I remember going to the 16AAA media day at Whitehaven at the start of the season and wondering a little if the expectations might be a bit much for this East team. Sure, I knew they were defending champs but I also knew that this year, there would be a target big enough to fit on the side of the Fed Ex Forum on their backs, Every team in the city’s best shot, every night and it showed right at the beginning of the season. Melrose fought them hard in their first district game and was within 10 in the 3rd quarter of that game but after a 20 something to 4 run, East found it’s stride in that game and never looked back during the season.
By now we all know what the Mustangs led by Coach Penny Hardaway and Rocky Johnson did on Saturday, they repeated as TSSAA Triple A State champions beating Southwind in an all Memphis final for the second straight year in a row. It wasn’t easy though especially the second game having to come back down from 6 a few times in the game against a good Oak Ridge team to win it with some big plays down the stretch from their trio of Moss, Lawson and Alex Lomax. The title game I felt like was one that would be won in the 3rd quarter and I just knew that East would go on one of those runs like they always do and win in by double digits because I just felt like Southwind was a good team but they didn’t have enough scoring to be able to keep up with East.
Let me say this, the story is amazing in a sense because this was years in the making. We remember the story of Desmond Merriwether and fast forward up to now and you just shake your head and say wow. These Mustangs have been to the state tournament 3 straight years and if you really want to think about it, players like Alex Lomax, Pig Washington and Nick Merriwether have been to the state 5 straight years with 4 state titles if you want to include Middle School in as well (Lester). This is a group that I will remember for as long as been doing middle school and high school coverage as one of the more memorable teams that I can recall.
Chandler Lawson was named MVP of the state tournament with Lomax, Moss and Malcolm Dandridge making the all tournament. Christian Jones, Mark Freeman and Carlos “CJ” Marshall were also members of the all tournament team for Southwind. Southwind who won it a few years ago (2012) had a nice run to end the year I thought and Freeman and Marshall were their catalyst. Freeman will return next season along with Jones who played well in the state and Kameron Jones, a 6’7 touching 6’8 developing post who should start to draw interest from colleges this summer. Guard Quentin Williams who had some huge moments in the post season for the Jaguars will also return in a starters role and they should have big Kristian Williams back as well. Someone will have to take up the scoring slack for Marshall and rebounding of Robert Boyd in order for them to be in the running again next season but they will have as good a shot as anyone.
East could return 4 of their 5 starters for next season and it will likely not only make them the state favorite again but also be in the running as a top 3-5 team in the country next season. Some are saying number possibly and that would be incredible for the school located in Binghampton. Could be see a 3-peat for East? One would have to think that they have a pretty good chance but we can wait till next season to give a definitive answer but for right now, congrats to the East Mustangs, your 2016-2017 State Champs.