As a 17-year-old basketball fan who grew up in Atlanta, Chris Williams was in the building when Georgia Tech defeated Kentucky in the Delta Air Lines Classic on December 9, 2000 at Philips Arena. Paul Hewitt coached the Yellow Jackets to an 86-84 victory over the Tubby Smith Wildcats.
Williams did not know at the time that this would be one of the last varsity basketball events in his town for the next 20 years, aside from several regional and NCAA finals and tournaments. a unique appearance of the Champions Classic (2013).
“The city had no one to put [a regular college basketball event] together, or the relationships to set it up, ”Williams said in a phone interview.
Now Williams, 37, and his company, The VII Group, are bringing high-profile college basketball to Atlanta with the Holiday Hoopsgiving event spanning two weekends at State Farm Arena, home of the Hawks. On Sunday, Georgia Tech takes on Kentucky (5 p.m., ESPN). And on December 12, there will be a quadruple header: Mississippi State-Dayton, Clemson-Alabama, LSU-South Florida, and Auburn-Memphis.
Williams has already blocked St. Louis, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn, Georgia Tech and LSU for 2021, while Kentucky and Memphis could also return.
The event was initially sold out for the dates of November 27 and December 12, but due to COVID protocols fans will no longer be allowed to play games now. The November 27 game has been postponed to Sunday.
“I think it’s great, Chris is a great guy and trying to do good things in Atlanta,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said on a Zoom call on Friday.
“Us being in Atlanta, they call it Cat-lanta, I didn’t expect it to be no fans. But it is. And I love Atlanta, Atlanta is a big city. And we are delighted to be there.
Hosting big events like the one he witnessed at the age of 17 has long been Williams’ dream. For three years he coached the Adidas-sponsored Game Elite AAU program which has produced a number of Division 1 players in recent years including Ashton Hagans (Kentucky), Jaylin Williams (Auburn), Josh Nickelberry (Louisville), Kobe Brown (Missouri), CJ Walker (Oregon / UCF) and CJ Felder (Boston College).
On September 26, 2019, he quit his job at the NAPA Auto Parts headquarters in Atlanta and, along with his wife Tiffany, started The VII Group, a full-service sports marketing events business.
Since then, he’s started hosting high school and college events in and around Atlanta, and is one of the few African-American event planners in that space.
“I’m pretty sure there’s no one as young as me at this level with the scale and scope of teams we have right now, let alone [who] looks like me right now, ”he said.
The Holiday Hoopsgiving High School event took place November 27-28 at Shiloh High School in Shelbyville, GA and drew some of the area’s top players and teams.
He also brought in Anthony Edwards, the No.1 pick in the NBA Draft by Minnesota and an Atlanta native, Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a native of Thomaston, Ga., And Migos, the hip- hop based in Lawrenceville, Georgia. trio.
Through his recruiting relationships with coaches like Calipari and Penny Hardaway of Memphis, Williams also began working on his college event.
“I started this and the first teams I locked up were Kentucky and Memphis,” he said. “I have a great relationship with Cal and Penny and they were the first two people to give me their contracts.”
He added: “We like to think of it as the basketball version of the Chick-fil-A launch game. [in football] and obviously everyone sees Georgia as a football state, but if you look at it, the last three years we’ve had Top 10 players in the country.
Williams mentioned that Edwards, Hagans (Timberwolves), Wendell Carter (Bulls) and Collin Sexton (Cavaliers) are all products of Georgia.
“All of these guys were in the top 10 in the country so it makes sense to have a college basketball event in town and add it to my high school event where all these guys came and played too. “Williams said.
Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner, whose team meets Kentucky on Sunday, said he just started full contact training last Sunday due to COVID concerns and was 5-0 for most of summer and fall.
“We didn’t practice with contact for most of the summer, fall and preseason because we wanted to avoid a 14 day outage,” Pastner said over the phone.
Now he doesn’t have to travel far for his next game and says Williams has to thank him.
“Chris did a great job, we are delighted to play in his event,” said Pastner. “He not only did great things with this event, he also did amazing events in high school. It is a staple of basketball and its events [are] first class. We are looking forward to playing not only this year, but the following years.