By Mark Clark
The William Henry Shaw Christmas Tournament has evolved over the years – mostly to the displeasure of Central High coach Bobby Wright. According to Wright, “It just isn’t the same as in the past.” But, the end result is for the Red Devils basketball team.
Over the past 45 years, the Red Devils have reached the championship game over 20 times. This year was no different. Central made it to the title game against Auburn High and won 55-48 to take the “Group A” championship.
In recent seasons, the Shaw tournament has been divided into two or more divisions according to the size of the schools. So, no true champion has been crowned because the winners of the divisions do not play each other. The tournament names no Most Valuable Player, no all-tournament team and hands out no championship trophy. This is what Wright feels is wrong with the current version of the tournament.
“I guess I am just old school when it comes to the tournament. I think there should be a true champion. In the current format, they are worried about teams getting games. If they want games, we will play them. We will be happy to schedule them. But, I would rather the tournament go back to single elimination and if you lose you go on home to celebrate Christmas early,” said Wright.
The Red Devils, now 8-0 with its three wins in the tournament, went into the event handicapped. Senior forward Justyn Ross was still out recovering from an early season ankle injury and preparing to play in the annual Under Armour All-America football game on Jan. 4 on ESPN2. Ross is the top rated college prospect in Alabama. He has played in one basketball game this season.
“I did not intend to play him in the tournament. I wanted him to be ready to play in the Under Armour game as healthy as possible. Our games right now are to get us ready to play in January and February when we play our area games,” Wright said.
Ross was not needed to win the three tournament games as Donald Jackson, Tremaine Porter and Tremere Brown gave the Red Devils the offensive punch needed. Jackson led the trio with 57 points. Porter had 56 points and Brown scored 47 points in the three tournament game wins.
The win over Auburn in the Group A final was by far the toughest of the three games. Auburn pulled ahead to a 12-2 lead in the first quarter and slowed the pace. It was a pace that was frustrating to the Red Devils who like to play a fast tempo game.
“We were sloppy in the first half. I think our kids thought it would be a cake walk. They found out we have to control the tempo to win games. We were 3 of 13 from the line in the first half. We got frustrated because Auburn decided they could not run with us and held the ball,” Wright said.
Wright made adjustments at the half and things changed.
“We played great defense and got back into the game. We shot better at the line. We made 8 of 10 free throws. Our conditioning showed its importance. We are getting into basketball shape with each game. We are winning games, but we have not played our best basketball yet,” Wright said.
Jackson scored a game-high 26 points while Porter put in 12 points for the Red Devils. Brown had nine points with 11 rebounds.
Central opened the tournament with a 60-44 win over Hardaway. Porter led the team with 23 points while Brown scored 13 and Jackson finished with 11 points.
Central had to use its defense to defeat Northside in the second round of the tournament for an 80-71 victory.
“We started out playing soft defense because we did not think they could score from outside. They had not showed they could in their earlier games. They hit nine three-point shots in the first half. In the second half, when we played more aggressive defense, they made one three0point shot,” Wright said.
Brown scored 25 points, Porter had 21 and Jackson scored 20 points for Central.
Central will return to the court on Jan. 2 against Lanett High at the Central Freshman Academy gym. On Jan. 4, the Red Devils play host to Smiths Station High in their first area game of the season. The team will then travel to Shaw High on Jan. 6 and return home Jan. 9 to face Sidney Lanier High.