(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
NEW MADRID -- With a slew of quality teams featured from right here in Missouri, the 2011 Riverbend Classic will look to pit some of the Show-Me State's best against high-caliber teams from across the region.
Those scheduled to appear from the home-state are the host school, New Madrid County Central, Charleston, Scott County Central and Kennett.
The four out-of-state school returning will be West Memphis, Ark., North Little Rock, Ark., Pine Bluff, Ark. and Covington, Tenn.
"These are four quality teams that we always try and get to come back," NMCC head coach Travis Day said. "They help us Missouri teams get better especially with it being the first games of the year for everyone."
Although most Missouri high school basketball fans may be a bit more interested in seeing their home-town schools, West Memphis and North Little Rock are sure to turn heads by just walking onto the court.
The Blue Devils from West Memphis feature seven players over 6-foot, 3-inches and return most of their players from a state playoff run that ended with a second place finish in the Arkansas 7A state tournament just a season ago.
Their latest state title came in 2004 but were also runners-up in 2010 and a state semi-finalist in 2009. Veteran coach Larry Bray led his Blue Devils to a 20-11 record last year.
North Little Rock finished last season as one of the top 10 teams in the state. They finished with a 19-9 record, losing to West Memphis during the post season.
North Little Rock coach Richard Alexander, who will be retiring after this season, will look to lean on two players -- Dayshawn Watkins and Thomas Alexander.
Watkins, a 6-foot guard, is being recruited by both Ole Miss and Nebraska. Alexander is a 6-4 forward.
"Those two schools are just powerhouses when it comes to basketball," Day said about West Memphis and North Little Rock. "They're both very athletic and are going to get after it."
With their football team still rolling through the high school playoffs, the Zebras will be without some of their key cogs while participating in the Riverbend. The Zebra football team will play Lake Hamilton in the semifinal round on Friday.
"They're up and down because they're also a football powerhouse," Day said. "When football is good, the basketball team starts off bad because the majority of the players play both."
Although they often deal with slow beginnings due to their football success, coach Ron Moragne still finished the season with a 13-11 record and qualified for the state playoffs the last two years. They've also been ranked on of the top 10 team in the state for the last 11 years.
Covington, who as of Sunday was 0-2 on the year, ended last season with a 24-6 record and hoisted a district title as well. They will kick off the shootout by facing the host team on Friday at 2 p.m.
"They don't really have the high-powered name, but they're going to be really athletic and get after you," Day said about Covington.
As for the local squads, Charleston returns nearly everyone from their third place finish in the Missouri state playoffs a season ago with newly signed senior Greg Tucker leading the way. The Bluejays will face Pine Bluff at 3:30 p.m. on Friday.
"They still have the nucleus from their team last year and they should probably start off the season pre-season ranked," said Day. "(Greg) Tucker has already signed to play with Northern Colorado and you throw (Ryan) Parham in there -- it's a good nucleus between those two boys."
The Scott County Central Braves, without current Georgetown Hoya Otto Porter, will open their season against the tough West Memphis team at 5 p.m. on Friday in hopes of regrouping and return to the Class 1 state tournament to possibly bring home their fourth-straight state championship.
"Scott County Central might be different names but it's the same old game," Day said. "They might not be as dominant as they were last year, but for Class 1 they're still going to be pretty good."
After losing their core group that took them to the Class 3 state quarterfinals last season, the Kennett Indians are also hoping to rebuild as they play their first game of the season against North Little Rock at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.
"They lost a lot but I think they have a very, quick and athletic team that will run and press teams all around the floor," Day said.
The shootout will continue on Saturday with Scott Central taking on Pine Bluff at 2 p.m., Kennett playing Covington at 3:30 p.m., NMCC facing off against North Little Rock at 5 p.m. and Charleston closing out the weekend against West Memphis at 6:30 p.m.