November 20, 2017 10:15:33 AM
Anthony Carlyle is jumping right into the mix in his first season as boys basketball coach at Columbus High School.
After rallying for a victory against Starkville on Tuesday, Columbus will turn its focus to the national scene when it takes on nationally ranked Memphis East at 7:30 tonight in the MLK Classic at Hamilton High in Hamilton, Tennessee.
"I think it is one of the biggest challenges you can ask of a team to play a team that is ranked No. 1 in the country in two or three polls," Carlyle said. "I don't think it gets any better than that."
Memphis East, which is coached by former Memphis great and NBA All-Star Penny Hardaway, is the No. 1 team in MaxPreps.com's Xcellent 25. Memphis East also is No. 3 in the USA Today's rankings.
Memphis East, which opened its season Saturday with an 84-54 victory against Mitchell, lost guard in T.J. Moss, who transferred to Findlay Prep, but gained 6-foor-11 junior power forward James Wiseman, who is considered the No. 1 player in his class by ESPN, and Alabama-Birmingham commit Ryan Boyce, a 6-5 forward from Houston.
The two-time defending state champions return senior point guard Alex Lomax, a Wichita State commit, junior wing Chandler Lawson, and junior center Malcolm Dandridge.
But the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported Saturday that the state of Tennessee's governing body for high school athletics ruled that the two-time defending Class AAA champions had violated the "prior link" rule for transfers, which states: If a student with an athletic record transfers to a new school where an "athletic coaching link" existed in the past 12 months, that student is ineligible for 12 months at all levels in the specific sport where a linkage was present.
Neither Boyce, who played at Houston last year, nor Wiseman, formerly of Nashville Ensworth, were named in the TSSAA findings, but each would appear to have a prior link, having played summer ball for the Team Penny organization that Hardaway began to sponsor in 2012.
The Commercial Appeal reported Memphis East appealed the decision Thursday. The result is expected to be available to the media today. The newspaper reported Memphis East was notified Friday of the TSSAA's decision.
Jalen Brown had five 3-pointers to lead Memphis East with 16 points, while Lomax, a two-time Mr. Basketball Award winner, had 15 points, six rebounds, and seven steals. Lawson had 12 points and 10 rebounds, while his brother, Johnathan, had 14 points.
Carlyle said it doesn't matter if Memphis East doesn't have Wiseman or Boyce because it has plenty of talented players without them. He said the team still finished in he top five in the nation last season, so there is no reason to expect them to slip this season.
That presents a challenge for a Columbus team led by Mississippi State signee Robert Woodard II, the state of Mississippi's reigning Gatorade Player of the Year. Carlyle said Columbus (2-0) didn't have Woodard or transfer Aaron Johnson when it played Memphis East in the summer at the Ole Miss camp in Oxford. Carlyle said the Falcons lost by 20-30 points in that game. He wants to see if Columbus has improved.
"That's why we're playing this game," Carlyle said. "We're trying to learn as much about this team as possible and to see how the guys respond individually when we put them in one of the most extreme situations possible," Carlyle said. "We know how players are going to respond when things are going well. When we put a challenge in front of them, we want to see how they respond."
Carlyle said he is curious to see how senior point guard Casey Smith, a transfer from West Lowndes High, and backcourt mate Greg King respond against one of the nation's best teams. He said the matchup also will be a chance for players like Johnson, RJ DeLoach, a transfer from Columbus Christian Academy in Steens, and Denijay Harris, to attract attention from college coaches and to raise their profiles for possible chances to play basketball in college.
Carlyle said he has talked to his players about the ramifications of tonight's game, but he said he doesn't want individuals to try to do too much because it might take away from the team's goals.
"We talked to them about playing hard and this being a great opportunity to test yourself against one of the best programs in the country and then at the end of the day how people want guys who win," Carlyle said.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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