Some 90 minutes before the first game would tip soff Saturday, Eric Horstman stood on the edge of the court at Trent Arena and tried talking about the success of his four-day, 20-game Flyin’ to the Hoop tournament, which is recognized as the No. 2 prep basketball showcase in the nation.
But throughout his conversation he seemed a bit distracted and every so often glanced down at his pants.
Finally, he fessed up:
“As we’ve been talking, my phone’s been vibrating like crazy in my pocket, and I keep thinking, ‘Is that another team? Are we going to get socked again? Is there going to be more chaos to deal with?’”
The day had begun with an 8 a.m. call from Minster High School, which informed him its girls’ team would not be coming down to Kettering for their 11 a.m. Saturday opener against Carroll because of icy road conditions in Auglaize County. School officials had cancelled the trip.
“Getting the call that close to the game made it a little hard to work some magic,” Horstman said.
Because Flyin’ to the Hoop added girls’ teams to the tournament just three years ago, Horstman doesn’t have the same extensive list of coaches to call to find a last-minute back-up as he does with the boys’ teams.
He was able to do that Friday when two Columbus boys’ teams pulled out of the tournament because of this weekend’s approaching winter storm.
Sometimes he can bring in a team off the long waiting list of area schools who want to be a part of the tournament and other times he can get one of the national powers who come here to play another game.
And some schools plan ahead themselves.
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Taft, which plays Sunday’s opener, informed him it was coming up from Cincinnati on Saturday to make sure it would not miss its game. The team, with help from Horstman, stayed at the Dayton Marriott on Saturday night.
“I appreciate their foresight, so it’s the least I can do for them,” Hortsman said.
Similar to the old vaudeville motto, Horstman believes “the show must go on.”
That was never more evident than a decade ago when San Diego High School in California informed him that it had suspended its coach and two assistants and the team would not be flying in for a much anticipated match-up with Columbus Northland.
Horstman had sent money to the coach to buy the team’s tickets and that hadn’t happened either.
At midnight that night, Horstman was still working out details with a travel agent for new tickets which he put on his credit card. The San Diego team arrived 90 minutes before the tip.
One thing Horstman said he does not do – contrary to rumors this year – is pay appearance fees to teams.
That subject came up because Spire Academy – featuring LaMelo Ball and, likely, his vociferous father LaVar – plays Prolific Prep Monday afternoon at 1:15 p.m.
LaMelo – for reasons good and bad – is the best known high school player in the nation. He has over 4.1 million Instagram followers. He stars on the Facebook Watch reality show “Ball in the Family,” has already played professionally in Lithuania and for his 16th birthday last year, his dad gave him a Lamborghini Gallardo.
LaVar is the always-promoting, often-overbearing reason LaMelo and his two older brothers, LiAngelo and Lonzo, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, are known in every gym across the country. Just as their talent is undeniable, so is their dad’s overblown sense of self-worth.
That’s why their Big Baller Brand of basketball shoes cost $495. The New Yok Times reported in November that a business consultant of the family requested a $10,000 appearance fee for LaMelo and Spire to play in a prestigious hoop classic in Springfield, Mass.
Now comes a report in Forbes that LaVar was charging media outlets $3,500 to video LaMelo playing in a tournament in Kentucky this weekend
That all brought speculation that Horstman had to pay to get SPIRE in his tournament.
Saturday he said he’s had no dealings with the Ball family, that his contract is with Spire and was signed a month before LaMelo joined the team.
“We have never paid an appearance fee and they have not asked for a fee from us,” Horstman said.
“I think our ace in the hole has been twofold. We knew SPIRE was going to be loaded with talent because of the transfers they added from Michigan and we scheduled them a good while ago.
“And Spire is just up there outside Cleveland and we’re a national event. They’ve wanted a relationship for a long time and now we have one. So after this whole Ball thing is done, they’re still going to want visibility.”
That said, he appreciates the buzz the Balls have brought to the tournament. Monday’s games sold out faster than any this year.
“And, Dude, I’ll tell you this,” he said “If (LaVar) comes and I get a selfie with him, I’ve got the best-ever caption for my social media: ’I finally found someone with a bigger mouth than mine!’”
Showcase for players
With degrees in mechanical and environmental engineering, Horstman worked as a project manager with the U.S, Department of Energy’s Mound facility in Miamisburg and then as a Washington D.C. consultant before he formed a marketing company that got sports equipment to high schools in exchange for sponsorships.
Flyin’ to the Hoop grew out of that in 2003. The initial games were at Vandalia Butler’s Student Activities Center and then, as the tournament grew, it moved to Trent Arena.
Horstman’s formula includes bringing in several of the top prep teams in the nation – 59 Flying to the Hoop participants have gone to the NBA – and also featuring many teams from Ohio and the Miami Valley.
Local teams help sell tickets, but Horstman – once an athlete at Troy himself – also wants to provide a national showcase for local kids.
“Look at what the kid from Fairmont (Ryan Hall, 28 points) did last night taking down that Canadian team,” he said.
And that chance to shine is why the Minster girls were so disheartened their trip – and the game – was cancelled, said their coach Mike Wiss:
“As a coach, you have to go with the school’s decision, but I also see it from the girls’ point of view. They were looking forward to the challenge against a very good Carroll team.”
Just like the players, fans want to be part of the showcase, too.
Back in 2007 Trotwood-Madison played mighty Oak Hill Academy in the Saturday night finale at Vandalia Butler.
The place was sold out, but a guard couldn’t ignore the nonstop pounding on a back door.
When she opened it a frantic guy said he would do ANYTHING to get inside. He asked her what she wanted and she laughingly said she was hungry and then shut the door in his face.
A little while later the pounding began again. She opened up and there stood the guy with a complete rib dinner, extra biscuits and a Pepsi.
He got in.
‘Save me a smoothie’
Coaches also appreciate Flyin’ to the Hoop.
That’s why the coach of Prolific Prep in California – whose wife works at a winery — brought Horstman two bottles of expensive wine Saturday night as a way of saying thanks for the grand treatment the players get every year.
And it’s why Garfield Heights coach Sonny Johnson posted a hilarious video that showed him just waking up in his bed Saturday morning.
It was aimed at Horstman, who he said puts on “one of the best tournaments in the country.”
“I know some people have cancelled out, but we’re gonna be there,” Johnson promised. “We love you and appreciate everything you do for us.
“But another reason I’m comin’ down is because I can’t get enough of those chicken wings in the hospitality room that melt in your mouth and those ribs that fall off the bone.
“Most importantly though, oh my God, I can’t stop thinking about those smoothies you got there. Man, I drink about 10 of those a day. So save me one of those raspberry smoothies.
“Garfield Heights is on the way!
“Save me a smoothie, please!”
And Hortsman did just that.