Grand Rapids, Michigan - The Old Kent Classic hosts its 4th Annual Basketball tournament Thanksgiving weekend at the Van Andel Arena on Friday and Saturday, November 26th and 27th.

Last year's finalists, defending champion Grand Valley State University and runner-up Calvin College will tip-off the tournament Friday at 1:00 p.m., followed at 3:00 p.m. by Hope College vs. Aquinas College. Friday's winners advance to Saturday evenings' finals at 8:00 p.m. Friday's losers battle it out for third place Saturday at 6:00 p.m.

The tournament is hosted by the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame with Old Kent Bank serving as the title sponsor.

The real winners from the local classic are the fifth and sixth graders throughout the 45 Grand Rapids elementary schools who are the benefactors from the proceeds of the tournament. Last year some 1,200 local school students participated in a city-wide elementary basketball league thanks to the contributions of the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame and the joint effort between the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Downtown YMCA.

The '99 Classic is expected to be a wide-open affair with no clear cut favorite. Grand Valley which won titles in 1996 and 1998, is rebuilding with only one senior and three juniors on the roster. Hope, the 1997 champion tries to bounce back after 0-2 tournament in 1998. Aquinas, which went to the finals in 1996, has seven letter winners returning and would like to make it to the finals this year while Calvin enters its second Old Kent Classic and the Knights are looking to improve on their 1-1 record of last year.

The Old Kent Tournament is regarded as one of the premier Holiday basketball tournaments in the Mid-West. Coach Glenn Van Wieren of Hope is one of the participating coaches who always praises the benefits of playing at the Van Andel Arena, ever since the first tip-off in 1996.

Rick Albro of Aquinas says, "Small college basketball in West Michigan is as good or better as can be found across the country and the Old Kent Classic gives the fans an opportunity to see these teams play in a state of the art facility." Terry Smith of Grand Valley and Kevin Vande Streek of Calvin both agree with Albro and Van Wieren. "It's a great opportunity for our players to get a chance to showcase their skills in front of a larger market" says Smith. Vande Streek says, "To get an opportunity to play two games against two great teams in a facility like the Van Andel Arena is a tremendous privilege for our players.

"We're establishing basketball tradition," said tournament director Ray McCahill. "The Old Kent Classic is becoming the official tip-off for the local college basketball season."

Tickets are $8.00 reserved and $6.50 general admission and are good for both sessions on either dates Friday, November 26 or Saturday, November 27.

Tickets are now available for sale at any of the participating colleges athletic offices along with the Van Andel Arena Box Office. To charge tickets call TicketMaster at (616) 456-3333.