Grindstaff adds name to Carter County Classic

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   An annual Carter County holiday basketball tradition looks to be better than ever in 2002.
   The Grindstaff Carter County Classic will take place Dec. 26-28 at Hampton High School. It should provide great basketball excitement and a chance for fans to win prizes.
   This is the first-year Grindstaff Automotive has been a part of the tournament, and Unaka head coach Donald Ensor believes that will make for an even better tournament this holiday season.
   "It's a great tournament," Ensor said. "I think the fans are going to be very excited about what's going on. You've got Steve Grindstaff coming in as a major sponsor, and anything he has ever had his hands on has been done exactly right and to the best."
   The major promotion of the tournament will be the chance to win a PT Cruiser. 12 fans, whose names will be drawn out of a hat after halftime of each game, will have a chance to shoot from the other end of the court. The first fan that makes the shot will win the car.
   As for the tournament itself, there will be eight teams vying for the title.
   The first-round match-ups on Dec. 26 include Unaka vs. Unicoi County at 4:30 p.m., Happy Valley vs. University High at 6 p.m., Cloudland vs. Whitesburg, Ky. at 7:30 p.m. and Hampton vs. North Greene at 9 p.m.
   The second round match-ups could possibly include rivalry games like Happy Valley vs. Unicoi County, Unaka vs. University High, and Hampton vs. Cloudland.
   "The Arby's has got better teams and better individual stars, but I don't think they'll have any better games," Hampton head coach Bud Hazelwood said. "Each first round game should be competitive. Then when you get to the second round, you've got the possibility of some good rivalries. I think it's going to be a real good tournament."
   Cloudland head coach Ned Smith thinks playing in this tournament is a great opportunity for his squad.
   "We've played in it two or three years, and we like going down there," Smith said. "It's not too far to travel. The fans come watch, and it's a good tournament.
   As for a favorite in this year's event, many of the area coaches think that University High might be the team to beat.
   The Junior Bucs have been one of the area's top teams early on in the season, and feature 6-6 center Brandon Bradley.
   "They could be the favorite," Ensor said. "They've got the good center back, and he's a player. They're undefeated right now. They're a solid team with a very good coach."
   University High head coach Tony Gordon isn't buying that his team is the favorite.
   "I think they're all trying to butter me up," Gordon said. "We've got a nice chemistry, and a good mix of kids that are playing well. They really work hard. But I wouldn't say that we're going to come to Carter County and play in a tournament over here as a favorite. They have such good programs over here with a lot of tradition, and they're well-coached."
   Tickets for the event will be $4.00 per session and $10.00 for a tournament pass.
   NOTE: Look for more on this event in upcoming editions of The STAR.