High school hoops officially tipped-off on Nov. 20, with the Martin Luther King Jr. Invitational Tournament. Now in its 47th year, 32 squads — 16 boys teams and 16 girls teams — will compete for bragging rights.
Although Memphis East is not participating in the tournament, the nationally-ranked team is still in action. Tuesday night, the East Mustangs rallied from behind to defeat the Columbus (Miss.) Falcons 68-64 in overtime.
Columbus was led by Robert Woodard, a 6’ 7” forward who recently committed to nearby Mississippi State. Woodard had a dominant game against the Mustangs, tallying more than 20 points and grabbing more than 20 rebounds.
“He played well tonight,” said Columbus Head Coach Anthony Carlyle. “We needed him to play well tonight, and he did in order for us to have a shot in this.”
But it wasn’t enough to hold off East.
“We outplayed them for three and one-half quarters, but we told them you have to put four quarters up against these guys,” said Columbus Head Coach Anthony Carlyle. “You have to almost play a perfect game to come out on top against them, especially in Memphis. My guys competed hard and we just didn’t make some free throws down the line.”
Mustangs Head Coach Penny Hardaway is leading a completely different team than he had last year. In addition to T.J. Moss, leaving for Findlay Prep, the TSSAA ruled that Ryan Boyce and James Wiseman were ineligible to play for the season. The two-time defending state champions have to adjust to some new contributors to their team.
Joining the Mustangs this season is freshman Johnathan Lawson, the younger brother of Chandler, Dedric and KJ Lawson. Chandler, now a junior on the East squad, will be leaned upon to carry a big load for the Mustangs this season. East’s roster will allow Hardaway to throw different looks at opposing teams — East’s taller and long starters can post up and pound inside the paint, while Hardaway’s smaller lineup can play a pressing style of defense and a quick-hitting offense.
“This is a new year,” Hardaway said. “We’re a new team and we had a little adversity in having two of my players being ruled ineligible. We have to have some guys to step up that did not think that they would have to step up.
“We showed resilience,” Hardaway continued. “That’s what champions do. We don’t give up.”
The Mustangs trailed for most of the game and even fell behind by as many as 13 points in the third period. But they clawed their way back to force overtime. That’s when they took control of the game for good.
“East is a great team and they are number one for a reason,” Carlyle said. “You have to capitalize when you have them on the ropes and we didn’t.”
Memphis University School is the first private school to participate in the MLK Classic. MUS soundly defeated Soulsville Charter School, 74-36.
“We are just very honored to participate,” said MUS Head Coach Matt Bokke. “It has been a long tradition in Memphis basketball. This is Hoops City. There have been a lot of good players to play in this. We are honored to be the first private school to play in this tournament. They invited us and we jumped at the chance.”
Other boys teams competing in the varsity boys basketball bracket are Booker T. Washington, Brighton, Central, Cordova, Craigmont, Dyersburg, Hamilton, Haywood County, Hillcrest, Houston, Kirby, Manassas, Maplewood, Sheffield, WEB DuBois A&T and Wooddale.
Participating girls teams include: Central, Dyersburg, Craigmont, Cordova, Douglass, East, Hamilton, Haywood County, Hillcrest, Kirby, Manassas, MBA, Olive Branch, Sheffield, White Station, and Whitehaven.
The tournament continues through Saturday at Hamilton High School, Streets Ministries and LeMoyne-Owen College. Tickets are $8 and can be purchased at each event location.