Tracy Thompson’s journey to East Hamilton School started in South Pittsburg with a mid-stop at McCallie.
While he sat out the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s eligibility requirements for transfers, Thompson patiently waited his turn to get on the floor with his new Hurricanes teammates.
Since Thompson’s East Hamilton debut on Jan. 24 against Howard’s Hustlin’ Tigers, the slender newcomer’s impact was negligible – 5-of-28 shooting, 3-of-18 on 3s, and a total of 15 points in six games.
On Monday, Thompson gave the Hurricanes what they had been waiting for.
He went off.
Thompson scored 16 points, nailed four 3-pointers – both team-high totals – and powered the Hurricanes to a 67-61 victory over Central in another thrilling District 6-AA barn-burner between the two rivals.
“These two teams have fought for fourth place like it’s the end of the world,” Central coach Rick Rogers said. “We won at their place, they won at our place and the atmosphere was great at both places. We’ll throw it up again Friday night.”
Monday’s win secures the No. 4 seed in the district tournament and the Hurricanes and No. 5 Pounders will meet for the third time in February later this week. Central won at East Hamilton, 50-47, on Colton’s Morgan’s 3-pointer dagger with 10.2 seconds left in the game.
The Hurricanes (17-9, 9-5) will host the No. 5 Purple Pounders (14-8, 7-7) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. after the district regular-season, undefeated champion and No. 1-seeded Lady Hurricanes play seventh-seeded Red Bank, which is winless in league play this season, at 6 p.m.
It is East Hamilton’s first top-four league finish in the program’s four-year history and last in 6-AA. The Hurricanes will compete in District 5-AAA starting in 2013-14.
“It’s another milestone for our program,” Stone said. “Last year we went 9-17 and we flipped that this year. That fourth-place finish is a nice cherry on top of that. This was a heck of a game. Both teams battled and they certainly didn’t go away.”
Thompson got his fledgling career-best effort going with 11 first-half point s, including making all three of his 3-point attempts – the Hurricanes hit six in the first two quarters – and East Hamilton trailed by 32-30 at intermission because Central dropped in seven 3s, three by Morgan.
“Early on Tracy had to play junior varsity, but we knew he was one of our best shooters,” Stone said. “He’s probably our best spot-up shooter, he’s long and creates a match-up nightmare. Tonight, he put on a shooting display that we see every day in practice. He was really letting it fly.”
East Hamilton ended the third quarter on a Kenny Bunton 3 and took a 47-45 lead into the final eight minutes of play.
The Hurricanes broke the Pounders’ back with a 12-3 blitz to produce a 59-48 advantage. Five different Hurricanes scored in that run and Thompson capped it with a high-arcing 3 with 4:51 left from the left corner.
With 26.9 seconds remaining, Central’s David Holley hit one of two free throws to cut the Hurricanes’ lead to 61-57, but Thompson countered with two free throws with 24.8 seconds left to keep the Pounders at bay.
“I haven’t been that comfortable shooting the ball,” said Thompson, who attended South Pittsburg Middle School before moving to McCallie for his freshman season. “I was just feeling it tonight and it feels great to be back.”
Thompson, who played wide receiver before giving up football this year, initially was introduced to McCallie after planning to attend a football camp. However, the Thompsons arrived at the private school facility on the wrong day. They walked around campus, went into the Blue Tornado gymnasium and ran into basketball coach Dan Wadley, who directed the group to the school’s admission office.
After a year with the Tornado, a Thompson family friend told Tracy’s father about the East Hamilton program and since the family already lived in the appropriate district, the youngster was enrolled at the school located on Ooltewah-Ringgold Road in East Brainerd.
Ever since, Stone has been grooming his lanky, rising perimeter star for this season’s wars in District 6-AA and for 5-AAA next school year.
“From Day One,” Thompson said, “coach has always given me a green light to shoot the 3s and he’s always let me play guard. As a shooter, that’s makes me feel pretty good. I don’t like playing with my back to the basket, but he says anytime I’ve got a real mismatch to take the guy inside.”
Before Monday, Thompson’s previous best varsity offensive production was eight points against East Ridge four days after gaining athletic eligibility. He twice scored 30 points against Red Bank and Howard earlier in the season in JV games.
Against the Pounders, Thompson more than doubled his field-goal output.
Thompson wasn’t the only reason for the much-improved statistics.
“Our guards did a great job of finding him,” Stone said.
Both teams started slow.
Cody Knox’s drive was the game’s first score almost two minutes into the game. The Pounders suddenly found the range and hit the Hurricanes with an 11-2 run. Central led, 19-13, after one quarter. Swafford’s 3 – six of the Pounders’ first seven goals were 3-pointers – produced a 22-15 lead.
The Hurricanes opened the third quarter with a 12-6 run that included Knox’s driving layup that gave East Hamilton its first lead since Knox’s goal to start the game’s scoring at 34-32.
Central went up 43-42 on Holley’s 3 from the left wing with 2:02 on the clock.
East Hamilton’s spurt to start the fourth quarter, in which Dominic Powell, Ladarius Watkins, Tyler Lowery, Bunton and Thompson all scored, put a world of hurt on the Pounders.
“They came out excited to play and we didn’t,” Rogers said, “and we were in trouble. We were flat and we can’t play that way. They’ve got a lot of big kids who can shoot the 3. We gave up nine of them and that’s way too many. But they have a good group of kids who deserved to win tonight.
Powell scored 14 points for East Hamilton and Knox added 11. Swafford and Holley each scored 17 points for the Pounders and Morgan had 15 on five 3-pointers. The Pounders made a total of 12 3s, with Swafford hitting four and Holley three.
East Hamilton girls 57, Central 38: The Lady Hurricanes pulled away in the second half to knock off the Lady Pounders, putting the finishing touches on a 14-0 district campaign.
Juliette Harp led East Hamilton (20-8 overall) with 17 points and Jessica Caudle added 14.
“This is our last year in this district and we’ve talked about our last go around and making a statement,” Lady Hurricanes coach Derek Morris said. “We weren’t picked to finish first in the preseason. I’m really proud that after we started 1-5 we still wound up with a 20-win season.
“We’ve played lethargic in several games recently, but were still winning. We also talked about getting that fire back and I felt the girls were more intense tonight. I think they’re excited the playoffs are about to start and I’m hoping we'll start rolling again. We’ve got to be ready to crank it up.”
Sandrea Sylman led Central with 13 points and Madison Rogers tossed in 10.
East Hamilton 9 12 16 20 – 57
Central 4 11 9 14 – 38
East Hamilton (57) – Jessica Caudle 14, Petitt 2, Juliette Harp 17, Stovall 2, Woods 2, K. Caudle 7, McCollum 2, Zackery 6, Moon 5.
Central (38) – Jones 1, McReynolds, Rogers 5, Davis 1, Powell 3, Sandrea Sylman 13, India Conley 10, Mitchell 6.
3-Point Goals – East Hamilton 1 (J. Caudle); Central 1 (Rogers).
East Hamilton 13 17 17 20 – 67
Central 19 13 13 16 – 61
East Hamilton (67) – Tracy Thompson 16, Lowery 4, Dominic Powell 14, Kenny Bunton 13, Herndon 4, Griffith, Cody Knox 11, Dennis 2, Watkins 4.
Central (61) – Dewuan Swafford 17, Cobb 3, Hill, Hayes, Colton Morgan 15, Stewart 7, David Holley 17, Tiller.
3-Point Goals – East Hamilton 9 (Thompson 4, Bunton 3, Powell 2); Central 12 (Morgan 5, Swafford 4, Holley 3).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)