It was a good year already.
Getting Jordan Damron pegged the needle.
The sweet-shooting Maryville High School point guard recently committed to play his college basketball at Maryville College. It was a super acquisition for long-time Scots coach Randy Lambert.
Damron, a 6-foot floor leader with all the skills, was the most valuable player at last year’s state tournament. His commitment caps a banner year for Lambert on the recruiting trail, both in-state and out. Just what Damron and his 18.4 points per game can do for a Scots team coming off a record-setting season this winter is substantial.
“No question,” Lambert said. “We had a great recruiting year. I’d like to attribute it to a lot of hard work and our reputation as a school and a basketball program.
“I think our staff started really early this year and got on a lot of good players and established a good relationship with them.”
A player of Damron’s caliber would constitute a great year in and of itself for a small, Division III school like Maryville, but, this year, there’s so much more. From football coach Tony Ierulli to soccer coach Pepe Fernandez, all of Maryville College’s coaches hit the mother lode this spring.
“I think it was that kind of year for our type of student/athlete,” Lambert said. “This year, there were a lot of good players who were exceptional students.”
With scholarship offers from at least four Division I schools, including East Tennessee State, Damron had his choices. To improve his chances of getting the All-State guard in a Maryville College uniform next season, Lambert said he played it cool during recruiting.
“I recruited Jordan the same way I recruited the rest,” he said. “I always stay on the perimeter and wait for that moment to attack.”
In the end, Maryville College — winning basketball program, stringent academic standards — simply had what Damron was looking for, Lambert said.
“He recruited us almost as hard as we recruited him,” he said. “I tried that same thing with (former Maryville High and Florida star) Lee Humphrey, but it didn’t work.”
Among a strong class who’ll join Damron at Maryville College next season is his high school teammate Wes Lambert, the coach’s son, a shooting guard as deadly from the perimeter as Damron. Coming over from William Blount High School is slashing forward Corey Welch.
“Most of his scoring was attacking the basket,” Lambert said, “but he has the ability to shoot from the perimeter as well.”
On a scale every bit as impressive as Lambert acquiring Damron, Fernandez landed the region’s top talent when he got a commitment from Maryville High School star Ridge Carter.
“Ridge is special,” Fernandez said.
Named District 4AAA Player of the Year a season ago, Carter is not only a magician with a soccer ball, the dazzling Rebel forward/midfielder is a whiz in the classroom as well.
During Maryville High commencement ceremonies recently, Carter was named the Class of 2008 salutatorian. He brushed aside offers — both athletically and academically — to attend Maryville College.
“That says a lot for Maryville College to be able to keep a great kid at home,” Fernandez said. “Academically, he’s Ivy League. Athletically, he’s D-I.”
Carter wants to be a doctor. At Maryville College, he’ll be a Presidential Scholar, one entering with a 4.5 grade point average.
“He’s going to impact other programs, not just soccer,” Fernandez said. “The professors are excited about him, and you don’t hear that very often. One of them told me the other day, ‘Oh, my God! We recruited a great science kid.’”
Maryville High teammate David Large is joining Carter at MC, and, together with big signings across the state, this fall could prove to be a season like few the program has experienced, Fernandez said.
“I really think it’s going to be right up there with the best classes we’ve had,” he said.
Maryville College’s Midas-touched recruiting year was also felt in volleyball, where coach Kandis Schram secured the services of 6-foot, Maryville Christian School leaper Kristin Findley for next season.
Findley represents a legacy commitment, if you will, her mom, Donna Owens Findley, a Maryville hall of famer and Schram’s former teammate. Schram was all but giddy earlier this month when Kristin Findley announced she was following her mother to Maryville College. Ierulli was equally excited when Clement announced he would become a Scot as well.
“We were very aggressive in recruiting him,” Ierulli said. “We like the thought of he’s a kid coming from a four-time state championship team. One of the reasons we think our program has turned around is getting kids from championship football teams.”
Ierulli said he can understand the attraction of major Division I schools with athletic scholarships to offer, but for the student/athlete where the student part is equally or more important, he’s glad some of the best of the best are now making Maryville their first choice.
The football Scots are coming off a 7-3 season a year ago. A player of Clement’s caliber, who starred at both receiver and defensive back at Maryville High, could notch that number even higher this fall.
“We’ve had a lot of success on the football field,” Ierulli said. “Why not play for your hometown college?”
Former Maryville High quarterback Derek Hunt and former Rebel linebacker Tanner Caylor have both decided to do just that after a year away. Both, like Clement, Damron and Carter, have commitment to be Scots next year.