BRISTOL — It’s a long way from Mountain City to Memphis, and it has been a long time since Johnson County was in the Arby’s Classic.
Both of those things were brought into closer perspective at the drawing for the 31st annual tournament, scheduled for Dec. 26-31 at Viking Hall. The pairings were announced Sunday at the Arby’s restaurant on Volunteer Parkway.
The Longhorns will participate in the event for the first time since the inaugural tourney in 1983. This time they will be paired in the first round with Memphis Hamilton, a game scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 26.
“We always had been interested in getting into the tournament,” said Longhorns’ head coach Austin Atwood. “We tried in 2005 and 2009, but they were already full. We’re very honored to be invited, and we hope to have a real good showing.”
Johnson County got a nice draw in one sense. The ’Horns will be in the main bracket thanks to getting a blank paper on the pull from the box by Atwood’s son, Blake.
“I told him to draw a blank if he didn’t want to walk home,” said Atwood with a laugh. “He got the blank, but he drew Hamilton and that’s not much better. So I told him I might drop him off at the Butler Bridge.”
Hamilton boasts two nationally ranked players in 6-6 junior Keelon Lawson and 6-8 sophomore Dedric Lawson. Memphis, Kentucky, Kansas and Louisville are recruiting the brothers, and the younger is ranked as the No. 4 sophomore in the nation.
“We want to enjoy this, but we also want to be competitive,” said Atwood. “It’s a team that won’t know a whole lot about us. It will be a tough test.”
Also among the first-round matchups are Sullivan East playing Urspring, Germany, and Sullivan South battling the Muggsy Bogues-coached Charlotte (N.C.) United Faith Christian Academy. East will meet the defending champion in the first round for the second straight year.
Noticeably absent once again is Science Hill. The Hilltoppers will play in the KSA tournament in Orlando, Fla., after Christmas and miss the Arby’s for the second time in three years.
“We are doing what is best for our program,” said Hilltoppers’ head coach Ken Cutlip. “I try every other year to take the team away for something unique and special. You only have two opportunities: One is Thanksgiving, and one is Christmas. I have never had a team go away for a tournament and come back and not be closer knit and a better team.
“But we are thankful to participate in the Arby’s when we can. It’s a great tournament, and a great atmosphere.”