The Dru Joyce Classic has changed over the years, but its economic impact on Akron and the surrounding area has remained consistent since its inception.

The annual tournament, formerly known as the LeBron James Shooting Stars Classic and featuring aspiring basketball players in grades 2-11, will hit area courts this weekend from Friday evening through Sunday. There will be approximately 350 teams with participants from as far away as Belize, Canada and 15 to 20 states playing in about 50 venues surrounding Akron.

It attracts as many as 30,000 people, according to the Akron/Summit Convention and Visitors Bureau. That includes an estimated 4,000 athletes plus parents, guardians, coaches and staff.

The local spending amounts to millions of dollars.

The youth basketball tournament helps fill hotel rooms in the area, with the players and accompanying adults eating at local restaurants — and spending time at local attractions as well as time allows.

“It’s a great economic impact for the Akron market,” said Cindy Sherman, director of sales for the Courtyard by Marriott Downtown off Furnace Street in Akron. “It’s very important, absolutely.”

The convention and visitors bureau estimates the tournament’s economic impact at $3 million to $5 million annually.

The Courtyard by Marriott has sold out its rooms for the weekend in large part because of the Dru Joyce Classic plus other local events, Sherman said.

“They [the basketball tournament] are a significant impact to us,” she said. “They have a good percent of our inventory. They have so many rooms throughout the city.”

Jeff Lynch, general manager at the Sheraton Suites Akron on Front Street in Cuyahoga Falls, agreed with Sherman’s assessment. The Sheraton Suites usually hosts at least one team during the tournament, he said.

“It is a great event,” Lynch said.

The majority of teams stay in Summit County, Brittany Wigman, sports development strategist with the Sports Alliance of Greater Akron, a division of the convention and visitors bureau, said. “There will be overflow into Stark, Portage, Medina and Cuyahoga counties.”

The economic ripples include such things as the people and teams driving in will be gassing up their vehicles locally and buying snacks, and those traveling by plane will be using the local airports, Wigman said.

The economic benefits to the area remain consistent, but the tournament itself has evolved because of rules adopted by various organizations, including USA Basketball and the NCAA.

At its apex, when it was the showcase for some of the best high school talent in the country, it hosted 600 teams. Last year more than 400 teams participated, said Dru Joyce II, coach of the St. Vincent-St. Mary boys basketball team and the tournament's founder. This year, 350 teams registered.

“We’ve kind of adjusted, honestly. We’d love to get more high school teams,” Joyce said. “It’s a very competitive situation. There’s an event in Pittsburgh that’s all under one roof. Today, everyone wants that Walmart Supercenter kind of thing where they can go into a place and not have to leave it.

“The lateness of Easter weekend and schools with spring break has affected us. We probably would have still been around that 400 number. All that being said and done we’re still one of the larger events in North America in the spring.”

His goal is to eventually top out at 500. Joyce said the organizers have identified their audience.

“In some ways, you can say we’re in transition, but honestly we have our niche,” he said. “Our niche is grades 2 through 8 and we’re just going to really focus on that and continue to build it.”

And Akron will likely continue to reap the economic benefits.

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.