the experience to play in an arena in a tournament-like setting, so we are looking forward to it,” East Haven coach Ricky Narracci said.
Notre Dame is coming off another tournament, the HoopHall Classic, defeating Archbishop Molloy (N.Y.) 74-66 on Saturday afternoon in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“It’s a real honor to play in a tournament in honor of a person like Dr. Martin Luther King,” Notre Dame coach Jason Shea said. “We’ll talk about it more when we get on the bus (to come to the game). I think it’s an honor; that’s why we are dressed in shirt and ties today out of respect for the event and the person.”
The MLK Classic was created in part to pit the teams from Bridgeport and New Haven against one another. Career will face Bridgeport Central at 3 p.m., followed by Wilbur Cross vs. Harding at 5. All four teams are participating for the third time.
So is Bassick. Hillhouse instead opted to play in the HoopHall Classic Monday night against Springfield Central (Mass.).
“Basketball-wise, you can’t ask for anything better,” Beck said. “All eyes will be on you. We keep trying to instill (in the players) that if you do the right things, you will be able to be in this kind of atmosphere.”