I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that I can’t wait for basketball season to come from so many people. Well the wait is over and we are finally here as the first week of high school basketball is upon us.
Now I know that many people are wondering, who is going to be good this year, what teams are primed for a state tournament run, who are the best 5, 10 teams in the city, what freshmen can make an impacts and on and on. I’m going to give you 10 things to watch for this season as we get ready to go on the roller coaster that is high school basketball in Memphis.
1. Obviously, East has a very very talented team, in fact, by some, the best team in the country. They return Mr. Basketball and now Wichita State commit, Alex Lomax, 6’8 Chandler Lawson, 6’9 Malcolm Dandridge and have added a consensus top 3 player in the country in James Wiseman, a 7 ft and 6’5 UAB commit Ryan Boyce. They also have a strong freshman class with Johnathan Lawson, a 6’6 guard, 6’4 Jalen Brown and 5’11 Tadarius Jacobs. 5’11 Dee Merriwether, Nautica Hartwell and 4 star receiver Keveon Mullins will provide depth nightly. Okay, enough with the semantics, the question is this, will Wiseman and Boyce be eligible to play and the answer is, I don’t know and neither does anyone else at the moment.
I’ve heard all that comes with it, it’s not fair, I’ve heard about coaches calling to the TSSAA and I’ve heard some other stuff that I can’t share here however, with the rules in place, I think those surrounding East including Penny Hardaway seem to think they should be fine. When will they have the answer to their question about their eligibility,? I’m assuming soon enough, as they have games approaching, one in fact his weekend at home against Mitchell. If the 2 don’t play, they will be hindered some but you still have to contend with Lomax, Dandridge and Lawson who are all division 1 players who have been in wars and played against the best players in the country. They will be a different team this year though based on the defections of TJ Moss and Antavion Collum and will rely on some inexperience and youth to counteract those losses. They will have to defend with bigs and depend on them to handle the ball in situations that they may not necessarily be used to and in some in game moments, you could see Chandler Lawson running the offense. All of this to though is contingent upon the TSSAA and their ruling which again, they hope to find out something soon on.
2.Are the Raleigh Egypt Pharaohs back? I know fans in that area are excited and they should be. Coach Moe Miller, a former player there as well as a GA Tech alum , is trying to resurrect it back from the past few years where they fell on tough times. Some people are saying, they are the best team in 2A this year and a team that can make that run to Mufreesboro this year.
Deovaunta Williams, a 6’2 guard will be a major catalyst for this year’s team as well as senior forward, Jadakiss Williams,a 6’7 who was able to get his confidence up this summer playing with a good Team Thad team. Ethan Burnett led them in scoring last season and they have some more guards in Darrell Christian, a 6’2 guard and another 6’4 guard in Quintavios Bailey. I think it’s great when certain schools are good and with this group, Raleigh Egypt should be in the convo as one of the best teams in Memphis. I can’t forget about 6’4 Jordan Johnson as well, one of the areas best kept secrets in 2020. There is no question in my mind, he’s right now a top 10 player in that class and can move up into conversation as a top 5 guy by the end of the season.
3. Is Double A this most competitive classification this year in Memphis? Perhaps it is and there are reasons. For one, I think there are at least 2 times right now that can get out of here this year, the aforementioned Pharaohs and the Hamilton Wildcats. I also think that Mitchell has a shot as well. The Tigers coached by legendary Tiger star Andre Turner will be good and get better as the season goes along. They will need younger guards to step up but have the height and size to compete everyone locally. Remember when I said that it’s good to see certain teams be good? Hamilton is another one of those teams.
They won a state title in 2015 in Triple A but since, things didn’t go so well.2 players from that teams are still playing, Kevon McMahan and Martrell Brooks. Both are starters this year but they got some big news when Jordan “Poppi” Johnson transferred in for this senior year. Johnson is legit as if not the best shooter, the second best shooter in the area. I’m telling you, barring injury, Hamilton is a top 2 team in Double A in Memphis.
4. Is there a better story right now in Memphis than Nick London? If there is, someone let me know but his comeback has been amazing to watch. For those who don’t know, Nick was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago as an incoming 9th grader. Fast forward a few years later, Nick is playing again and starting at Hamilton where his father played years almost 20 years ago. You can’t make up a story like his and it’s one that if you get a chance this year, you must see.
5. On November 25th, the first annual Larry Finch classic will take place on the campus of the University of Memphis at the Elma Roane Field house. The event will feature 2 coaches who played for the legendary coach in Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, and Andre Turner. The main event will be East vs Findlay Prep who will feature TJ Moss who left for the Nevada school from East, University of Memphis commit, 7’3 Connor Vanover and 7’3, Bol Bol, a top 5 player in the country in 2018 who just transferred there recently. There should be a lot of excitement in the air for that one and some emotion as well headlined by a game that will have 10 or more division one basketball players.
6. Are the old powers of Memphis High School basketball coming back around? Raleigh Egypt seems to be moving in the right direction and reclaiming their position as school to fear when it comes to basketball, Can White Station do the same this year? To be fair, the answer is probably no if your comparing it to the days of Joe Jackson and more recently, Chris Chiozza (FLA) Leron Black but this team is capable of a top 2 finish in 16AAA and right there with Whitehaven vying for that spot. Allen Hatchett and Brandon Brown are going to have to produce numbers every night as scorers and rebound guys. Hatchett’s leadership will be key, it should be his team. Melrose who won a state a few years ago is still a few year away but a move to Double A should definitely speed up the rebuild for first year head coach, Joe Washington.
7. How good will Cordova be this year? It’s pretty much a new cast for Tyler Harris who many think is the best player in Memphis in 2018. Gone, Rod Brown who enrolled at Wichita State early and Blake Williams who’s he’s played with over half his basketball playing career. Tyler is a dynamic scorer who you simply can’t leave from anywhere on the floor. He’s been a player who played off the ball a lot but this year, the situation may call for him to be more on it which I’m sure he will be comfortable with. There has been a lot talk around his recruitment but I’m sure that Tyler is just looking forward to playing in his final high school season and he will have some help. 6’6 Bruce Guy will be there and should be able to take up some of the slack that Brown left. For them to be pretty good, he needs to adjust and adjust fast in a new district but Bruce is talented enough to get the job done. I can see him being a 18 and 9 or 10 rebound type forming a nice duo.
8. Does Lausanne have 2 peat in them? They like a lot of teams lost a few seniors and while maybe not their best players, they were invaluable as leaders for them for years. This is where point guard Ashton Smith and Sky Forrest must will come into play. They are the old guys on the team as juniors along with football players Cameron Simms and Eric Gray with a host of youthfulness and the second best freshman class in the city. Alden Applewhite, Calvin Jennings and Eddie Buxton are their future but at least one of them could be counted on to log some minutes and that will probably be 6’5 Applewhite. 6’4 guard, Bo Montgomery will step into a bigger role this year as well as 6’6 Johnathan Dejurnett who was lost last year to injury and 6’6 Kohan Thompson. On paper, I think this is the best team on the private school side in the city but they still must prove it on the court as well.
9.Outside of East who most think will be a lock to go to the state, who will be that other team? Southwind, Ridgeway? Southwind will have to replace CJ Marshall’s scoring and maybe they can do it by committee there with guard play. LIU-Brooklyn commit Mark Freeman will do his part and pick up his scoring but where else will it come from nightly? Christian Jones is capable from the outside and had some big games last year for them. 6’8 Kameron Jones who was probably just a bit in their offense last year will now be a big piece to the puzzle if Southwind want’s to go back. Ridgeway without Jalen Crutcher early on will be a transition. They have a nice trio with Antwan Beans, Antonio Thomas and new to the party, Brandon Mason. Tylar Haynes is a bit undersized but plays a bigger, will be asked to rebound and score probably more than he’s used to along with Will Wilson, a 6’6 who can go inbetween the 3 and 4 position. Maybe that other team can be Cordova? Anyone with Tyler Harris has a chance but a lot teams will be keying in on him and he will see his share of 2 guys on him to take the ball out of his hands and the keys for their state trip. Maybe it’s Whitehaven’s turn to make that ride with Coach Phillips who took several trips there while at Mitchell. Cameron Jones and Matthew Murrell will be in 2 front seats if they take that ride though.
10. Could Bartlett win 14AAA? It’s been a few years since you could mention Bartlett as maybe winning this district. I think last time it happened, Anthlon Bell was lighting it up there before he headed to Arkansas for 4 years. Now let me say this, are they favorites? No, probably not but that doesn’t meant they won’t end up winning over there but that league still goes through Tyler Harris and Bartlett has to get over that hump as well as a sound Arlington team who will be ready to play in every game. Coach Real has a few transfers who could help this year in 6’4 Rodney Mason, 6’5 Takori Rooks to go along with guards, Sylvester Thompson, Shemar Brown and 6’2 Jeff Walker. I could be a year early on the prediction but don’t be surprised by them this year.