Hematite Invitational basketball tournament still has 2 weekends remaining

Northern Michigan University's Brett Branstrom dribbles in a game against Ferris State in January 2017 at the Berry Events Center. (Journal file photo)

ISHPEMING — The third annual Hematite Invitational basketball tournament kicked off last weekend with 37 teams taking to the hardwood at Ishpeming High School.

If it doesn’t sound familiar to you, it’s because organizers changed the name of the tournament this year. In its first two years, it was deemed the “Last Chance” tournament, primarily because of the chance it gave area basketball players to showcase their talents one final time at the end of the season.

Along with the name change comes a bigger format as well.

“This is the biggest we’ve ever gone with this,” tournament organizer and Ishpeming girls basketball head coach Ryan Reichel said. “Before it was the ‘Last Chance’ tournament and we decided to rebrand it a little. This is our third springtime tournament at Ishpeming.”

Similar to the Negaunee Invitational Tournament, teams are divided into classes A through D while there’s also a women’s division and a 35 years-and-older division. The tournament runs for three weekends, with classes C and D starting things off last weekend.

Northern Michigan University's Brett Branstrom dribbles to the basket past the defense of Ferris State University on Thursday night, Jan. 26, 2017, at the Berry Events Center. (Journal photo by Jess Makela)

Classes A and B and the 35-plus divisions take place this weekend, while the women’s tournament, which also consists of Classes A and B, runs April 13-14.

The Finns claimed the Class D championship last weekend over Lasich Chiropractic and Massage. It’s The Finns’ second local tourney title in less than a month, as they also claimed the Class D crown in the reintroduced NIT in March.

In the Class C title game, Window Outfitters topped Eastwood Nursing Home.

Classes A and B will feature some top-tier talent this weekend, mainly consisting of former or current high school and college players.

“Class A will mostly be former college players,” Reichel said. “For example, we’ll have (NMU basketball alumni) Naba Echols, Isaiah Johnson and Brett Branstrom playing this weekend. We’ve also got some guys from Michigan Tech and Ferris State.

“Class B will mainly feature guys that might have played at Bay or Finlandia or players who had very good high school careers. That seems to be the most balanced division we have this year. You can’t pick a favorite. The competition in Class B will be extreme this year.”

Another highlight will be a pair of star-studded teams consisting of Upper Peninsula high school basketball players — one for the men’s side and one for the women’s.

“Those teams are pretty fun to watch,” Reichel said. “If you’re a fan of basketball, you’re going to want to watch those teams.”

Proceeds from this year’s tournament will go to the Ishpeming High School boys and girls basketball programs to help offset general costs that pop up throughout the season.

Fans are encouraged to come out and watch over the next two weekends. Admission is $3 while kids under 18 years old are free.

“We just love getting people down to our gym in Ishpeming,” Reichel said. “We want this to continue to grow and to be something that people look forward to every year.”

Class A and Class B games get underway tonight while the 35-and-over division kicks off Saturday. The women’s divisions will get underway on Saturday, April 13. Championship games for all divisions will take place on Sundays.

For more information, visit online at the Hematite Invitational Tournament page on Facebook.

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.