’Toppers face tall challenge in Arby’s opener

Douglas Fritz • Dec 26, 2012 at 5:50 PM

BRISTOL — Science Hill faces a test of its quickness versus a team with plenty of size.

But there’s a little more to the Memphis Melrose picture.

“Most of their size is athletic, and quick, too,” said Hilltoppers’ head coach Ken Cutlip, whose team has won 17 of its first 18 games. “It’s one thing to play a team with size, but not a lot of quickness.”

Melrose will floor a starting lineup of 6-7, 6-5, 6-5, 6-3 and 6-foot when it takes on Science Hill tonight in the opening round of the Arby’s Classic at Viking Hall. Tipoff in the 30th annual tournament is set for 7 p.m.

Action kicks off with Gate City, Va., taking on Urspring, Germany at 1 p.m. Cherokee goes up against Grand Bahamas Tabernacle Baptist at 2:30, and Tennessee High plays Maryland’s Princeton Day Academy at 4.

At 5:30 p.m., Mentor, Ohio, meets Abingdon, Va., and the final game is Virginia Episcopal against Oak Ridge at 8:30 p.m.

Defending champion Arden (N.C.) Christ School returns and will play Thursday at 7 p.m. against Sullivan East. The team is led by former Science Hill standouts Shannon Hale and Jaylen Allen.

Round of 16 contests continue Thursday, and the event runs through Monday’s championship.

Leading the way for Melrose (10-2) is Markel Crawford, who averaged 17 points and six rebounds per game last year. Crawford, a 6-5 senior, has committed to Memphis.

James Jones Jr., Donte Fitzpatrick and K.C. Goodwin are other key players. Goodwin is the point guard and has committed to Southern Illinois.

For Science Hill to have a shot, Cutlip said it comes down to taking care of the basketball.

“That’s the key for us,” said Cutlip. “If we handle the ball, I believe we will get really good shots. Then we have to knock them down.”

This will be Science Hill’s first Arby’s Classic appearance since 2010. The Hilltoppers sat out the 2011 event for a chance to play in Hawaii.

However, many of the Hilltoppers’ regulars have not only played in the Arby’s, but have also gone toe to toe with Memphis teams.

“The seniors saw Melrose when they were freshmen,” said Cutlip. “Two years ago we played Southwind. And then last year we played Memphis East in the state tournament.

“I feel like we’re getting better each time we’ve played a Memphis team. And our seniors have something to prove.”

Cutlip said returning to the Arby’s, and the potential of a big crowd, won’t bother his players.

“The Arby’s is special,” said Cutlip. “But it’s much more difficult, in my opinion, to adjust for the state tournament. Our kids are used to playing in (Viking Hall). I don’t think there will be any adjustment at all. The kids are excited and looking forward to competing against one of the best teams in the state.”

Regardless of what happens today, Science Hill will play either Virginia Episcopal or Oak Ridge on Friday.

“The first two games will be really big tests for us,” said Cutlip. “And it’s an opportunity to go out and surprise some people.”

Notes: Session tickets are $10. Tournament passes are $50. Tickets are available at the Tennessee High athletic office or Bristol locations of Arby’s restaurants. …

Melrose won the Arby’s Classic title in 2009.

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