MURFREESBORO — Stanley Valentine was named to the All-Class A state tournament basketball team Saturday night, and he should have a good opportunity to repeat the feat next year.
Hampton’s 6-foot-3 junior forward had 40 points (15-of-24 shooting), 17 rebounds and four steals while helping the Bulldogs reach the state semifinals, and he’s one of three key cogs returning from a 30-6 team.
It’s hard to overstate the loss of senior point guard Cody McClain, and fellow seniors Tristan Robinson and Cameron Crain were valuable contributors for Ned Smith. But rising junior combo guard Coby Jones and sharp-shooting senior wing Cheyenne Camillo combine with Valentine for a potent trio of returners.
“I’m gonna miss them (McClain, Crain, Robinson) next year,” Valentine said, “but I know next year I’ve gotta … work harder on my ball-handling and work harder with the young guys to get them ready so we can come back here next year and win it.”
With Camillo’s deep range, Jones’ ability to penetrate and Valentine’s presence from mid-range to the rim, Hampton will continue to be versatile. And rising senior Tyler Moody’s fearlessness was apparent in Murfreesboro.
McClain’s departure will create some turbulence in the short run. He was a steadying force who hit the 15-foot game-winner in the sectional.
McClain was 4-for-4 on reaching sectionals and Hampton also got to the state semifinals when he was a freshman on the varsity team. He said this year’s team was “hands down” the best.
“We even accomplished more than my freshman-year team did,” McClain said. “This is the best year that I’ve had in my life. I mean, it’s a tough way to go out, but I mean, we’ve accomplished a lot this year. … I was blessed enough to play in four substates (sectionals), which … to me, are the funnest games you’ll ever play in your life, the funnest atmosphere.”
And the fun should continue in Hampton for Smith, who should get an honorary PhD in chemistry for how well he blends personalities and his rapport with players. Smith took Cloudland to three state tournaments (2006, ’07, ’09) and was an assistant in Jerry White’s final season when Hampton reached the state semis in 2011.
Hampton would’ve had a chance to win the Class A title if Goodpasture had made the front end of a one-and-one free throw with 0.5 seconds left in regulation of its quarterfinal game against Memphis Mitchell.
But it didn’t, and Mitchell escaped in overtime. Hampton would have matched up far more favorably with Goodpasture and state runner-up Meigs County than it did with deep, athletic Mitchell, which dashed to a 56-27 victory in the state championship game on Saturday.
Dobyns-Bennett coach Charlie Morgan was in a hotel lobby early Saturday afternoon watching Tennessee give Florida all it wanted and thinking about how his Indians gave former Vol Aaron Green’s Oak Ridge Wildcats all they wanted in Class AAA’s Sweet 16 on March 4.
Oak Ridge is one that got away for a fisherman like Morgan.
Green can empathize. Oak Ridge lost 60-58 to Blackman in Saturday’s state championship game after leading 46-38 with 4:56 left.
Blackman responded with a 14-0 run. Oak Ridge turned the ball over repeatedly down the stretch while Blackman made free throws, and just like that, Queen’s “We Are the Champions” was blaring while ecstatic cheerleaders’ pom-poms glistened as much on one end of the court as the Oak Ridge players’ eyes were on the other.
Dobyns-Bennett could’ve held its own in the Class AAA field. Oak Ridge trailed 35-27 early in the third quarter at D-B in the sectional, but outscored the Indians 24-8 in the period and went on to win 62-55. Green’s Wildcats had an easier time beating D-B in Cleveland when 6-foot-3 senior wing Ty’leke Love was suspended in December.
“Dobyns-Bennett played really well the first half (of the sectional),” Green said. “Like coach (Morgan) said, ‘We had a big third quarter that was probably the difference in that game.’ No doubt, D-B had a quality team, especially once they got the kid eligible after Christmas – Love.”
Love’s dad, Robert, played at Science Hill, and Ty’leke went to Johnson City schools before switching school systems after sixth grade.
Green’s mother, Faye, went to Science Hill. Her uncle, avid Science Hill supporter Bill Bailey, was a standout football player for the Hilltoppers (class of ’62).
Bailey has become quite the Oak Ridge fan since Green took over in 2010 after spending three years in a somewhat limited role on Bruce Pearl’s staff. Bailey went to the Bahamas with Oak Ridge for a tournament this season and cheered for them at the Arby’s Classic in December during Science Hill’s absence.
Green made the All-Arby’s team in ’94 some eight months after helping his dad Danny’s Sweetwater team win the state title.
And another state title was within reach on the 20th anniversary.
“I got a little emotional yesterday (Friday) when somebody mentioned that,” Green said. “Those are great memories you have as a high school player, especially playing for your dad, you know. That brings up a lot of good emotions as a player and coach, especially 20 years later to get back here as a coach and have an opportunity to win one is real special.”
Not that Green was ready just yet to stomach much solace.
“There’s no moral victories at all,” Green said. “You’ll second guess things; wish we did this, wish we did that. But the bottom line is they made the plays in the fourth quarter to win it. We didn’t. …
“You’ve gotta give them credit. I’m just proud of our guys’ effort, and we had a shot at it.”
Trey Williams is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at email@example.com powered by Disqus