Hampton basketball coach Ned Smith knows team records can be deceiving at this point in the season.
Smith guided three Cloudland teams to the state tournament (2006-07 and ’09) with less than stellar records. His Highlanders were 20-10 on their way to Murfreesboro in 2009 after sporting respective 20-13 and 14-18 records in 2006 and ’07.
So when Hampton (29-5) takes on Nashville’s LEAD Academy in the quarterfinals of the Class A state tournament today at 11 a.m. (Eastern), the Panthers’ 17-11 record won’t give Smith any false sense of security.
“I think they’re probably playing their best basketball right now,” Smith said while en route to Murfreesboro on Wednesday. “They may also be in tough conference down there in the middle of Nashville.”
LEAD began the season 3-7, but followed it with a five-game win streak that included an encouraging 59-47 victory against Donelson Christian Academy.
“I think that was one of the turning points,” LEAD coach Matt Barksdale said Wednesday, “when our guys realized that, you know, if they played together and played hard and played tough defense, they could play with anyone. … It took a while for us to jell as a team, but once we did our scoring was balanced, our defense improved a whole lot. And the thing I love about this team is we’ve got seven or eight guys who are capable of leading us in scoring any given night.”
Barksdale is in his first year at a second-year program. He graduated from Georgia (2010) and was head coach in 2012-13 at Brentwood’s Sunset Middle School. He didn’t bring in any players to a program that’s been fed by all sectors of Nashville as well as Antioch.
“They were here when I got here,” Barksdale said. “A handful of them started at LEAD Academy Middle School. And what they’ve done is add a grade level every year, and this is the first year we have a graduating class.”
Senior 5-foot-8 guard Raymond Clay saved the Panthers season in the regional opener, going coast to coast out of a timeout to beat the buzzer with a 17-footer for a 57-55 win at Fayetteville.
“He has the ability to get hot and knock down some open jump-shots,” Barksdale said. “But even if his jump-shot’s not falling he’s been great at distributing the basketball.”
Hampton’s distributor, senior point guard Cody McClain, hit a game-winner from some 15 feet with four seconds left for a 55-53 sectional victory against Grace Christian. It was gratifying for a driven player who motivates himself with a newspaper clipping from a regional title game the Bulldogs lost to Cloudland two years ago thanks, in part, to McClain’s two missed free throws late in the game.
“It’s still in my backpack, to be quite honest with you,” said McClain, whose sectional game-winner completed a rally after the Bulldogs trailed by five points late. “It felt good; the last time playing at home ever — it felt real good. But that wasn’t the whole game. The team played great leading up to that.
“We stayed calm and we were able to pull it out. Everybody just kept fighting and locked up on defense.”
An impressive passer and quality shooter, McClain is averaging 10.4 points, 7.1 assists, 3.8 steals and 2.7 steals per game. Junior 6-foot-2 post Stanley Valentine is leading the Bulldogs in scoring (16.1) and rebounding (8.2), and Cheyenne Camillo (11.0 ppg) is the primary 3-point threat on a team with many.
“The point guard (McClain) looks like a really solid player — a great shooter, great at getting into the lane, a good penetrator,” Barksdale said. “And then … Valentine is really good in the post and incredibly athletic. He plays really good pressure defense … and crashes the boards. He’s a really solid player. Camillo is a shooter. If he gets any type of space, he’s gonna knock it down.”
Forward Tristan Robinson (9.8 ppg) and combo guard Colby Jones (9.7 ppg) are key cogs in a balanced Bulldogs attack.
“Cody does a good job just being a floor general and getting the ball where it needs to go, and I think it rubs off and just makes the whole team unselfish,” Smith said. “They’re all unselfish. We throw it inside and the kids throw it back out, and Cody and Chey (Camillo) drive and kick.”
LEAD Academy is balanced, too. Clay averages around eight points per game, and his 5-foot-10 twin brother, Austin, averages around 7.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. Jermaine Sawyers, a 5-foot-8 senior, averages approximately 10 points after leading the way with 22 in a 78-66 sectional win against Collinwood. Brandon Thomas, a 5-foot-11 center, scored 17 points against Collinwood.
And 6-foot-3 DeMarco Jackson apparently has the most upside.
“He’s definitely gonna be a big-time player if he continues to work hard,” Barksdale said. “He’s a good shooter and great at attacking the basket. He’s long and athletic. He could play all five positions if we needed him to.”
The Panthers’ athleticism is a concern, but Hampton expects to continue with its trapping defenses.
“We talked to our players and we’re gonna try to do what got us here — play our style of ball,” Smith said. “They’re really quick and like to get to the hole. They press some. A real athletic team. They like to get it up and down the floor.
“We’re just gonna try to play ‘em all straight up. … Our biggest key is just trying to stay in front of ‘em and try to keep them off the boards. … We’ve got to be good in transition defense and we’ve gotta really run the floor and keep our kids fresh.”
Notes: Hampton shot and practiced at the University of Tennessee on Wednesday after practicing two days at Viking Hall. Smith, in his third season as Hampton’s head coach, was Jerry White’s assistant when the Nathanael Hughes-led Bulldogs reached the state semifinals in 2011.
Class AA quarterfinal, 3:45 p.m. (EST)
Greeneville (25-9) vs. Carter (26-7)
In an attempt to get a better feel for shooting at the Murphy Center, Greeneville practiced Sunday at Tusculum, Monday in East Tennessee State’s Minidome and on Tuesday at Tennessee. The Greene Devils can only hope that depth perception will be a concern for Carter, which plays fast and launches 3-pointers at a pace Paul Westhead made famous at Loyola-Marymount. Coach Joby Boydstone’s Carter scored at least 100 points 12 times this season, and tallied 85 or more in 10 others.
“They’re gonna get the ball up and down the floor and get shots up pretty quick,” Greeneville coach Brad Woolsey said. “And they’re gonna do a great job of going after offensive rebounds. I mean, it’s a run-and-gun show, but those kids play really hard. And if you don’t match their intensity … and effort, then you could be in for a long night.”
Jordan Bowden averages around 18 points per game for Carter. He scored 20 in a 72-57 sectional win at home against Unicoi County.
“Bowden is a kid that’s very athletic,” Woolsey said. “He can handle the basketball. He can penetrate. He shoots it. He does a little bit of everything, and he’s 6-3 and pretty long.”
The Greene Devils are considerably more deliberate (58.2 ppg), but have three players averaging double-figure scoring — 5-foot-9 senior wing Hays Culbreth (11.2), 6-foot-1 senior point guard Trevor Wright (10.7) and 6-foot-1 senior wing Anton Almqvist (10.1 ppg). Almqvist scored 17 points in a double-overtime win at Science Hill on Feb. 7.
A 54-52 loss at Chuckey-Doak three days later was a more valuable experience.
“We felt like that was kind of a game that helped our kids just wake up a little bit,” Woolsey said. “Really, from that point on I felt like probably the biggest thing that changed was how we practiced.”
Culbreth has made a team-high 43 treys while shooting 35 percent from that range. Junior 5-foot-8 point guard Quan Harrison leads Greeneville in assists (81). Greeneville has been iffy at the foul line (272-465, 58 percent).
Woolsey hopes today’s game won’t be as simple as jump it up and then hold your breath while Carter penetrates, pitches and crashes the offensive boards.
“If they’re on, yeah, it can make things really difficult,” Woolsey said. “But … we believe if you just keep playing and continue to contest … usually you don’t stay hot the entire game. Just like any game, you’ve gotta be able to weather storms and take care of the basketball.”comments powered by Disqus