East pins loss on Hamilton’s homecoming celebration

Terry Davis, Special to The New Tri-State Defender | 1/30/2016, 12:28 p.m.
Penny Hardaway pushing top-ranked Mustangs to pay attention to details. Todd Day says young Wildcats have improved 1000 percent.
For first-year East head coach Penny Hardaway, attention to detail is essential to winning. (Photo: Terry Davis)

The young Hamilton Wildcats were feeding off of the energy generated from all of the activities associated with this year’s homecoming celebration. With a solid start, they only trailed the East Mustangs by three points (13-10) late in the first quarter.

East coach Penny Hardaway – yes, the University of Memphis legend and NBA All-Star – called a time out at the 3:50 mark. The Mustangs (20-1) responded with a 14-3 run and took a 16-point lead (37-21) into halftime en route to a 75-54 win over the Wildcats.

T. J. Moss took it upon himself to take over the show with his play and leadership during that first-half push. He finished with 20 points.

Todd Day checks out the score during the battle against East in the tradition-rich Hamilton High School gym. (Photo Terry Davis)

Todd Day checks out the score during the battle against East in the tradition-rich Hamilton High School gym. (Photo Terry Davis)

Hardaway said East’s slow start might have something to do with the team thinking its better than it actually is right now.

Ranked No.1 in the latest Associated Press Class AAA basketball poll, the Mustangs garnered 10 of the possible first place votes. While the Mustangs have been very impressive on the state level, the still face stiff competition to survive Shelby County.

First-year head coach Hardaway is focused on one game at a time. The Mustangs are a well-balanced team. Individual stats don’t jump out at you, largely because the team plays a ten-man rotation. The leader is freshman Chandler Lawson, the younger brother of the University of Memphis’ Dedric and K.J. Lawson.

Todd Day’s Wildcats are very young. The Hamilton High icon coached the Wildcats to the Tennessee State AAA basketball championship last season but has had to contend with the early departure of Dedric Lawson, who left a year early to play with the Tigers. According to Day, the Wildcats have improved 1000 percent and he’s looking forward to district play.

Chandler Lawson, although a freshman, may be the best passer on East team, according to Hardaway. That is saying a lot with Moss on the team running the offense. Still, Lawson has the ability to anticipate where his teammates will be and get the ball to them with ease and touch. Radarious Washington, who applies vital backcourt pressure on opponents, is another key component.

On Friday night, the Wildcats were led by Dejalin Austin and Montrell Brooks. Austin finished with 20 points, with Brooks tallying 15.

“Our players are learning their roles,” said Day, an 8-year NBA veteran and former University of Arkansas star. “We feel we can play with most teams in the city.”

Hardaway coaches his players with the same demeanor as when he played – nice and smooth. He consistently gives instructions on how to improve on the little things. He works his team hard and they seem to love what he’s teaching.

“Our team has come a long way since the beginning of the season, but we are still improving,” said Hardaway.

The Mustang’s only loss was a 69-67 setback against Porlific Prep Academy from Napa, Calif. Although the team is deep in talent at every position, each player roots for another.

East brought home the AAA State Championship in 2012 and Hardaway is trying to bring another banner to the school. Memphis has dominated the division over the last 15 years winning 13 titles in that time span.