Winning is winning

Several Rebels no stranger to Murfreesboro

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By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

The ring’s the thing.

If a fourth comes by way of basketball, so be it.

"Coming into high school, I wanted to win four rings," Maryville senior Derek Hunt said. "I always assumed that it would be football."

Hunt quarterbacked the Rebels to their third consecutive football championship in December. Beginning this afternoon in Murfreesboro, the reserve shooting guard will begin the quest for a fourth state title, this one as a member of the school’s basketball team.

Maryville (27-7) meets fourth-ranked Bradley Central (33-4) in a quarterfinal game at the Class AAA state tournament at Middle Tennessee State University. Tipoff inside Murphy Arena is scheduled for 3 p.m. EST.

The Bears, led by Clemson signee Terrance Oglesby, have won 18 straight since a Jan. 8 loss to rival Red Bank. Two Bears, Oglesby and 6-foot-9 senior Keith Dodd (MTSU), have signed with Division I schools. Bradley Central, averaging 76.1 points per outing, is making its 18th trip to the state tournament, having three times left with the title.

Maryville is making its first state tournament appearance in 15 seasons and third overall.

All that withstanding, Maryville coach Mark Eldridge isn’t awed by the odds against his team, partly because the Rebels fell by only two to the Bears during a preseason scrimmage. Hunt, along with senior Tyler Maples and junior Aaron Douglas, weren’t with the basketball team then, all three still involved with football.

Since coming aboard in December, Douglas, 6-foot-7, is averaging 11.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, Maples 9.3 points. It isn’t scoring or rebounding, though, where Eldridge hopes Maples, Douglas and Hunt will have the biggest impact this weekend.

"They’re not going to be awed by playing in a championship environment," he said.

"We know how it feels to be playing in a state championship game," Douglas said, "so we know what we have to do."

It’s a Maryville team equal parts mentally tough and strategically deep that goes in pursuit of the school’s first basketball title. Senior shooting guard Kent Basile leads four players averaging double figures with 15.8 points per game. Slick junior point guard Jordan Damron is tossing in 12.3 points, junior shooting guard Wes Lambert 9.9.

With a collection of role players off the bench at his disposal, Eldridge believes Maryville has the collective firepower to answer Oglesby’s 25-plus points per game.

"The big thing is they’ve got the kid going to Clemson," he said. "He’s going to get his 20 shots a game. He makes them go.
"The other two kids (Dodd and 6-foot-8, Princeton-bound senior Kyle Groothuis) are starting to understand their roles, and they’re solid. He (Oglesby) is the key, though. He’s the go-to. He’s going to take the big shot."

Oglesby, a finalist for Mr. Basketball, is likely to draw Maples as a defensive shadow this afternoon. The Tennessee football commitment is no stranger to matching up with an opponent’s top gunslinger, having dueled with Science Hill senior and Georgetown signee Omar Wattad during last week’s sectional championship.

Along with sparking the Rebels to a hot start offensively, Maples limited the future Hoya to six points through three quarters.

With all five starters a senior, it’s an experience group of Bears awaiting Maryville. It’s also one Eldridge hopes the Rebels can wear down. Bradley Central seldom uses more than six players in a contest.

"We’re going to have to make it an ugly game," Eldridge said. "We’re looking to press, take them out of it and get them tired toward the end of the game."

Key for Maryville, as has been the case since he joined the team in December, will be Douglas. Basile, Damron, Lambert and Maples can be equally lethal from the perimeter, but it’s the respect Douglas necessitates underneath that makes the Rebels go. This afternoon, that task will be doubly-difficult.

Groothuis and Dodd have the sheer size to match up with Douglas, a Tennessee football commitment. Offensively, Groothuis has been on a tear during the postseason, pouring in 20-plus points in each of his last four games.

Sophomore Jay Reynolds, 6-foot-8, has improved steadily over the course of the season and could factor heavily in Maryville’s title hopes, but there’s little question that Douglas will bear the brunt of the muscle Dodd and Groothuis will wield
beneath the rim. He likes it that way, too.

"I’m always up to a challenge," he said. "I put in some more work this year. I’ve been working on my shot, trying to be the best player I can for my teammates."

The football pedigrees Hunt, Douglas and Maples bring adds a certain toughness, but don’t sell Basile, Damron and rest short, Eldridge said. Damron has matched crossovers with some of nation’s elite players on the AAU circuit. Basile, basically, is fearless.

"They won’t have any trouble down there," Eldridge said.

The basketball Rebels are well aware of the record-equaling 10 football championships Maryville has won.

"You want to build the basketball program up to the same status," Basile said, "but you’ve got to earn it."

Damron feels this season’s basketball Rebels are in a position to begin doing just that.

"We’ve peaked at the right time," he said.

All that’s left, Eldridge said, is to go and play.

"We’re in it," he said, "so why not try to go down there and get one and not be content with where we’re at. There are
eight teams that want it pretty badly. It’s who’s going to execute? Who’s going to hit the big shot?

"It’s been a long year, but this is the way to end it."

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