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The first time Tyner High School basketball coach E'Jay Ward walked inside the new Nothing But Net basketball training facility at the corner of Jersey Pike and Highway 153, he was rendered speechless.

"I can't put into words what I saw with my eyes," recalled Ward on Tuesday morning. "It's crazy. It blew my mind."

Loosely modeled after D-1 Fitness, which has become the gold standard for football training throughout the Volunteer State and beyond, Nothing But Net is the brainchild of 2001 Brainerd High grad Kenneth Henderson. It officially opened to the public on Saturday.

For area coaches such as Ward, it's seen as a game changer.

"If you're trying to be serious about basketball," he said, "this is the perfect facility for you. This will definitely make you a better basketball player. You almost can't help but get better."

To view the various divisions of the TSSAA state basketball tournament in recent years is to know the Scenic City could definitely better its collection of hoops hardware. While Baylor, Brainerd and McCallie — to name but three — have finished second in their respective playoffs in recent years, and the Bradley Central girls won the state a couple of years ago, no boys team has won a state title from this area since Tennessee Temple in 2007. The last big school to claim a state crown was Cleveland in 1997.

This is not to say the presence of a Nothing But Net facility would have changed that. In fact, many believe the problem has to do with the current size and number of our high schools. Fewer and larger schools would consolidate the talent pool and theoretically create more successful athletic teams.

Still, the ability to sharpen one's individual skills through businesses such as Nothing But Net shouldn't be ignored.

"This is the future," said Henderson, who was a NCAA Division II All-American wide receiver and kick returner at Tuskegee University before spending one training camp with the Chicago Bears and four seasons in the Arena League with the Philadelphia Soul and the New Orleans Voodoo. "With youth beginning to specialize in one sport so early, a place like ours that does so much to polish individual skills is becoming more and more important."

A side note about his time with the Soul: The team was owned by rock superstar Jon Bon Jovi and former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron "Jaws" Jaworski. When it won the Arena League world championship in 2008, Bon Jovi had the team come to Madison Square Garden for a concert the group was doing there.

"We thought we were just getting to go to the concert," said Henderson. "But then he has us come on stage with him to sing 'Livin' On A Prayer.' I never thought a guy from Brainerd would be on stage at Madison Square Garden singing 'Livin' On A Prayer" with Jon Bon Jovi. Really cool."

Of course, the goal of every young person ages five and older who joins Nothing But Net would one day like to play in Madison Square Garden either for or against the NBA's New York Knicks.

If nothing else, the Nothing But Net gym — designed by Henderson's architect wife Rhonda ("I outkicked my coverage marrying her," he said) — would seem to have all the equipment needed to make any player the best he or she could become.

"They've got four shooting guns, six rims, Lazer ball-handling stations, Vertimax training equipment, they've got it all," said Ward.

Added Henderson: "We've got courts designed to work on shooting from the elbow, courts set up to work on shots from the baseline. We've got a number of personal trainers. We want to give Chattanooga athletes a basketball-only place to work on their games the way kids in Nashville and Memphis do."

None of this is exactly cheap. A one-month membership with every-day access is $160. But there are also far cheaper packages, you can schedule workout times on an app and coaches can lock in team rates at reasonable prices. Beyond that, the first session for anyone is free. Those who are interested in learning more should go to nothingbutnetchatt.com or call 423-856-9315.

Henderson admits that this sudden focus on specialization isn't always comforting to a guy who was gifted in both football and baseball growing up.

"But you look around and see parents spending thousands of dollars a summer so their seven-year-old kid can play (travel) baseball," he said. "We're just trying to give Chattanooga basketball players the best chance to succeed."

Ward is already sold on the concept.

"Athletes in Memphis and Nashville already have access to places like this," he said. "You play teams from Memphis in the state tournament, you can tell they've got more assets, better training facilities. Our teams may not be instantly better because of this, but I think you're going to see a difference soon."

In other words, a facility like Nothing But Net should soon have Scenic City hoopsters finally livin' on more than a prayer come state tourney time.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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