Times Free Press Best of Preps tournament
When: Thursday to Saturday, play starts at 10 a.m. each day.
Where: Chattanooga State
Who: Boy's tournament features Baylor, Boyd-Buchanan, Chattanooga Patriots, McCallie, Notre Dame, North Jackson, Ooltewah and Red Bank. Girls field is Arts & Sciences, Baylor, Brainerd, Chattanooga Christian, Cleveland, East Hamilton and GPS.
Around 7 p.m. on Thursday, the Boyd-Buchanan basketball team will play McCallie in the third game in the boys' bracket of the Times Free Press Best of Preps Tournament, to be held for the first time at Chattanooga State. The Bucs will have to stop the electric trio of guards Jamaal Calvin, Jorden Williams and junior C.J. Fritz to take the next step into the tournament semifinals.
For Boyd-Buchanan coach Cole Rose, the steps they have ahead can not compare to the ones already behind them.
Rose took over a program that, after winning the 1996 Class A state championship, has had their struggles in recent memory, and has built them into a team that so far this year has been competitive. The Bucs sit at 7-4 -- their best start in 10 seasons -- and their first inclusion into the eight-team local event has Rose and the team excited.
They will join the Chattanooga Patriots and North Jackson teams as new entries to the tournament field.
"It means a lot to the culture of the team, because changing culture is where you have to start to build a program," he said. "If you're serious about building it, and the players are serious, because the community recognizes that it's coming back. Our players have gone to the Best of Preps, and now Boyd-Buchanan middle schoolers will see their own team in it.
"It raises the expectations to what we could be if they come here."
There's been a youth movement at the school as well. Of the eight players in the primary rotation, seven are juniors and the other is a sophomore. It's all led to excitement around a school that won a state championship in boys' soccer and has competed in football state championship games recently.
"There's a lot of support, now," Rose said. "Older alumni are coming back to the games, and they're talking about how it's so nice to see the basketball program relevant. The kids have come out and supported us, and we've had great crowds. What better to do on a Friday night in wintertime than go see a district home game?
"We started to make some traction last year, and this year, we've had some good wins. Trying to build a program back up after it's been neglected is not easy."
The Patriots, who face Baylor at 5:30 Thursday, have much different concerns than rebuilding a program. They're just trying to build some familiarity between players on the team, considering the home-school based team meets for practice three days a week and obviously don't attend school together.
There is a sort of championship pedigree among the coaching staff, though, as assistant coach Anthony Fears was a member of Brainerd's 1984 state championship team.
"Trying to get 12 guys to jell together is one of our challenges," head coach David Ambrosetti said. "We play fast and play lots of defense; it doesn't work all the time, but we try to keep it very simple. We have new kids every year, some of whom have never played, so we do nothing tricky and work on fundamentals.
"We want to let the players make decisions, so there's not a lot of structure because we want to provide flexibility to make decisions on the floor and hope they make the right ones in games.
"Kids at other schools know each other because they hang out a lot more than ours do. Some of our guys do stuff together on the weekends, but at times the timing is difficult for both them and us."