It is well-known across the country that the high school basketball played here in Memphis is as good as anywhere else in America, and far better than most. Fueled by their incendiary guard play, Memphis prep teams are feared throughout the region.
11 of the last 12 state champions in Class AAA, the highest division in the state of Tennessee, have come from Memphis.
For years, though, it has been less than fashionable for highly-ranked teams from out-of-state to make the perilous trek to Memphis to challenge the best the city has to offer. Coming all the way to the Bluff City for a road loss and some consolation barbecue isn't exactly what the typical prep coach is looking to do.
This has left the upper-echelon teams from Shelby County flocking to tournaments and classics around the nation in an effort to measure their abilities against elite competition. Teams from Memphis have traditionally acquitted themselves well, too. During the 2009-'10 season, for instance, Melrose went 36-4 en route to a state title.
The only losses they suffered were in district play, despite an active and ambitious schedule of out-of-town events.
Now, though, event organizer deluxe Travis Haddock is combining the best of both worlds, securing contracts with several ultra-elite national programs to come into Memphis and christen the (by then) newly-renovated Spartan Dome on the campus of White Station High in the Penny Hardaway-sponsored Penny Hardaway National Hoopfest, January 20-21, 2012.
This event follows closely on the heels of the Memphis Bragging Rights Hoopfest, to be contested on December 2-3, 2011 at Briarcrest Christian High School in suburban Eads, TN, just minutes from Memphis. Though the national presence will be limited there, the event will give Memphis-area private schools a shot at knocking off their more ballyhooed public school foes.
Both events are benefiting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
TigerSportsReport.com is one of the many local sponsors of both tourneys, and TSR Managing Editor Leroy Watson, Jr. is an official member of the events' administrative staff, having facilitated the signing of several local schools to participate in the unprecedented affairs.
"I like Memphis versus the country," Haddock says. "I want people to have an emotional attachment to the event. We want Memphis fans to have a chance to see their local teams against the best competition America has to offer."
The focal points of the Penny, as the Hardaway National Hoopfest is referred to by event organizers, will be a pair of games each by renowned national powers Oak Hill Academy from Mouth of Wilson, VA, and Montverde Academy from Montverde, FL.
Oak Hill is headlined by a pair of splendid wings in the Class of 2012: Memphis commit Damien Wilson (ranked #49 nationally by Rivals) and Jordan Adams (#55), as well as mammoth 2012 post beast A.J. Hammons (#56). They will clash with Tennessee AAA champions Craigmont on Friday night. Coach David Taylor and the Chiefs will counter with junior point guard (and state tourney MVP) Sam Craft and a cornucopia of bouncy, tenacious athletes who keep pressing and trapping their way to victories.
Craigmont recently shot up to number 25 in the final Rivals national rankings, and the Chiefs should be every bit as good next year as they were in 2010-'11, if not better.
The Saturday night opponent for the Warriors from Mouth of Wilson will be the Golden Wildcats of Melrose.
A slew of young guards like Reggie Anthony, Ladarius Chester, Jemario Jones and Cornelius "Boo Man" Sturghill--who will all be just sophomores--will combine with 2013 swingman Markel Crawford and senior-to-be Devonte Hampton to power the Melrose backcourt. Head coach Jermaine Johnson will also potentially have three sophomores between 6'5" and 6'7" (assuming they don't grow over the summer), a 6'6" junior (ditto) and the 6'9" senior-to-be Darrius Moore anchoring the middle.
Montverde's Eagles, meanwhile, bring 2013's Chris Davenport, a forward, and Kasey Hill, a guard, along with the rest of their talented roster to the banks of the mighty Mississipp to take on host White Station, coached by Jesus Patino, and Wes Henning's Ridgeway Roadrunners.
Montverde will have a new coach: Kevin Boyle, formerly the top man at national superpower St. Patrick's (NJ). He will match wits with two of Tennessee's finest sideline generals.
Patino has been to the substate level 10 times in 10 years in Tenessee, has been at the state tournament seven times, was in the state title game three consecutive years (2008-'10) and has won one title. 2014 stars Leron Black, a 6'7" guard/forward, and 6'3" point guard Davell Roby, will lead the charge for the Spartans.
Henning has won four championships at two different TN classifications (AAA and AA): 2005 and 2008 (AAA) as well as 2000 and 2002 at the AA level. He'll ride into battle against Montverde with deluxe guards Cameron Golden and Adam Weary carrying the heaviest load.
Our Savior New American, from Centereach, New York (on Long Island), brings 2012 guards Jevon Thomas (Rivals has him ranked #88) and Nick Lewis into town, along with 2012 forward/center Christopher Obekpa. They are scheduled to do battle with Nashville Ensworth.
Ensworth has won two of the last three Tennessee AA basketball championships.
On Saturday, Our Savior is matched-up against Briarcrest Christian High. The Saints are anchored by 2013's forward/center stud, Austin Nichols, as well as 2012 guards Chris Jones and Demarc Richardson. They're coached by John Harrington, a former state title winner.
If all that weren't enough, perhaps Memphis' finest player is scheduled to appear, too: 2012's forward Jarnell Stokes, listed as number nine in the Rivals 150. He is the focal point of the attack for the Central Warriors, also featuring rugged guards Andre Applewhite, Jr. (the coach's son, 2012) and Josh Jones (2013).
Central's opponent will be the reigning NBA MVP's alma mater: Simeon Career Academy, who spawned University of Memphis and now Chicago Bull star Derrick Rose.
The Wolverines are loaded with stud recruits. Steve Taylor (2012) is a guard ranked #102 in the country in his class. And they have two of the best in the Class of 2013, too: Kendrick Nunn and Jabari Parker.
Parker is a power forward, and so is Stokes. This will be a rare in-season clash among monsters in the middle who share the same position but would under normal circumstances never meet on the court.
The article wouldn't be complete without mentioning the other young man who is in the discussion for the best in Memphis: forward Jonathan Williams, III, who actually plays every position on the floor for Paul Edwards and the Southwind Jaguars. They take on Ensworth on Saturday.
For fans of the girls, defending AAA state titlist Central, under the tutelage of fiery Niki Bray, brings back everybody for a run at a repeat. 2012's Danielle Ballard and Aaliyah Whiteside lead the charge, ably backed by 2013's Nina Davis (2011 state tournament MVP) and 2014's Yasmine Brady, Jasmine Cincore, Minyione (MeMe) Hill, Marisa Knox, and Tia Wooten. They will oppose Enworth's girls on Friday. Ensworth will play Arlington's girls on Saturday.
If you want to be an event sponsor, contact Travis Haddock at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, stay tuned to TSR or contact Leroy Watson, Jr.: leroy@TigerSportsReport.com.