As one of the top players in its history is becoming playing in a nationwide all-star game today, Bradley Central’s storied Bearette basketball program received another big honor this week.With …
As one of the top players in its history is becoming playing in a nationwide all-star game today, Bradley Central’s storied Bearette basketball program received another big honor this week.
With senior standout Rhyne Howard in New York City to participate in the nationally-televised Jordan Brand Classic this afternoon, next season’s Bearette squad accepted an invitation to play in the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions this December.
“We received a letter the week after the state tournament with a three-page application to be considered for the Nike tournament,” explained head coach Jason Reuter, whose nationally-ranked teams have won 65 of their last 67 games.
“We filled it out and sent it to them. We heard back from them the same day with the invitation.
“This is the greatest tournament in the world to play in for high school teams,” he proclaimed. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We are excited to get this opportunity.”
As usual, the annual event will be held the week before Christmas (Dec. 18-22) in Phoenix. All teams will stay in the Arizona Grand Resort.
“There are 96 teams from across the country that will be divided in six tiers of play,” explained Reuter. “We don’t know yet which tier we’ll be placed in, but each will have 16 teams and you are guaranteed four games.
“No matter which level you play at, you will be facing tough competition. Riverdale (the three-time Tennessee state Class AAA champs) went 3-1 in the top tier out there last year, with their only loss of the season coming to a team (Mitty, Calif.) that was later ranked No. 1 in the country.
“Westview, which is a very strong Class AA team from West Tennessee and played in the state tournament, went 2-2 in the third tier,” he added.
“We may go out there and go 0-4 or we may go 4-0; either way, we are going to get better for having played that level of competition.
“This gives us something special to look forward to and to work hard for,” the veteran hoop mentor proclaimed.
To play in the event, Bradley will not return to the Andrew Johnson Bank Ladies Classic in Greeneville after Christmas.
“We have really enjoyed going to Greeneville, where we have won the championship the last two years, but I explained to them about the opportunity to play in the Nike tournament, and they we very understanding,” Reuter explained.
“We have developed a very good relationship with them and have no doubt we’ll go back to their tournament in the future.”
Accepting the invitation to play against the nation’s best teams is not just about basketball for the Bearettes.
“We want to give our players more than just basketball experiences and memories,” the coach related. “This is a chance for our girls to get to see a difference part of the country that they may never get to see again and experience a difference culture than our own.”
Making the cross-country trip won’t be cheap, with an estimated cost of between $18,000-20,000.
“The girls are already starting to do fundraising, and we’ll have to come up with some other funds, but getting this opportunity is worth it,” remarked Reuter.
In his eight seasons at the Bearette helm, Reuter has an 88.9 winning percentage (233-29), plus four TSSAA State Tournament appearances, including a pair of Final 4 finishes in the last three years during which his teams went 97-7.
He has restored the storied Bearette program to its former prestige, which has seen them win more games than any other sports program in Tennessee history with a 2,196-486-9 record in their 95-year history.
The last two Bearette squads have put together the first back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons since the record-setting 90-game winning streak, that included perfect 36-0 marks, while winning the 1974-75 and '75-76 state and national championships.
After winning their first 32 games with four senior starters, all of which had collegiate offers, a year ago, this past season's group had just one senior but still claim 33 straight wins and a spot in the state semifinals.
The Nike tournament is just part of what Reuter is calling his program’s “most challenging schedule yet.”
“We will have our Thanksgiving tournament, as well as the East/West Classic with the Memphis teams again, but we’ve also added (perennial Class AA powerhouse) McMinn Central, plus we still have Stone Memorial, which has everybody coming back,” Reuter related. “This could be the strongest schedule we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Bradley will face that tough competition without Howard, who will be playing in the SEC for the University of Kentucky starting this fall.
The three-time unanimous District Player of the Year and Region 3 MVP totaled 2,662 career points in four years at BCHS, plus playing in half of East Hamilton's varsity games as an eighth-grader.
In her Bearette career, the 6-foot-2 point guard netted 2,499 points, cleared 969 rebounds, copped 558 steals, dished out 544 assists and blocked 194 shots.
This past season, in just an average of 25.4 minutes per game, she put up 22.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.2 steals (state best), 4.1 assists, 2.7 3-pointers and 1.2 blocks per contest.
A Naismith All-American honorable mention, Howard was named the Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year, as well as the TSSAA’s Class AAA Miss Tennessee Basketball.
“It’s been a tremendous honor to have been able to coach her the past four years,” proclaimed Reuter.
“She’s the greatest player I’ve been around, and to have her playing in the what is considered by most as the most prestigious national all-star game is very positive exposure for our program.
“She is an inspiration to our younger players and is a very unselfish person and team leader.”
Howard is the first Bradley player since former Bearette and Tennessee Lady Vol Brittany Jackson to play in a national all-star game.
“Brittany was a WBCA (Women's Basketball Coaches Association) All-American and played in their all-star game, while Jody Adams was a Converse All-American, but they didn’t have a game back then,” explained Reuter.
The 2018 Jordan Brand Classic will be played in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn this afternoon with the girls’ game to tip at 2:30 on ESPN3.
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