Friday, January 9, 2015

Hoop City Preps: Perfect Teams, Stellar Matchups and Show-Stopping Players

From Commercial Appeal

At this point in the high school basketball season, there aren't many undefeated teams left.

Statewide, only five boys teams and six girls teams are still perfect heading into tonight's games. But three of those -- Hamilton, CBHS and Ridgeway's girls -- hail from Hoop City.

The Hamilton campaign got off to a great start in the offseason when the University of Memphis hired former head coach Keelon Lawson, which ensured his sons K.J. and Dedric would remain for their senior years. And they've delivered -- Dedric is averaging 23.5 points per game with K.J. right behind at 23.

Senior Tarrance Baker, perhaps the area's most show-stopping slam dunk artist, chips in at 15.7 per game while talented junior guard Romero Hill is a steadying influence in the backcourt.

Todd Day's squad is 12-0 but the Wildcats will be doing great if they're still perfect after the weekend. A tough 16-AAA game at Whitehaven Friday will be followed by a match-up against Oak Hill (Virginia) Academy, the nation's top prep team, in the American Residential Services/Rescue Rooter Penny Hardaway Hoopfest Saturday at Arlington.

While Hamilton is fulfilling expectations, the Brothers have been the area's biggest surprise. Veteran coach Bubba Luckett has his team at 16-0 heading into Friday's Division 2-AA West Region opener at arch-rival MUS.

Despite losing their top player from last season, Mr. Basketball finalist Josh Bougher, CBHS already has victories over several quality teams including Central, ECS and Barlett. Over the holidays, the Brothers took first place at the Spain Park Christmas Tournament in Hoover, Alabama.

Stingy defense has been the key; the Brothers allow just 41.1 points per game, second in the state behind McKenzie (40.9). The offense has been evenly distributed, with Shun Alexander (11 points), William Douglas (10.4), Undra Wilson and Frederick Douglas all playing key roles.

After a four-game losing streak late in January of 2014, the Brothers rebounded to win seven in a row and reach the D2-AA state tournament, where they lost in the semis to eventual champion Nashville Ensworth. Some tough games still loom but another deep run looks very doable.

The most dominant of the local teams has been Rhonda Kendall's Lady Roadrunners, who take a 13-0 record into Friday's road game against Kirby. After losing to nationally-ranked Blackman in last year's AAA state championship game, Ridgeway figured to be the favorite locally thanks to a talented cast of returnees.
But this team has been even more impressive than many thought possible. No team has come within double-digits of the Roadrunners, whose closest result was a 10-point victory over White Station early in the year. They defeated Overton, a perennial state contender, by 45, and scored an impressive 64-44 victory over Olive Branch, last year's Mississippi 6A runners-up, over the holidays.

Junior guard Brandi Beasley, a Best of the Preps player of the year finalist, leads the way, but the Roadrunners can call on a cast of great talent. Eryn Foster (6-2) is an imposing paint presence and has one of the softest pairs of hands in town, while fellow seniors Alexus Bryson, Oreonna Brown, Tierney Paylor and Breounna Humphrey have all been through the wars.

Add in the continued development of 6-4 freshman Elizabeth Dixon, one of the nation's top prospects in the class of 2018, and you have the makings of a team that will challenge for the gold ball once again.

Trivia: Ridgeway fell one game short of winning the AAA state championship last year, losing to Blackman in the title game. How many Memphis-area girls teams have won the AAA state title?

Prospect watch: The Lawson brothers and Skal Labissiere garnered much of the headlines and attention heading into this season. But the local player who might be the most college-ready at this point is arguably Douglass senior LaGerald Vick.

The athletic 6-5 wing was one of three Class AA Mr. Basketball finalists last season and is a great bet to return --and maybe win -- this time. He's averaging a city-best 26.3 points for a Red Devils team that is 9-4 and ranked eighth in this week's Dandy Dozen, while checking in third in the state AA poll.

Vick, who has committed to SMU but who is scheduled to attend prep school for a year, displayed all his vast talents in last Saturday's 93-77 win over Overton in the Clorine Edwards Classic at Southwind. He served as Douglass' primary ball-handler, he can hit the 3 and also has the ability to take his defender off the dribble. And if he gets within a few feet of the rim, you can expect a highlight-reel finish.

Veteran coach Ted Anderson is quick to point out the Red Devils aren't a one-man show -- Southern Miss was scheduled to pay a visit to junior guard Antonio Reed this week, and the rest of the starting line-up is solid. But when Douglass needed to close out the victory against Overton, the ball was in Vick's hands.
Playing a prep-school schedule next year will certainly expose more people to Vick and SMU will do well to hold onto him. He's a keeper.

Chip off the old block: University of Memphis fans will remember Mingo Johnson. A talented guard who could heat up at a moment's notice, Johnson starred for the Tigers from 1994-1996.

And now his son is carrying on the family tradition of sometimes-unconscious shooting.

Jordan Johnson, a freshman at Overton, is already drawing attention for his fine play this season. He had arguably his best game of the year last Saturday against Douglass, connecting on six 3-pointers while scoring a team-high 22.

Several of his attempts were from well behind the line but Johnson was fearless, playing with a poise well beyond his years. And with teammate Jerry Hurt quiet in the second half after blazing away in the first, his play was vital in keeping the Wolverines within striking distance.

At 5-9, there's still room for Johnson to grow -- literally and figuratively -- but the talent and potential is definitely there.

Kaylan is killing it: Kaylan Pugh has been one of the area's top talents since her eighth-grade year. But the St. Mary's senior is saving her best for last.

The 5-9 guard, who has signed with Ohio State, is leading the area in scoring at 30.2 points per game. She scored a season-high 43 against Lausanne earlier this season, while dropping 37 on St. Agnes, 36 against St. Benedict and 34 vs. St. George's.

Pugh is a virtual lock to lead the state in Division 2 in scoring for the third straight year. And if she keeps her current pace up, she'll be the second straight area player to lead the state overall; Oakhaven's Derica Wiggins (now at Jackson State) led last year at 32.3.

Person of interest: Tennessee-Martin, UNC-Asheville, Norther Arizona and Chattanooga are schools that have shown an interest in Kingsbury junior point guard Demonte Person. But if Person continues his current run of excellent play, that list could get bigger in a hurry.

Despite facing a box-and-one on a regular basis, Person has excelled of late, averaging 29 points and 6.5 assists over the last four games. The jewel in that span was a 37-point, seven-assist effort in a win over Memphis Metro in the fifth-place game of the More Than Basketball tournament at Harding over the holidays.

Oh and for good measure in that one, he helped hold Memphis Metro's Nate Vaughn to just 11 points, one night after Vaughn had blitzed Memphis Home Education Association for 52, tops of any player in the area this year.

Dynamic duo: Looking for the top 1-2 punch in town? The answer might surprise you.
Middle College seniors Jordan Brown (24.5) and Erin James (23.5) combine for 48 points per game, ranking just ahead of the Lawsons (46.5) and the White Station combo of Nych Smith and Dillon Mitchell (41.3).

Alumni watch: After taking the Big 12 by storm her freshman year, Baylor's Nina Davis just keeps getting better and better.

The former Central star -- a AAA Miss Basketball winner and three-time Best of the Preps player of the year -- is averaging 22.6 points and 8.7 rebounds for the Bears, who are currently 13-1 and ranked fifth in the nation.

She torched Ole Miss for a career-high 43 last month and also had 33 in a victory over Stephen F. Austin. Davis has five double-doubles, including a 26-point, 17-rebound performance against Syracuse.
Expect Davis, last year's Big 12 freshman of the year, to land lots more hardware at the end of the regular season.

Another local product building on a great freshman season is Lausanne grad Cameron Payne at Murray State.

Last year's Ohio Valley Conference freshman of the year and a first-team all-conference pick, the 6-2 guard is leading the Racers (11-4) in scoring (17.5), assists (88), steals (35) and 3-pointers made (29). The highlight so far? A 32-point, eight-assist effort in a win over Evansville last month.

What's in store: The weather will be cold but the action will be red-hot in the upcoming days. Unless noted, girls games start at 6 p.m. followed by the boys at 7:30.

Friday's marquee boys game will be at Germantown, where Southwind--ranked second in the Dandy Dozen -- visits the fifth-ranked Red Devils in an important 15-AAA matchup. In 16-AAA, Central will try to build on Tuesday's big win over Whitehaven with a trip to ninth-ranked Overton.

Saturday's highlight, of course, is the American Residential Services/Rescue Rooter Penny Hardaway Hoopfest at Arlington. The showcase will be the Hamilton-Oak Hill game at 3 p.m., which will be telecast live by ESPN.

Germantown takes on University School (La.) at 1 p.m. while Arlington tangles with Chicago Simeon at 5 p.m. The visitors will be led by 6-5 forward D.J. Williams (Illinois), 6-7 forward Ed Morrow (Nebraska) and 6-4 junior guard Zach Norvell, a University of Memphis target.

At 6:30, Southwind matches up against Christ Presbyterian Academy from Nashville in what should be an excellent matchup between Jaguars' senior Donte Dorsey (Ole Miss) and CPA junior standout Braxton Blackwell, who has offers from a host of schools, including Memphis. White Station closes the day with an 8 p.m. game against Chicago Whitney Young.

On Tuesday, the MHEA girls, ranked fourth in the Dandy Dozen, visit No. 6 Briarcrest with the hopes of avenging a 54-35 loss back on Nov. 13. On the boys side, Ridgeway will visit Collierville in the "Buckets for Brain Tumors" game organized by Dragons senior J.B. Hayes, who was diagnosed with a pediatric brain tumor during his sophomore season.

Trivia answer: Only three -- Booker T. Washingon (1981), Melrose (1985) and Central (2011).

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