For the next four days, Central Arkansas will serve as ground zero for a culmination of the competitive summer basketball season for over 400 teams who will battle at the Hoop Play Youth National Basketball Tournament.

Travel teams of varied skill levels will invade the Conway area in order to compete at one of the largest National Basketball Championship events in the country over the next four days.

In addition to Conway, the event will expand to also include neighboring cities such as Benton, Bryant, Greenbrier, Morrilton, Russellville and Vilonia.

Opening ceremonies for the 9-year-old event are scheduled for Thursday with a dunk contest and a 3-point shootout taking place at Hendrix College and then the parade of teams taking place after the preliminary rounds of the two skills competitions.

There are 700 games scheduled to be played with each registered team primed to play a minimum of five games each during the three-day period.

After announcing his tournament field during a live feed this past Sunday on the Hoop Play Facebook page, founder and national director Scott Bates is now gearing up for what should be a very busy weekend of competitive hoops.

“There may be slightly bigger national tournaments (Bigfoot in Vegas, Prime Time Nationals in Dallas) out there but we still always manage to have some of the best teams play with us year in and year out,” Bates said. “We have found that there have been teams in the past who lose earlier in our tournament but manage to play a lot longer at the Prime Time event for instance. That speaks to the level of great competition that we get at this event each year.”

There will be eighteen total divisions featuring both boys and girls squads ranging from the third grade to varsity level that will eventually play their way into three separate “ability based brackets” after their initial pool play schedule is complete.

“During pool play the skill levels are open but in bracket play the top two finishers from each division will advance to an elite bracket to face other top teams and the bottom finishing teams advance to a lower level bracket to ensure every team will have good and equal competition during bracket play,” Bates said.

Bates – a former head coach – believes that conditioning could play a large factor in each teams’ pursuit of the title as the winning teams will probably log seven or eight games during the event.

More than 40 percent of this weekend’s participants reside outside of the state.

Expect to see multiple teams from Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Mississippi vying for the title.

“Honestly, the Vegas National event may be where most teams want to go play during this time whether they have a chance to really compete or not,” Bates said. “Their top teams are probably the best in the country but we pride ourselves on being a lot more ‘volume based.’ ”

The sixth grade boys division boasts the largest amount of teams (42) and is widely considered to be the most competitive.

There are a couple of local teams that have a chance to claim gold, according to Bates and his staff.

There are several squads from the Peak Performance Academy (PPA) – an organization that is based in Conway and is lauded as the top training facility in the area – that should factor in the championship mix.

Most notably, the PPA Wings varsity boys - who have been recognized as one of the strongest programs in the country for years.

The Woodz Elite (PPA) seventh grade girls, will also be strong contenders in their division under the direction of Boris and Angela Scott.

In the sixth grade girls division, CA United (from Conway) have garnered a lot of buzz as the favorites in their class while the Conway Bears Elite team should be a factor in the ninth grade boys bracket.

CBE is coached by Marquis Marshall and Michael Gray.

The preliminaries of the slam dunk competition/3-point shootout will begin around 4 p.m.

The 3-point contest will have both boys and girls divisions that will consist of elementary, junior high and high school players that are participating in the tournament.

The crowd favorite dunk contest is widely expected to be the highlight of the evening and will offer each participant three opportunities to advance beyond the opening round.

The winners will then move on to the finals which will take place during the opening ceremonies.

Local media personalities will serve as judges for the slam dunk competition.

“The reason our teams keeping coming back is that they know there’s a very good chance that they will find new teams that they haven’t played before,” Bates said. “The five game guarantee is designed to make certain that they will get a lot more basketball for their money. We are excited and are looking forward to what we think will be a very competitive tournament.”

Pool play begins at 9 a.m. Friday and the championship rounds for all divisions will be held Sunday.

Anyone wishing to follow their favorite teams during the tournament can download the Hoop Play USA app to access schedule information and game sites.