By Cam Huffman
It’s been called the Mountain State Coal Classic and now the Big Atlantic Classic, but for the last two decades the tournament, which will begin today at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, has done one thing — brought the best high school basketball teams in West Virginia to Beckley for a week of exciting basketball action.
“This should be another great tournament,” said tournament director Jim Justice, who will bring two of his own teams to the Big Atlantic Classic, the Greenbrier East boys and girls, both undefeated on the season. “We try hard to figure out who the best teams are going to be, and I think we have a lot of them coming.”
The tournament, Justice said, not only provides a great venue for players and teams to showcase their skills in front of an appreciative basketball audience, it’s also great preparation for the state tournament. Teams get to match up against quality opponents from other parts of the state, play in front of large crowds and compete in an arena with large free-standing goals, something many teams don’t often see until they get to Charleston.
With so many great teams and great players, it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly what to watch, so below is a guide to following the action from start to finish.
The events will kick off today with the annual tip-off banquet featuring Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Dinner will begin at 12:30 p.m., with the program, featuring Newton, starting at 1:30 p.m.
Doors will open at 1 p.m. for those who just want to hear the speaker. Those tickets will be $7.50 for adults and $2.50 for students.
TEAMS TO WATCH
Bluefield — Class AA’s top-ranked team, the Beavers enter the tournament at 10-1, the only loss a 68-61 setback to Class AAA No. 9 Princeton early in the season. Bluefield has won eight straight, including an impressive 75-56 win over Wyoming East.
Greenbrier East — Ranked No. 4 in Class AAA and the only undefeated team in the state in any class, the Spartans are 15-0 and looking to keep their perfect season in tact.
Montrose Christian — Like Oak Hill Academy, Montrose Christian, out of Rockville, Md., has a long history of putting players in the pros. Kevin Durant, Greivis Vasquez, Linas Kleiza, Damien Wilkins, George Lynch and Dennis Scott all came through the program, which was ranked No. 1 in the country in 1986 and 1998, going 23-0 both seasons.
This year’s team is 10-4 overall and ranked No. 3 in Maryland.
Morgantown — The state’s No. 2 Class AAA team, the Mohigans are 10-2. Their only losses came to Class AAA No. 3 Martinsburg — they avenged that loss by knocking off the Bulldogs last week — and to University on Saturday.
Musselman — A late addition to the tournament field, the Applemen aren’t ranked in Class AAA, but they’re 10-3 with the only losses coming to ranked squads in Martinsburg, Washington and Hedgesville. They’ll have something to prove this week.
Oak Hill Academy — Never heard of Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va.? How about Daron Lamb, Rajon Rondo, Josh Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Steve Blake, Ron Mercer or Jerry Stackhouse? Have you heard of any of them?
Twenty-four NBA draft picks have come through Oak Hill Academy since 1985, including those listed above, and the team won 44 games during the 2011-12 season and 65 straight from 2000-2002. OHA has finished first in the national rankings nine times since 1993, including last year’s team that was a perfect 44-0.
This year’s Warriors are 18-3 and ranked No. 15 in the country and No. 1 in Virginia.
Parkersburg South — Ranked No. 7 in Class AAA, Parkersburg South is 11-3 with a pair of losses to Morgantown and a 2-point setback at Brooke.
Robert C. Byrd — No. 5 in Class AA, the Eagles are 9-3 with the only losses to University, Bridgeport and Fairmont Senior.
Tygarts Valley — No. 12 in Class A, the Bulldogs are 9-2 coming into the Big Atlantic Classic with wins in three of their last four games.
Valley — Ranked No. 8 in Class A, the Greyhounds will bring a 7-2 record with them to the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
Westside — The No. 10 team in Class AA is 9-5 with some quality wins on its resumé.
Woodrow Wilson — No. 14 in Class AAA, the Flying Eagles are 8-4 overall but have won four straight after suffering through a three-game losing streak. They’ll have a home court advantage playing on the same floor it uses for its home games.
Wyoming East — The No. 3 team in Class AA, the Warriors are 10-2 with the only losses to Class AA No. 1 Bluefield and Class AAA No. 14 Woodrow Wilson.
George Washington — The No. 10 team in Class AAA, the Patriots are 9-4 and capable of upsetting one of the “big guns” in the tournament.
Greenbrier East — The top-ranked team in Class AAA, and the defending Class AAA state champions, the Spartans are a perfect 10-0, despite losing two of the top players from the championship squad.
Nicholas County — The No. 3 team in Class AA, the Grizzlies are 13-1 with the only loss against No. 1 Westside.
Preston — The No. 9 team in Class AAA, the Knights are 9-2 with the only losses to quality programs in Morgantown and Bridgeport.
University — The state’s No. 2 Class AAA team, the Hawks are 12-2 with losses to John Marshall and Hedgesville.
Westside — The top-ranked team in Class AA and the defending state champs at that level are 13-0 and haven’t really been challenged this year. The Renegades could meet up with Greenbrier East in a battle of undefeated defending champions if both teams win their first-round games.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Bryce Woodliff (Greenbrier East) — The Spartans’ senior point guard is averaging 12.5 points per game and leads the team with 27 3-pointers. He’s receiving looks from Liberty, Marshall and other college programs.
Rondale Watson (Greenbrier East) — Averaging nearly 25 points per game, the junior 3-guard has consistently been hearing from Marshall and West Virginia, and Justice said Kentucky called this week to inquire about the prolific scorer, who hit a halfcourt shot Friday night to beat Tug Valley.
Obi Romeo (Greenbrier East) — The big junior is still learning the game of basketball, but he has some things you can’t teach — specifically hands that wrap around the basketball, a 6-foot-7 frame and a wingspan of more than seven feet.
Ishmail Wainright (Montrose Christian) — A Scout.com four-star recruit, the No. 12 small forward in the country is 6-6 and comes in at 230 pounds. He committed to Baylor over Ohio State and Texas.
Nathan Adrian (Morgantown) — The Scout.com three-star power forward signed a scholarship with WVU. He’s scored 23 points in an upset of then-No. 1 Martinsburg earlier this month.
Sindarius Thornwell (Oak Hill Academy) — A Scout.com five-star recruit, rated as the No. 4 shooting guard in the country, Thornwell, who stands 6-5, signed to play college basketball at South Carolina.
Troy Williams (Oak Hill Academy) — A four-star Scout.com recruit, Williams is rated as the No. 11 small forward in the country. He’s 6-6 and is committed to play for Indiana.
Nate Britt (Oak Hill Academy) — A four-star recruit by Scout.com, Britt, who is signed to play college basketball at North Carolina, is the No. 12-ranked point guard in the country.
Ikenna Iroegbu (Oak Hill Academy) — Signed to play college basketball at Washington State, Iroegbu is a three-star recruit according to Scout.com and is rated as the No. 29 point guard in the country.
R.J. Curington (Oak Hill Academy) — A Scout.com three-star recruit, Curington is a 6-5 shooting guard who has received interest from schools like Baylor, Clemson, Illinois, Virginia and Xavier, but he doesn’t have an offer on the table at this point.
Lennard Freeman (Oak Hill Academy) — The Scout.com three-star power forward is receiving some interest from N.C. State and others. He’s 6-8 and weighs 215 pounds.
Doug Dennis (Parkersburg South) — The senior guard scored 25 points in a win over University last week.
Raeshawn Breckenridge (Valley) — The 5-11 junior guard is averaging 13.4 points per game to lead the Greyhounds.
Justin Cogar (Westside) — Only a sophomore, Cogar has quickly made an impact. The 6-3 forward is averaging a team-best 17.9 points per game.
Corey Bowles (Westside) — The 6-2 junior has a team-best 20 3-pointers in 12 games and is averaging 15.2 points per contest.
Donte Nabors (Woodrow Wilson) — The Flying Eagles junior 2-guard has been at his best the last few games and he leads the team, scoring nearly 20 points per contest.
Andrew Johnson (Woodrow Wilson) — A senior point guard, Johnson is a strong defender and has the ability to get to the rim on offense. He’s averaging 13.1 points per game.
Nequan Carrington (Woodrow Wilson) — Only a freshman, the 6-3 post player has the skills to develop into a special player, and he seems to be getting more comfortable with every outing.
Josh Tunstalle (Wyoming East) — The 6-1 junior guard can score inside and outside and is averaging 13.1 points per game.
Brett Bowling (Wyoming East) — The 6-4 senior forward leads the team with 15.3 points per game.
Austin Canada (Wyoming East) — An exciting junior point guard, Canada has found his outside range in recent games and is a great distributer. He’s averaging 12.3 points per game.
Rachel Ward (George Washington) — The senior point guard is averaging 16.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game.
Bianca André (Greenbrier East) — The only one of three all-staters to return after last year’s state championship, André is often a quiet force but can score points in bunches for the Spartans.
Shaelyn Shafer (Nicholas County) — The all-state center is averaging a double-double with more than 20 points and 12 rebounds per game.
MJ Braham (Preston) — The 6-2 senior center is averaging 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.8 blocks per game.
Mariah Callen (University) — The junior point guard was an all-stater last year and has scored more than 30 points in a number of games this season.
Hope Lester (Westside) — The first-team all-state center averages 17.4 points and 13 rebounds for the Renegades.
DON’T FORGET THE MIDDLE SCHOOLS
Four boys and four girls middle school teams will also compete during the first three days of competition, including the first four games on Monday. The younger teams will also provide some quality competition and get a chance to play in a big environment.