As Memphis Central (Memphis, Tenn.) walked into the Riverdale (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) gym, home of the No. 7 team in the Powerade Fab 50, head coach Niki Bray was approached by an assistant coach. The coach wasn't from Riverdale, but from another team in the middle Tennessee region she'd rather not identify.
"Why'd y'all come all this way to get your (butts) whipped?" Bray recalled being asked.
Such is the cutthroat attitude of Tennessee basketball, especially of teams from the middle of the state towards schools in Memphis. The attitude, however, though archaic and unsportsmanlike is somehow justified because 1985 was the last time a Memphis-area program (Melrose High School) won the state's biggest (AAA) championship.
Memphis Central, ranked 46th last week, silenced the Riverdale crowd with a 26-10 second quarter that put Bray's squad up 16 on Riverdale at the half. But the shaky start in the fourth quarter, which has become all too common for the Lady Warriors, prevented a second signature win, to go with its 82-79 win over then-No. 9 and now No. 15 Whitney Young (Chicago, Ill.). Memphis Central fell in overtime to Riverdale 74-72.
A Challenging Road
Memphis Central has eight losses on the season. Based on the current Powerade Fab 50 the average ranking of the 7.6 with losses from No. 1 Brea Olinda to No. 17 Monarch. The ranking of the team at the time of the game is listed first and the team's current ranking is second.
Memphis Central has been the target of much criticism since the holiday break. Memphis Central, at 11-8, has twice as many losses as any team in the national high-school rankings.
But the fact is nobody in the country has played as many top teams as Memphis Central.
All eight of the Lady Warriors' losses have come from teams that were -- or are now -- ranked 17th or higher in the Powerade Fab 50.
In November, the team lost to No. 4 Bolingbrook (Bolingbrook, Ill.).
In December, during a 16-day road trip that sent the team to Hawaii and Arizona, the team fell to then No. 2 Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.), currently No. 1 in the nation. No. 9 Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.) is currently No. 2; followed by No. 17 Monarch (Louisville, Colo.), now No. 17; and No. 43 St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.), up to ninth this week.
Memphis Central didn't schedule any breaks in its non-league schedule this month. The team traveled to Arkansas to play No. 23 North Little Rock (North Little Rock, Ark.), this week's No. 16. Two weeks ago, the Lady Warriors traveled to St. Louis to play No. 6 Potter's House Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.), now No. 5.
So the overtime loss to Riverdale follows a frustrating trend for the team of falling apart in the fourth quarter. But it also shows signs of progress by a team that lost by 20 to Bolingbrook and 26 to St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.), because the Lady Warriors are hanging with top teams.
In all, Bray believes her team is every bit as good as every opponent it has played, except for a Bolingbrook team that she thought was too big to match up with physically.
The Lady Warriors, who have played the toughest schedule in the nation, will have traveled nearly 9,100 miles by the end of this week. The team is in its home stretch with just 170 miles remaining, including this weekend's trip to play regionally-ranked and defending state champion New Albany (New Albany, Miss.) before the district playoffs. The total distance traveled is eclipsed by just one team, No. 3 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), which has logged more than 10,000 miles this season.
"I would love to have eight losses on our record and win a state championship, rather than have one loss and not win it," Bray said.
Though a claim to the national title is no longer within reach, all the trials of this season have tested and prepared Bray's team for a run at the state championship. She believes her players have come out better from what this season has thrown at them. In addition to the brutal schedule and extensive travel, the team has also had to cope with the tragic death of a Memphis Central junior classmante, and member of the football team, who was close to several players.
"They really think we're fine," Bray said of her players' mindset right now. "If we make free throws, we win this game. If we don't turn it over to start the fourth (quarter), we win that game. They're not stressed out like I am."
Winning isn't everything but Memphis Central's test in basketball growth and maturity may be if all the losses this season can lead this talent-laden squad to a state championship, regardless of what their doubters think.
-- Chris Hansen
Northmont (Clayton, Ohio) junior Krista Knapke recorded a double-double in the first half against Springfield (Springfield, Ohio) last week. Knapke finished the game with 24 points and 16 rebounds. ... Emily Van Roekel, a 5-foot-6 junior guard who plays for Corsica/Stickney (Corsica, S.D.) had 10 points, 10 assists and 10 steals, a triple-double, for the Jaguars last Friday as they defeated Ethan (Ethan, S.D.). ... Scott (Taylor Mill, Ky.) senior Lauren Tibbs scored 28 points last week in a home game against Simon Kenton (Independence, Ky.) Tibbs recorded her 2,504th point in the win and broke her head coach Rhonda Klette's 29-year old scoring record in the process. ... Junior forward Shacobia Barbee scored 23 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out five steals in No. 7 Riverdale's overtime, comeback victory over Memphis Central. Freshman guard Alexa Middleton added 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Memphis Central had a trio of players -- Nina Davis, Aaliyah Whiteside, and Tia Wooten -- score 16 points each while Danielle Ballard chipped in 15 points. Wooten also ripped own 12 rebounds. ... Hannah Hoffman, a 6-3 center for Okemos High (Okemos, Mich.) recorded her fourth consecutive double-double, and seventh on the season last week in a win against Mason (Mason, Mich.) She finished the game with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and seven blocks. ... Usually scoring 41 points is a good enough reason to make headlines but Hamilton (Hamilton, N.J.) guard Alexis Johnson added icing to the cake. Needing 33 points to reach 1,000 career points, she finished with 41 in a 67-48 win over Ewing (Trenton, N.J.). ... Stanford-bound senior Bonnie Samuelson continues writing her name all over the Edison (Huntington Beach, Calif.) record books. Adding to her record for career points, which is 2,200 and counting, she broke the career free-throws made record, previously held by Marie Philman (452) who played at UCLA. Samuelson now has 459 converted free throws with at least eight more games to go. She broke the record in last week's 68-43 win over Los Alamitos (Los Alamitos, Calif.)
-- Rebecca Gray and Chris Hansen
The week that was in the national schedule will not measure up to the week that is, so we took the opportunity to correct the market, if you will. A couple moves took care of themselves, as two schools with top-10 aspirations, previously No. 10 Monarch (Louisville, Colo.) and previously No. 11 St. Mary's (Phoenix, Ariz.), both took a tumble. St. Mary's was upset by Pinnacle (Phoenix, Ariz.) 68-58, while Monarch lost to Legacy 64-53. Both slid because of the losses, but remained in the Fab 50's top 20.
Rant: National rankings, at least these, are meant to honor and spotlight the hard work of teams and players. They are not meant to prompt the kind of cat-and-mouse scheduling games we are starting to hear about. The teams that play all comers are the ones who warrant consideration for the very top of the rankings.
Now that we've said our piece, we adjusted Bolingbrook (Bolingbrook, Ill.) and Potter's House Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.) up slightly because of their ambitious schedules and quality wins. Both own victories over Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.) and Memphis Central (Memphis, Tenn.), two other teams with itinerant, national schedules. Potter's House would play an even tougher schedule, but is a victim of an odd situation in which the high-school state governing body in Florida, the FHSAA, has turned a sanction into what is tantamount to a "death penalty," not allowing the Jacksonville school back into its association. As such, some other state associations won't allow its members to play non-sanctioned schools, thereby eliminating Potter's House from events such as the Nike Tournament of Champions.
Meanwhile, as previously reported, Neptune (Neptune, N.J.) suffered a number of snow-outs and consequently has few quality wins and therefore takes a slight hit, dropping from No. 4 to No. 6. Its testing grounds open this week, however, as a special matchup against No. 43 Shabazz (Newark, N.J.) looms Friday at the Prudential Center in Newark. The Scarlet Fliers then take on Trenton Catholic (Trenton, N.J.) on Sunday as part of the JFK Challenge in the Bronx, N.Y. That said, Neptune probably is not poised to make a move on the Fab 50's top schools because it does not play teams outside the Northeast.
A team to keep an eye on this coming, action-packed week is St. John-Vianney (Holmden, N.J.), which plays No. 13 Riverdale Baptist in the Bronx on Saturday, then No. 28 Germantown Academy (Ft. Washington, Pa.) during Blue Chip Basketball's Super Sunday the next day in Radnor, Pa.
-- Glenn Nelson
Records are through Jan, 25, 2011 games, where reported.
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ESPN HOOPGURLZ HS RANKINGS PANEL
Lisa Bodine is a national evaluator for ESPN HoopGurlz. A native of Queens, N.Y., she began her coaching career in 1993 with the NY Gazelles, has coached with D.C.-based Team Unique, and in 2009 she was named DAC Co-Coach of the Year after leading Wakefield Country Day School in Flint Hill, Va., to its first-ever conference title. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rebecca Gray is an intern for ESPN HoopGurlz. She previously wrote a column for the website about her experiences as a freshman on basketball scholarship at the University of North Carolina. She transferred to and played at Kentucky and now plays basketball and golf at Union College. A 5-foot-10, sharp-shooting guard out of Georgetown, Ky., Gray was named Miss Basketball in the state of Kentucky after averaging 25.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.1 steals and 4.8 assists during her senior season at Scott County High School. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He is a member of the McDonald's All-American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.