Gene Henley: For whatever reasons, Chattanooga-area prep basketball not as strong as it used to be

Gene Henley: For whatever reasons, Chattanooga-area prep basketball not as strong as it used to be

January 8th, 2013 by Gene Henley in Sports - Columns

Three games to watch tonight

• McCallie at East Hamilton, 7:30: I took a little flak from the "East Ham Fam" for leaving the Hurricanes out of my top 10 last week. You want to make it? You have to win this home game against the Blue Tornado, who took the top spot after winning the Best of Preps championship recently.

• Bradley Central girls at Rhea County, 6: Rhea's Lady Golden Eagles have a lot of wins against a lot of teams, yet none are against Class AAA teams with winning records. They get an opportunity at home against a Bearettes team considered the best in the area.

• Baylor at Howard, 7:30: Two of the better boys' teams in the area. Baylor won their December matchup, but the Hustlin' Tigers have added another ball-handler in Cudjoe Young and get the Red Raiders at home.

There was a time when area kids grew up loving basketball. Almost every Saturday morning and afternoon was filled with players from Chattanooga to Cleveland to Dalton traveling around the area looking for a game.

What happened?

Did the gyms close? Did we run out of basketballs? The obvious answer is no to both of those questions, but for a number of years there has been reason to wonder what happened to basketball in the area.

It's not a problem of individuals. There are plenty of solid high school players in the area who have signed to continue their basketball careers in college, have the ability or potential to do so or as underclassmen will be making those decisions later.

The issue now involves school teams, including once-proud area programs incapable of making it to the state tournament. Whereas virtually every team in our area used to have at least two or three players commanding attention because of their abilities, nowadays we're fortunate to see one team with such an assembly of talent.

Has football taken over that much? Are kids too busy texting, tweeting or Facebooking? Maybe XBox 360s or Playstation 3s are more important than using the skills we were blessed with, regardless of the sport. With the amount of talent we say we have in football, are none of those players playing basketball? Or is it the fact that it takes more "skill" to succeed in basketball?

Or do we have too many schools for an area of our size? Whatever the case may be, we've fallen short in the two most important sports - in terms of generating revenue - in our area over the past 10 years or so.

Howard is on a run of state-tournament appearances and has the ability to go again this year, but outside of Baylor, I'm not sure there is another area boys' team that is capable of getting there. And Baylor's success hinges on the health of Reggie Upshaw, who could return from an ankle injury by the end of the season, as well as the Red Raiders' ability - along with McCallie's - to avoid Briarcrest or Ensworth as long as possible. Those teams have much deeper rotations than the Red Raiders or the Blue Tornado.

I long for the day that we get back to the competition that lived on area hardwoods during the 1990s, but it might be a long time before I see those days again.