Hoops heat up

Area teams among district frontrunners

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By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

If you’re a Lady Vol fan, you sure have to hope Tennessee was right.

William Blount High School senior and University of Georgia signee Angela Puleo blew up Bearden for 42 points Tuesday night, including a 30-point eruption in the second half, rallying the Lady Governors to an 82-79, District 4AAA victory.

In her previous two games, the Lady Governor All-State guard visited 30 on state power Austin-East and a new Blount County-record 46 on Alcoa. The outburst against the Lady Tornadoes, with 44 of the points coming over the final three quarters, sparked William Blount to a come-from-behind 78-67 win.

"I told (the team), ‘Don’t worry about the scoreboard, the refs, anybody,’" Puleo said.

Tennessee never recruited the 5-foot-10 Puleo, daughter of former major leaguer and William Blount baseball coach Charlie Puleo. As the district basketball seasons for Alcoa, Heritage, Maryville and William Blount hit the meat of the schedule this month, stay tuned.

Injuries have reduced the Lady Governor roster to a magnificent seven players at present, with no true post player in the lot. Puleo has to score.

Somebody’s going to get 50 real soon.

Puleo’s pyrotechnics in recent days is one of several compelling stories as high school basketball heats up, not the least of which being can the boys teams at Maryville and Alcoa score for their respective schools a championship double to go with last fall’s football titles?

"Basically, winners know how to win," first-year Rebels coach Mark Eldridge said.

Led by senior Kent Basile’s 17.1 points per game, Maryville enters Friday’s contest at Sevier County with four players averaging in double figures. Point guard Jordan Damron is tossing in 13.7 points an outing, with junior Wes Lambert adding 11.9, junior Aaron Douglas 11.1. Senior and Tennessee football commitment Tyler Maples, last season’s district tournament most valuable player, is just getting up to speed after recovering from an ankle injury suffered during the state playoffs.

With the 6-foot-7, Tennessee football commitment Douglas as its centerpiece, Maryville sports a legitimate 10-deep team that can score from all sides. Damron (46.4 percent) and Lambert (43.9) are shooting lights out from 3-point range, with Basile warming the rims at a 35 percent clip.

It affords Eldridge the ability to not only vary the style of play but the game’s pace, as well.

"One thing I’ve always wanted to do is dictate tempo, that is, control the game," he said. "If we need to play half court, I feel like we can because Aaron is so tough in the paint, and we shoot it well."

Douglas, Maples and football quarterback Derek Hunt are fast closing on basketball fitness.

"In a month’s time, I feel like we’re going to be where we need to be," Eldridge said.

So, too, are likely to be the Tornadoes, whom the Rebels host on Saturday.

Much like Eldridge, Alcoa coach Micah Marsh is beginning to reap the benefits of the school’s gridiron stars reaching basketball shape. Senior and West Virginia football commitment Kyrus Lanxter tossed in a game-high 24 points as the Tornadoes blasted Anderson County, 86-57, on Tuesday. The Mavericks took an early season contest by eight in December, just days after Alcoa claimed its third consecutive state football crown.

Paced by marksman Justin Ridenour, football speedster Brian Sommer and hot shooters off the bench like Trey Sewell — six 3-pointers on Tuesday — the Tornadoes began finding their form at a holiday tournament in Kentucky over Christmas. A convincing, 60-48 win at William Blount last week, coupled with Tuesday’s result, has Marsh hopeful as Alcoa enters a big weekend.

The Tornadoes visit District 3AA frontrunner Fulton on Friday before the clash with the Rebels on Saturday.

"Defensively, we’re going to have buckle down," Marsh said. "We’re not the best offensive team in the county, but we can score."

District races in both girls and boys play are sure to tighten over the coming weeks. The Rebels get a crack at district unbeaten Farragut next week. The Tornadoes entertain 3AA heavyweight Austin-East on the 19th.

District 4AAA girls plays is shaping up to be a race to the finish, with Heritage’s Lady Mountaineers and Maryville’s Lady Rebels sitting atop the standings in a three-way tie with South-Doyle.

Maryville visits Heritage on the 19th in a game that could go a long way in determining this year’s regular-season champion.

Then there’s the Lady Governors, last season’s district tournament champions, hovering just off the horizon at fourth in
league play. And Puleo doesn’t look to be slowing down at all.

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