East Hamilton's East-West Hoops Classic Can Be A Hit

Event Will Bring Memphis Teams To Face Area Squads

Sunday, October 29, 2017 - by Larry Fleming

In January 2013, The Rock School, out of Gainesville, Florida, came to Chattanooga to participate in the first Scenic City Showcase at East Hamilton School.

That inaugural tournament was designed to bring some of the Southeast’s top high school basketball talent to town. Those with the original idea, most prominent among them Duke Stone, headmaster at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy, hit a home run because The Rock had a top-tier talent in 7-foot senior center Joel Embiid.

Hamilton Heights would bring in the talent and East Hamilton, coached then by Michael Stone, son of the HHCA headmaster, had two gyms. It was a good marriage.

Embiid, possessed the power of a dominating center and the hardwood prowess of a remarkably agile perimeter player with outstanding ball-handling skills.

The big guy, who had committed to the University of Kansas a couple months before showing up in Chattanooga, ignited an instant following among local basketball fans. He would have a smile on his face while driving the baseline and “posturizing” opposition players much smaller with thunderous dunks.

Upon hearing of his exploits, Embiid attracted many more locals to the Hurricanes gymnasium for his encore performances. It was widely acknowledged that Embiid was the most talented high school player to ever play in the city.

After one year at Kansas in which he was finalist for the Naismith College Player of the Year award, Embiid, a native of Yaounde, Cameroon, was Philadelphia’s third pick in the first round of the NBA draft. Beset by injuries that caused him to miss the postseason and his first two professional seasons.

He’s now healthy and playing for the 76ers, who earlier this month signed him to a five-year, $148 million contract extension with additional incentives.

The Scenic City Showcase went defunct after its second tournament.

But, coaches at East Hamilton are trying their hands at another type of basketball entertainment – the first East-West Classic – scheduled for Dec. 7-9 and will pit teams from the Chattanooga area against Memphis squads.

Over the years, if teams east of Nashville wanted to compete and test their talent against Memphis squads that annually represent the best prep stars in Tennessee, they drove to the Bluff City.

East Hamilton’s girls’ coach Hunter Gremore and boys’ coach Rodney English have decided to buck that long-standing trend and bring Memphis-area schools to southeast Tennessee.

“I used my connections from 20 years coaching around Memphis to get some of those folks to come to Chattanooga and play a few games in our classic,” said Gremore, who coached for two decades coaching boys and girls basketball at Cordova and Arlington high schools. “I thought it was a good idea to get something going with good teams from Memphis and good teams from the eastern part of the state.”

While none of the teams involved in the first East-West Classic don’t have a Joel Embiid on their rosters, folks to come to East Hamilton on Dec. 7 and 8 and Bradley Central High School on Dec. 9, will see a lot of solid talent, especially among the girls teams involved, and good competition.

East teams participating are East Hamilton, Bradley Central, Oak Ridge and Cleveland.

West squads are Bartlett, Arlington, Bolton, Oakhaven and Houston.

“Our whole focus this year because we have so many kids returning, and I’m not saying we are guaranteed going back to state, but we’re going to work hard to make sure our kids are prepared,” said English, who took the Hurricanes to the program’s first state tournament. “I thought we were a little shell-shocked by Memphis East’s size, basketball IQs and ability to show discipline at last year’s tournament.

“The entire point of this year’s schedule is to play teams that put us in situations that Memphis East put us in last season.”

Four teams in the East-West Classic were in last season’s state tournament: East Hamilton and Oak Ridge boys and Oak Ridge and Houston girls.

Eventual champion Memphis East whipped East Hamilton’s by 20 points in the quarterfinals and Oak Ridge’s boys also lost to Memphis East 63-60 in the semifinals.

Houston’s girls reached the 2017 semifinals and Oak Ridge was ousted in the quarterfinals.

In 2016, Bradley’s Bearettes and Oak Ridge’s Lady Wildcats went to state, met in the semifinals and Oak Ridge lost to Riverdale in the title game. The Fayette Ware boys lost to eventual state champion Fulton in the semifinals.

“This was really Hunter’s idea and we worked to get the teams from Memphis,” English said. “Bradley’s contribution was bringing Oak Ridge with them. It’s attractive to have the Bradley girls with all their success and tradition, and that’s why we’ll play Saturday games at their place. I think the classic can be something big.”

The Bearettes took a 32-0 record into last season’s Class 3A Sectional round, but were upset by Stewarts Creek 55-49.

Coach Jason Reuter’s squad will have perhaps the most talented female player in the classic, 6-foot-1 Rhyne Howard, who was recruited by dozens of Division I schools and signed with Kentucky. Howard, who played varsity ball as an eighth-grader at East Hamilton, is the only senior on Bradley’s roster.

Howard was a Miss Basketball finalist last March, as was Houston’s Jayla Hemingway. Riverdale’s Anastasia Hayes won the award. Hemingway is back for the 2017-18 season.

Gremore said Arlington has multiple Division I prospects this season and the Lady Canes’ Madison Hayes, a sophomore, is also a highly sought prospect. She has already scheduled unofficial visits to South Carolina, Vanderbilt and North Carolina. She is working on scheduling trips to Florida, LSU, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, among others.

A multisport star, Hayes, whose younger sister McKenna is an up-and-coming eighth-grade standout, led the Lady Canes to the state volleyball tournament earlier this month.

“There will be Division I-type girls on the floor at any given time in this classic,” Gremore said. “We’re going to have a ton of talent on the court for this classic. When I talked to Rodney and Jason (Reuter), I told them we could make this happen, and we did. This could become one of the top classics in the state and maybe the Southeast.

“And we’re going to have four teams with the potential to make the state tournament this season: Houston and Arlington, my old school, and Bradley and Oak Ridge. On the boys, side, East Hamilton and Oak Ridge got to state last year and Fayette Ware and Bolton, or any team from Memphis, could get to Murfreesboro.”

Said English: “I think Chattanooga is primed for a really good tournament and this is our way of starting that. If we can attract three Memphis schools every year and have teams like Bradley and Oak Ridge, with their tremendous traditions – and we hope we can lump ourselves in that category pretty soon – then this thing is going to be phenomenal four our programs.”

Area basketball fans can also keep an eye on the second-year Cleveland Holiday Tournament after Christmas.

The tournament got off to a good start in 2016 with Clarksville Northeast and host Cleveland squaring off in a thriller. Northeast won the game 66-64 and is returning for the 2017 tournament.

The Cleveland tournament is scheduled for Dec. 27-29 at Raider Arena, one of the area’s top, if not best, basketball facilities in the region.

Eight games are scheduled on the opening day.

Opening-round boys’ games on the first day pit Cleveland and Sequoyah, Clarksville Northeast and Unicoi County, Walker Valley and Hixson and Siegel and Jones High School (Florida).

In the girls’ bracket, Cleveland plays Sequoyah, Signal Mountain takes on Unicoi County, Walker Valley squares off with Watertown and Hampton battles Christian Academy of Knoxville.

In past years, Hixson has hosted its own tournament and the 2015 event was headlined by champion Station Camp, a team that went into the 2016 state tournament 35-1 and lost to Cordova in the Class 3A semifinals 77-59.

However, school officials had trouble collecting money from the tournament’s primary sponsor and cancelled the 2016 event.

“Partly, among other things,” Hixson boys coach Lawanza Crutcher said, when asked if sponsor problems forced the school to drop the tournament. “We may start it back next year. Thank you for your concern.”

East-West Classic Schedule

Thursday, Dec. 7

At East Hamilton School

Girls: Houston vs. East Hamilton, 6 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 8

At East Hamilton School

Girls – Bartlett vs. East Hamilton, Noon

Boys – Oakhaven vs. East Hamilton, 1:30 p.m.

Girls – Arlington vs. Oak Ridge, 3 p.m.

Boys – Bolton vs. Bradley Central, 4:30 p.m.

Girls – Houston vs. Bradley Central, 6 p.m.

Boys – Fayette Ware vs. Oak Ridge, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 9

At Bradley Central High School

Girls – Bartlett vs. Cleveland, Noon

Boys – Oakhaven vs. Oak Ridge, 1:30 p.m.

Girls – Houston vs Oak Ridge, 3 p.m.

Boys – Bolton vs. East Hamilton, 4:30 p.m.

Girls – Arlington vs. Bradley Central, 6 p.m.

Boys – Fayette Ware vs. Bradley Central, 7:30 p.m.

(East-West Classic sponsored by Chick-fil-A)

Cleveland Holiday Tournament

At Cleveland High School

First-Round Games, Dec. 27

Girls – Hampton vs. Christian Academy Knoxville, 10 a.m.

Boys – Jones High (Florida) vs. Siegel, 11:30 a.m.

Girls – Unicoi County vs. Signal Mountain, 1 p.m.

Boys – Unicoi County vs. Clarksville Northeast, 2:30 p.m.

Girls – Walker Valley vs. Watertown, 4 p.m.

Boys – Walker Valley vs. Hixson, 5:30 p.m.

Girls – Sequoyah vs. Cleveland, 7 p.m.

Boys – Sequoyah vs. Cleveland, 8:30 p.m.

(Cleveland Holiday Tournament sponsored by Under Armour)

(Contact Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)

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