(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
NEW MADRID -- Basketball will return to the area this weekend with wealth of talent converging on the 16th Annual Riverbend Classic at New Madrid County Central High School.
With games on Friday and Saturday, the "Rumble by the River" will feature eight teams from Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee.
This year host NMCC along with Charleston and Scott County Central will represent Missouri while Pine Bluff, Ark., West Memphis, Ark., and Covington, Tenn., will return to the Riverbend while East Poinsett County, Ark. and North Little Rock, Ark. will take part in the shootout for the first time.
"I truly believe the Riverbend is the premiere early season event of its kind in the region, an annual "kick-off" to the basketball season in Southeast Missouri," said tournament director and NMCC athletic director Diane Fowler.
"Our ultimate goal is to make this event into something of which southeast Missouri can be proud."
Each year at the event, NMCC salutes a team, player or coach who exemplifies what the event is about -- showcasing those individuals or teams who have achieved a measure of athletic notoriety while demonstrating both the class and skill of a "true" champion. The Riverbend "spotlight" this year will be on East Poinsett County and North Little Rock.
The North Little Rock Charging Wildcats were state runner-ups in 1999 and 2004 in the 7A division and finished 20-10 last season, losing in the state semifinals. The Chargers feature 6-5 senior forward Chris Campbell, 6-4 senior center Donovan Coleman and 6-0 senior guard Reggie Bryles. North Little Rock is coached by Richard Alexander who has been coaching for 33 years, the last five at the helm of the Chargers.
North Little Rock will take on Scott County Central at 6:30 p.m. on Friday and Charleston at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
East Poinsett County is from Lapanto, Ark., and has a tradition of producing successful basketball programs. The Warriors were state champions in 2003 and are consistently ranked as one of the top five 2A basketball programs in the state of Arkansas. The Warriors finished 30-4 last season, falling in the state quarterfinals and return all five starters from that team.
One player to watch is University of Arkansas signee Ky Madden, a 6-5 point guard who is ranked 27th nationally in the ESPN rankings. Other players to watch are A.J. Turner, a 6-3 junior who earned all-state honors last season and 5-11 sophomore guard Jamar Soudivent. The Warriors are coached by Josh Hill, who has coached at EPC for the last five seasons.
EPC will take on Charleston at 5 p.m. on Friday and Scott Central at 6:30 p.m. in a highly-anticipated match-up.
"That's a great kickoff to the season," Scott Central head coach Kenyon Wright said. "I like it when we can go down there and play against good competition. They're usually teams that have some talent and can play. The better the competition, the more I want to play them."
New Madrid County Central will kick off the Riverbend Classic at 2 p.m. on Friday when they take on West Memphis.
"A game like that, for me it is not about a W or L, but I just want to see if my boys can compete," said NMCC coach Travis Day. "West Memphis will come in here having already played two or three games and already rolling pretty good. They'll bring in about five or six trees and we just want to compete with them."