NEW MADRID - The 12th annual Riverbend Classic at New Madrid County Central heats up this weekend starting this Friday afternoon with high caliber high school basketball action.
The classic, commonly known as the "Rumble by the River", began in 1994 and this year's installment will include four teams from Missouri, and teams from Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi.
Four action-packed games apiece are schedule for Friday and Saturday. Starting on Friday at 2 p.m., NMCC takes on Pine Bluff, Ark.
Last year, Pine Bluff made the state playoffs for the 10th consecutive year. In 2003, Pine Bluff won a state championship and has been ranked in the top 10 of the state for the last 10 straight years.
The Bell City Cubs will match up against Memphis Central on Friday at 3:30 p.m. The Cubs return 6-foot-10 University of Memphis signee Will Bogan. Bell City finished in second place last year in Class 1 and besides Bogan, the Cubs will return sharp shooting guard Nick Niemczyk and leaper Phillip Gross.
Memphis Central were state champs in 1981 and 1982 and return the bulk of their starters from a year ago.
At 5 p.m. on Friday, the Vashon Wolverines hit the floor against Byhalia, Miss. Vashon was the Class 5 state champions a season ago and has a storied history.
For the first time in over 30 years, Floyd Irons will not be the head coach of Vashon. Instead, former St. Louis University standout and NBA journeyman Anthony Bonner will take over the reins.
The Wolverines return 6-7 Division I prospect Leon Powell and boast two 6-8 seniors in Ben Adams and Ray Harrell.
Byhalia finished 22-7 last year and are a traditional power in Mississippi. Byhalia has been in the Riverbend five of the last nine years.
The last game on Friday at 6:30 p.m. could be the game of the night with Charleston facing West Memphis, Ark. Charleston will be without the services of 6-5 forward Jamarcus Williams but fans can witness the play of 6-4 swingman Justin Clark, the quickness of point guard Shawn Sherrell and the up-and-coming post play of 6-5 junior Brian Parham for the Bluejays.
West Memphis were state champs in 2004 and finished 20-9 last year. Since 1980, West Memphis has won five state titles with the most recent three being in 1988, 2000 and 2001.
The lineup for Saturday will start with Bell City versus Byhalia at 2 p.m. At 3: 30, NMCC will battle West Memphis followed by Charleston facing Pine Bluff at 5 p.m.
The finale of the tournament will feature Vashon taking on Memphis Central at 6:30 p.m.
Besides the play on the floor, the uniqueness of the Riverbend is the tradition of saluting a team, player or coach who demonstrates both the class and skill of a "champion".
This year, the spotlight shines on former Charleston and NMCC head coach Lennies McFerren and current NMCC head coach Travis Day.
McFerren had an overall coaching record of 547 wins with 186 losses. With Charleston and NMCC, McFerren had 12 final four appearances winning nine state titles.
In addition, McFerren has coached 17 district champions and was a seven- time SEMO Conference coach of the year. McFerren was the national coach of the year in 2000 and was inducted into the Missouri Basketball Hall of Fame in the same year.
Day graduated from Central Methodist University and after a stellar basketball playing career. Since graduating, Day has been the assistant coach at Moberly Junior College, Central Methodist and Kemper University.
Two additional individuals associated with NMCC and its athletic program will also be honored. Bob Pulliam was the official scorekeeper for the Eagles from 1982 until 2002.
Pulliam also taught at NMCC for 29 years and while on the sideline saw the Eagles win three state titles and a second place finish.
Brad Whatley has been the public address announcer for NMCC since 1987 for football and basketball. A 32-year veteran teacher at NMCC, Whatley is the "voice" of Eagle athletics and his level of quality and professionalism sets him apart.