The rings 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 schools 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 isnt 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, werent 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 isnt scoring or rebounding, though, where Eldridge hopes Maples, Douglas and Hunt will have the biggest impact this weekend.
"Theyre 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."
Its a Maryville team equal parts mentally tough and strategically deep that goes in pursuit of the schools 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 Oglesbys 25-plus points per game.
"The big thing is theyve got the kid going to Clemson," he
said. "Hes going to get his 20 shots a game. He makes them
"The other two kids (Dodd and 6-foot-8, Princeton-bound senior Kyle Groothuis) are starting to understand their roles, and theyre solid. He (Oglesby) is the key, though. Hes the go-to. Hes 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 opponents top gunslinger, having dueled with Science Hill senior and Georgetown signee Omar Wattad during last weeks 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, its an experience group of Bears awaiting Maryville. Its also one Eldridge hopes the Rebels can wear down. Bradley Central seldom uses more than six players in a contest.
"Were going to have to make it an ugly game," Eldridge said. "Were 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 its 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 Maryvilles title
hopes, but theres 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.
"Im always up to a challenge," he said. "I put in some more work this year. Ive 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 dont sell Basile, Damron and rest short, Eldridge said. Damron has matched crossovers with some of nations elite players on the AAU circuit. Basile, basically, is fearless.
"They wont 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 youve got to earn it."
Damron feels this seasons basketball Rebels are in a position to begin doing just that.
"Weve peaked at the right time," he said.
All thats left, Eldridge said, is to go and play.
"Were in it," he said, "so why not try to go down there and
get one and not be content with where were at. There are
eight teams that want it pretty badly. Its whos going to execute? Whos going to hit the big shot?
"Its been a long year, but this is the way to end it."