For years, the MAM Christmas Classic has been a staple in the middle school basketball community in Memphis. Each year, this was the tournament to see the city’s best in Large, Small and Private to see who the best team in the city was overall. It’s usually a good indication of who could win the state as well, seen last year by White Station who won the tournament last year, however, things are about to change, at least for the year.
For the first time in the 8-10 years that I’ve covered the MAM, the best teams in the city will not be in the event but in another first year tournament . Bartlett High School will host a holiday tournament that will have 6 of the top 10 teams in the city. It will be held December 21st-23rd and have the likes of Ridgeway, Lester, Snowden, Germantown, Elmore Park and the Memphis Nighthawks who I’ve heard some good things about from several people. This will be an opportunity for them to show how good they are to those who haven’t seen them as well. St. Ann and Appling will also be in the tournament as well from what I was told and there could be potentially really good games that we see in this event. Possible Lester Ridgeway part 2? Snowden Lester? How about a Memphis Nighthawks and Lester game.? Some are convinced that the Nighthawks could be a good game for them.
Whatever the games maybe, it will be new and something different that fans can look forward to seeing this year. I’m sure, details of the tournament will be coming soon.
1. Lester Middle (2-0) Everyone should be convinced that was in the building on Saturday night. This is the most talented Middle School team in Memphis. There won’t be many close games for this group all season until the MAM or Bartlett tournament around the Christmas holiday. You have to start mentioning Jamarion Harvey as one of the best 7th graders in the city but a bigger statement, Markese might be the best 8th grader in the city. Chauncey Holmes looked as good as I’ve seen him and Lemarkus Wilkerson was a spark despite being in foul trouble on Saturday in their win over Ridgeway.
2. Ridgeway Middle 1-1 How can they be in this spot still? Well it comes down to this, they lost to the best team around, no shame in that and it was 2 point ball game in the 3rd quarter. They also beat my pre-season at the time #3 Germantown. Now that they see somethings to work for going forward, this is still a very good team but they will need to identify their go to scorer in crunch time.
3. Snowden Middle 1-0 You won’t find a team in Memphis 4 good 8th guards and especially as experienced as this group but you have one here . Guards go a long way in Middle School and this team has the ingredients to be successful all year long.
4. Bellevue Middle 1-0 Dangerous team because of their guards, this is a group that their new coach is excited about. AJ Dillworth, Jr Jacobs who had 19 in the opener, Amar Knox and Dustin Richmond will be who they go to in every game. They are on the road tonight and then back at home Wednesday.
5. Germantown Middle 2-1 After a loss to Ridgeway, they were able to get back in the win column last week but this is a team capable of more, a lot more. With the early loss, it could make them hungrier to get back in the convo as a top 2 team again.
Please take notes ladies and gentlemen, a statement was made last night in the Elite Middle School Classic at Bolton High School. The Lester Lions are the best middle school team in the city, bar none and right now, it’s not close. Not saying that they can’t lose because anyone can be beaten but if I were to pencil in anyone this year as a team that could go undefeated, it would definitely be this team.
With a huge crowd in attendance, #1 vs #2 was everything it was billed to be. Both teams matched intensity early on with the game going back and forth with each team not able to get that big run to put it out of reach that you see a lot in middle school games. It looked at one moment like Ridgeway was about to go up 7-8 points but Lester behind the heroics of Jamarion “Woody” Harvey who hit some huge shots to stay close and go up 34-32 to end the 3rd quarter. Lester’s Markese Washington hit a 3 but Kris “Chip” Brunt answered him with a bucket plus the foul with 5:29 left in the last quarter to make it 37-35. After though, Lester took control going on a 13-5 run that ended with pretty reverse by guard Chauncey Holmes and a 3 by Harvey to put them up 10.
Ridgeway had opportunities but they traded baskets and couldn’t get enough stops down double digits late but a lot of that was due to Lester’s length and ability to challenge everything at the basket. Lester showed their depth, perseverance and the ability to rely on different players when they needed to score. Markese Washington was every where for Lester. I stopped counting but I know he had at least 16 rebounds to go with double digits in points. He scored in a variety of ways , had 3-4 impressive blocks and flashed why he might be the best player in middle school. I know the consensus is Chandler Jackson and he’s super talented but for those who don’t know, Markese is nipping on his heels. Every player from the starters to the bench seemed to have an impact in some facet of the game.
Ridgeway will still be tough in Large School and shouldn’t in any way hold their heads down. Lester’s the #1 team in the city and with a win over at the time, #3 Germantown, they still are among the better teams in the city and this too, it’s very early in the season. There were some bright spots from them in EJ Smith who showed some toughness, along with Kristian Spencer. I think when they needed bucket, they just didn’t have enough weapons to be able to keep up with a team like Lester and more than likely, they won’t play a team like them again.
Lester showed why they are who they are and are clear cut favorites in Small Schools at this time.
With tryouts which began on Monday officially, It’s almost that time of the year again, the 2017-2018 Middle School Basketball season is here in what promises to be one of the more interesting years that I’ve seen in awhile. There are a lot of questions this season but a lot of them will be answered soon as play days are on the way as well with the first being next week at Lausanne on October 7th.
Who is the best player in Middle School this year? Is it Chandler Jackson who finishing up his final year at St.Louis? Markese Washington at Lester? Are the Roadrunners of Ridgeway the best Middle School in Large Schools this year or the Germantown Red Devils who are equally talented in the starting 5? Speaking of Germantown, transfer Cartier Beverly, a two sport standout who won a state title at Bellevue last year hurt his leg and will be out for a substantial amount of time. If he’s able to get back during the season, Germantown could be become the favorite. Expect 6’1 Cameron to make a push as a top 3-5 player in this class this season.
Will Lester turn back the clock to a few years ago where they were the best team in the city or will Bellevue who lost a lot of production be right there with them with Jr Jacobs? Can John P Freeman put themselves in position to make a run this season? How much better will Lowrance be this year with Braxton Jumper and ever improving Javar Daniels, a 6’2 7th grader with tons of potential? Can Snowden contend with their guards? There are a lot of questions but soon and very soon, we will begin to see our thoughts and questions become realities as we are within a few weeks of the season getting underway.
Below, my pre-season top 5 middle school teams in the city based on what I think they have right now. Will it be the same when the season starts? Maybe, maybe not, can a team jump into the top 5, yes they can. Will the number 1 team right now but the # 1 team when the season starts, I can’t say, but it will be fun to watch and see.
1. Lester Prep- On paper, they are so talented starting with Markese Washington, to me a top 5 player in this class in Memphis. Nearing 6’2 if not there already, Washington will be there best player most nights and have a chance to be the best player in Small Schools and perhaps, maybe the city. Lemarkus Wilkerson and Ahmed Abdulahi will be besides him to form maybe the best duo in Middle School. Wilkerson and Abdulahi are to 5’10 plus guards who can score for Coach Steve Terrell who’s excited about this year’s team. Abdulahi has kind of flown under the radar but I think a lot of people will be high on him by the end of the year. 6th grader Khylan Page will be leaned on a little because of is size alone but with their experience, they will able to bring him along slowly along with Jamarion Harvey. Watch for Chauncey Holmes as well.
2. Ridgeway Middle – Was very tempted to put them at #1 for several reasons. Chip Brunt, EJ Smith and Kristian Spencer all got better last year put into situations where they had to play and it should pay off this year. Smith is getting better and better and should play the lead guard spot this year. Brunt had some big moments for them last year and Spencer gives them value as a defender and athleticism from the 3-4 spot. All of them should be big this year and take that next step up to be the early favorite in Large. They have enough talent to do so but they will also be counting on others to be help the trio. Adarion Miles must play big on the glass and Coach Stephen expect a nice group of 6th graders to play a lot including Kody Hickerson, Javion Stephen and Tyler Wilson. Might be the deepest team in the top 5, top to bottom.
3. Germantown Middle– Cameron Miller, Daniel Egbuniwe and Chris Martin are all back this year and will have them vying for a state title this season. Miller has a chance to put his name on everybody’s list as a top 5 player in 2022. He’s a scorer who you can put on the other team’s best player, go get you rebound and take over the game type and he will be all those things this year for this team. Chris Martin is one of the areas best shooters if not the best and Egbuniwe is quiet stat sheet stuffer. The key for them to make that run might be if Cartier Beverly can get back to basketball after a football injury. If he can and from sources, its possible, Beverly could put them above anyone locally in Large Schools. Rayquan Williams must contribute with Beverly being out but he’s a capable piece to their aspirations of becoming champions. Even if Beverly doesn’t return, the Red Devils will be in the thick of it at the end of the year.
4. Snowden Middle– Very guard laden team but a team never the less that will be tough to play against on any given night. Guard play reigns supreme in Middle School and if you have it, chances are, you can go a long way and Snowden as a lot of it. Kyler “KD” Dandridge, Madricus Pittman, another one of the area’s best shooters and Jamarius “Chunky’ Brooks give Snowden some firepower. Armani Mcfagdon will be asked to do a little bit of everything for this team but he’s more than capable of accepting that challenge.
5. Bellevue Middle- Beside White Station, not sure if one school lost more than them. Coming off back to back state tournament titles, the Bobcats will have a brand new look all the way around. Enter in former Kingsbury Middle coch, Mario Taylor who will be in his first year there but he will have a few players to help ease the transition. Terrance “JR” Jacobs, is diminutive in stature but big in game is ready to lead after playing some last year but will be in an entirely different role this year. Jacobs is very capable 15-20 point scorer and if he gets rolling, can put up big numbers. AJ Dillworth and Amar Knox will both have to play well this year if they are to continue the tradition of Bellevue and deep playoff runs.
Other teams to watch out for
FACS– Maybe the most talented private school in the city with Landon Jeffries, Kobe Wilks, Corey Savage and Tim Thomas Jr. Don’t be surprised if they appear in the top 5 next time around.
John P Freeman Middle- Bryce Dailey had a nice summer and he hopes to continue that into this season. He should lead this group along with Eric Steward and Harold Draper Jr.
Highland Oaks Middle– I’m really interested in watching Regale Moore and Josh Holloway this season. Their progression from last year to this year will determine how far Highland could go.
Lausanne Middle- A name you need to remember, Hayden Ledbetter is there and he’s one of the more talented 8th graders you may not know much about. Owen Babb and Peyton Piacetti will give them perimeter shooting.
Colonial Middle– Jacquez Brown and Cedric Franklin Jr will be trying to turn around a some what unmemorable season last year in Coach Franklin’s first year. He’s excited about Antonyus Moore as well.