With capacity crowds looking on and talent-ladened teams competing hard, the Penny Hardaway Hoopfest – version No. 7 – delivered thrills galore for fans of high school basketball.
In a match-up of Memphis teams against teams from outside the city, including those who traveled from Chicago, West Virginia and Kansas, – the fans were the clear winners.
The Penny Hardaway Hoopfest is part of the larger ARS/Rescue Rooter National Hoopfest series, with Travis Haddock the event organizer.
“It has been fantastic,” Haddock said on Saturday as the weekend of hoops was set to continue. “We sold out at 2 p.m. (Friday) for the game Friday night. We have 3,500 in the building this evening. As an event organizer that is all you can hope for.”
Haddock beamed about the quality of play, particularly noting the opportunity that the tournament provides for local players on teams that don’t get to travel as much as some others.
“It is like a Super Bowl for them to play a (Chicago) Simeon or Huntington (W. Va.) Prep,” he said.
In the first game of the tournament, Huntington Prep – No. 14 in the USA Today High School boys basketball rankings – defeated Raleigh Egypt 90-70. Huntington used balance scoring, with four players turning in double-digit performances to offset the game-high 26 points poured in by Deovaunta Williams of Raleigh Egypt.
In the second game of the night, Olive Branch – the home team – upset Hardaway’s very talented East Mustangs 73-70. East came in ranked No. 4 and many observers described the atmosphere as one of the best in area hoops in a long time. The Mustangs had their opportunities, but 16 missed free throws did them in.
In action on Saturday at White Station High School, Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kansas) defeated Ridgeway 73-42. In the second game, the Wildcats of Hamilton (16-2) defeated Chicago’s Whitney Young 65-56.
Whitehaven shocked Huntington Prep 60-55 behind Cameron Jones’ 23 points and five rebounds. That helped set the stage for Friday (January 12) when Whitehaven travels to play East at 7:30 p.m.
After pulling off the upset on Friday night, Olive Branch fell to Cordova and star guard Tyler Harris’ 24 points.
In the game that everyone was looking forward to, East hosted the Simeon Wolverines. Simeon had played in every year of the Penny Hardaway Hoopfest and had never lost. This year wasn’t any different. The Wolverines defeated the Mustangs 78-73 in an overtime thriller.
The game got off to an electric start as Talen Horton-Tucker dazzled the crowd with some long range three-pointers at the outset. The Mustangs responded with some clutch baskets of their own, including an alley-oop dunk by James Wiseman.
Neither team led by more than five points during the tug-of-war game, which was a rematch of the City of Palms tournament in Florida two weeks earlier. East won that semifinals matchup 70-60.
East had their chances in the final moments of the game on Saturday night. The Mustangs had the basketball several times with the lead but some ill-advised shots gave Simeon the opportunity to tie the game.
Simeon’s head coach, Robert Smith, said it was a “great hard fought game. That is not an easy team to beat. …We don’t see that type of talent back home every day, especially that size. Playing in the City of Palms was huge.”
On the play of Horton-Tucker, Smith said, “He is an overall player. He gets us going early in most games and then he facilitates the rest of the game. It is just part of what he does. It is really good to have a player like that.”
East’s Alex Lomax finished with a triple double – 13 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. Chandler Lawson had 28 points for the Mustangs.
After the loss, Hardaway said, “…we’re just not there mentally.”
Asked if the Mustangs were prepared for Simeon’s energy, Hardaway said, “We played a couple of weeks ago in Florida. We just didn’t meet the challenge they gave us. We work our butts off. We work harder than any team in the country.”
Hardaway was asked if there was a takeaway from the last few games that could help the Mustangs as the season continues.
“We are separating the strong from the weak,” he said. “We are trying to see who is going to be ready to play and who is not. When you get out on the floor (and) you are prepared to play, you have to go and get it done. You have to make plays at the end. The positive we can take from this weekend is we did try to compete.”