Basketball season is underway in Eastern North Carolina and the Rocky Mount Event Center will host a unique and inclusive tournament this weekend that will showcase area teams from the high school and college ranks.

The inaugural 252 Down East Basketball invitational tips off on Saturday and will feature three high school games, followed by a women’s basketball game between Elizabeth City State University and Fayetteville State.

At the high school level, girls’ basketball teams from Northern Nash and Rocky Mount High will be joined by Fayetteville Trinity Christian, Northeastern, St. Pauls and Farmville Central. Game times are set for 1 p.m, 3 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.

ECSU is coached by Tynesha Lewis who is in her first season with the program. Lewis is a graduate of SouthWest Edgecombe and is a former WNBA player. She said that she is excited that her team is able to play in a tournament like this in the area.

“I’m always excited to see something like this in the 252 area,” Lewis said during a phone interview. “There’s some great players coming out of the area who go on to play at all different levels. And the 252 is always near and dear to my heart because I went to SouthWest Edgecombe, and people like Pam Gainey (Rocky Mount High girls’ coach), Grover Battle (Northern Nash coach), Sandra Langley (SWE coach) and Jamie Willoughby (Tarboro coach) are some of the coaches that have helped shape my life.”

Lewis graduated from N.C. State, where she guided the Wolfpack to the Final Four in 1998. She was a four-time All-ACC selection, and held the NCSU record for most triple-doubles when she graduated after she recorded the only two such stat lines across both the men’s and women’s programs.

She averaged 13.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game for the Wolfpack.

Following her time at N.C. State, Lewis was drafted by the Houston Comets in the 2001 WNBA Draft and went on to play in the league for six seasons. Before coming to ECSU, Lewis gained coaching experience as an assistant with N.C. Central, Illinois State and N.C. State.

Lewis said she is pleased with the direction that the women’s game is headed, and points to an uptick in skill and visibility of the sport at the WNBA level.

“It think it’s great for girls’ and women’s basketball when young girls can see themselves on a stage like that,” Lewis said of the WNBA’s growing popularity and exposure. “They can dream a little earlier and dream bigger. Those ladies are amazing athletes and are bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled than before. They are beautiful, amazing and smart and I love to see it grow and I love to see where the league has gone and where it’s going.”

Lewis added that she is excited for a girls’ tournament like this to come to Rocky Mount, as it shines a light on small towns and allows for the athletes in those small towns to gain exposure on a stage that showcases their ability.

“I always take pride in being from a small town,” she said. “And to get to bring things like this tournament that will showcase the talent in these small towns will be a great experience.”

Fayetteville Trinity Christian and Northeastern will open the invite with their game at 1 p.m. The rest of the games will follow. Northern Nash will play St. Pauls, Farmville Central will play Rocky Mount High and Elizabeth City State will play Fayetteville State at 6 p.m.

An afterparty will follow the games. The Battle of the Decades DJ party will be held at 8 p.m. at Brown Auditorium at Nash Community College.