Classics take local basketball spotlight

By Jeff Birchfield

STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   Three Carter County schools will be participating in the upcoming Shoun's Lumber/Carter County Classic at Hampton High School over the holidays, while the Elizabethton Cyclones will once again take part in the prestigious Arby's Classic over Bristol's Viking Hall.
   Host school Hampton will also have Cloudland and Happy Valley as part of their holiday festivities, along with five other area schools.
   While the Arby's Classic is more well known, the Hampton tournament has become a strong tournament in its own right.
   "We don't have all the great individual players that the Arby's has, but we make up for that with real competitive games," said Hampton head coach Bud Hazelwood. "Most of our games aren't blowouts. Eight games in last year's tournament were decided by six points or less."
   The field for the Carter County Classic is a showcase for local rivals to face off in non-conference affairs. In first-round matchups, Hampton takes on North Greene, Cloudland will tangle with Unicoi County, Happy Valley goes up against David Crockett and University High will play Tri-Cities Christian.
   The first two contests mentioned involve teams that have already played against one another. Happy Valley and Crockett were scheduled to face off as well, but the first meeting was canceled because of the flu, and the second meeting fell victim to bad weather.
   The last matchup may be the most intriguing. University High is the defending tournament champion. Last season, the Junior Bucs were a Final Four participant in the TSSAA Class A playoffs. Tri-Cities Christian comes in as defending state champion among Christian schools in Tennessee.
   One team absent from last season is Whitesburg, Ky., the tournament runner-up in 2002. You really can't blame them for missing the Classic as they received the opportunity to participate in a Holiday event at the University of Kentucky's Rupp Arena.
   Hazelwood lists as favorites, University High and David Crockett, with athletic county teams from Cloudland and Happy Valley as other top contenders. However, he says not to count anyone out, including his own team, in this closely contested field.
   He was one of the organizers who helped to make this tournament what it is, along with former Bulldog head coach Jerry White. Hazelwood says much of the credit also has to be passed on to the event sponsors.
   Shoun Lumber is the latest to headline the tournament, much like Grindstaff Automotive, Watson's Marine and McClain's Exterminating have done in previous years. Hazelwood says that sponsors are a key in making this a success.
   "I worked together hand-in-hand with Jerry White to put together the best possible tournament," said Hazelwood. "Our goal is to treat the players and the coaches good. We give every player and coach a shirt from the tournament.
   "Having Shoun Lumber step up helps us continue the tradition of keeping a good sponsor. Those sponsors are so important in helping to provide for the tournament."
   The down home feel of the Carter County Classic is a plus when it comes to fan involvement and a great atmosphere.
   "I like to get out-of-state teams to participate and to see the different teams play their different styles," said Hazelwood. "But, having the local teams and the rivalries bring more enthusiastic crowds. The coaches like it because there is no better scouting report than to play someone again."
   Certainly, the Arby's Classic is better known on a regional level. Tennessee High School coach Dale Burns and company continue to bring some of the top out-of-area teams to Bristol to participate.
   Among the schools taking part in this year's Classic includes Barlett High School from Anchorage, Alaska, that state's defending champion team. The defending Tennessee Class AA champion Giles County and Class AAA champion Memphis White Station will also be in action.
   Two teams from Georgia - Riverdale High and Statesboro - are participants, along with Bradley Central from Cleveland. Irmo (S.C.) will make a return to the Arby's as well as out-of-area visitors from as far away as Lithuania Archbishop Malloy of Briarwood, N.Y., Tabernacle Baptist from the Bahamas, and Baptist College of Puerto Rico.
   The local contingent includes Virginia teams Honaker and Gate City. From the immediate Tri-Cities area, you have Dobyns-Bennett, Daniel Boone, Sullivan East, Science Hill, host Tennessee High, and Elizabethton.
   On the website, the Arby's staff lists Adam Turley and Lester Bailey as key players for Elizabethton's Cyclones. Recently many other players including Bradley Brown, Charles Peters and Chris Vaughn have turned up the level of play for coach Tony Hardin and staff.
   Elizabethton opens with Tabernacle Baptist at 1 p.m. on Friday in their first round matchup.
   Three local girls' teams from Cloudland, Elizabethton, and Johnson County will also be taking part this weekend in the Bandanas Barbeque Classic at Boone, North Carolina.
   Other participants in that tournament include Haysi, Va., and the host team from Watauga High School. A first-round matchup of interest will happen when Johnson County plays Elizabethton's girls at 6 p.m. on Friday.