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Here's what it takes to design a giant basketball tourney at Spiece

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Follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog www.tailingthekomets.com.

Hensley Tournament's field of 224 teams starts play on Friday

Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 3:49 am

Sure, the Bill Hensley Memorial Run-N-Slam All-Star Classic runs this weekend at Spiece Fieldhouse. It will bring in more than 2,200 top-quality players and countless college coaches hoping to find the next great star for their programs.

Yes, that's important, but really, who cares?

The cool thing is watching Tournament Director Chris Ponce stress out while putting the whole thing together. Imagine writing a 500-page novel, preparing a meal to serve 150 people or grading 1,000 essays. Just thinking about it feels hopeless, right?

That overwhelming feeling is something Ponce can understand as he designs the 552-game schedule that incorporates 31 courts around town -- if he lets it. You can't train for this, you just have to jump in and start doing it.

``We're in the business of running basketball tournaments, and it's not looking at the big picture,'' Ponce said. ``It's looking at every little detail to put it together.''

The tournament honors Hensley who helped found Spiece Fieldhouse and the Gym Rats program before he passed away in 2007. Now his son Todd runs the place with help from Ponce and a few dozen others. This weekend ``run'' will be the key word as they'll be trying to keep up with the kids, avoid potential trouble and direct things as smoothly as possible.

The key to that is the schedule which Ponce completed Monday and posted that night. It usually takes a day, day-and-a-half to coordinate everything.

``Before an event like this with 224 teams, I'll probably have 50-to-60 schedule requests ahead of time,'' he said. ``Hopefully, I'm able to meet all of those and prepare for any potential headaches, rather than waiting until after the schedule comes out to hear teams' requests.''

Even then, he doesn't plan on sleeping much once play starts at 7 p.m. Friday. The first games Saturday tip-off at 8 a.m. and continue until 11 p.m. Sunday starts at 8 a.m. and ends by 5 p.m. if everything goes as planned.

If they don't, and sometimes over 20 years that has happened, Ponce has to adjust in a hurry. He doesn't panic because he knows it can be fixed. This is the sixth time he's designed the schedule.

``It's gotten a lot less stressful, a lot easier because I do so many throughout the entire year,'' he said. ``This is a large one, but not the largest one. The Memorial Day weekend we'll have close to 300 teams. 31 or 32 courts.''

There are also strict deadlines for entering this tournament, while some tournaments accepts applications up to a week before starting.

By Monday, Ponce will have a sense of accomplishment if things went well. A thrilling, exhausting and fulfilling tournament will be completed, and then he'll start planning next year's event.

``In this tournament you're going to see the best competition from across the country,'' he said. ``You're going to see players that in a few years you're going to see in the NCAA Tournament or in the NBA. It's a unique event with the amount of talent that comes in this weekend.''